My home, work or social environment is full of opportunities to eat highly palatable, calorie dense food.
I do not care who you are, if you are repeatedly exposed to highly palatable food, you are going to eventually break down and eat it. Controlling your (food) environment is one of the most important things you can do to ensure dietary success. Even the people that do not think that their environment is a problem have likely come up with a set of rules (conscious or unconscious) that helps minimize their exposure to highly palatable food.
If your environment is making it difficult to eat healthy or lose weight, either you need to a) change your environment (when possible) or b) change the way you react to your environment. Here are some tips:
CHANGING YOUR ENVIRONMENT:
Foods at Home: only buy foods that will support your diet goals. Try not to have things laying around the house that tempt you. I have a very simple saying that I like to go by, you cannot eat what is not there. Tempting food almost always wins.
Storage: Store unhealthy foods in an inconvenient cupboard or out of sight location. Inconvenience is really the name of the game. The less convenient it is to eat unhealthy food, the less likely you are to eat it. If you find that you are still seeking that food out despite that food being inconvenient to obtain, you should probably try eliminating that food from your diet altogether.
Bring Food to the Party: if you are going to a group get-together or potluck, don’t be afraid to be the one who brings a vegetable or fruit tray. I have never been to a party where too many fruits and vegetables were served.
Lunch: bring your lunch to work to avoid unhealthy options in the vending machine, cafeteria or break room. Bringing your own lunch also helps control your portions and your hunger while also saving you money at the same time.
Speak Up: tell people about your goals. This will hold you accountable and they can help you reshape the environment you live and work in. The ability to tell people about your goals shows that you are “in it”. It is no longer a secret and you are committed to healthy living.
Pre-Prepare Produce: make healthy options convenient. When you are hungry, you will be less likely to snack on something that you need to prepare. Have fruits and veggies cut and in plastic bags or containers, ready to snack. Please make time to make this a priority. I find it helpful to have a small cutting board dedicated to cutting up fruits and veggies out and visible on my counter to remind me that cutting up veggies will only take a couple of minutes.
Cooking: learn how to cook and prepare foods that are tasty and healthy. Cooking is important to overcoming almost any obstacle you may face.
Take a Different Route: if you always have to stop at McDonalds when you smell the French fries, take a different route to the office. If you always have to check the break room for donuts as you pass, use the other bathroom. Try not to put yourself into those tempting situations.
CHANGING YOUR REACTION:
Do Not Feel Guilty: if you get a gift from someone, you do not have to eat the whole thing. Do not feel guilty for sticking to your goals. It is okay to show appreciation through your words.
Nutrition Rules: even if they seem arbitrary, decide what and how much as well as when and where you will eat tempting food. Take control of the situation, do not let it passively happen to you. Energy Balance Nutrition Consulting wrote a great article on establishing your Nutrition Rules.
Distraction: if there is a tempting scenario, distract yourself. Strike up a conversation at a party, catch up on cleaning the house or go for a walk. If you are still hungry or craving that food after trying multiple distraction techniques, then I would consider eating that food. Distraction also falls into the category of am I hungry or am I bored? Distraction can help you better determine this.
Vegetables: fill up on vegetables first. Leave less room and time to eat the higher calorie parts. This is especially important at work. If you are hungry before leaving work, you are not going to eat your left-over veggies. Chances are that you will be paying a visit to the vending machine. However, if you ate your veggies and entree for lunch, you may have that granola bar or other pleasurable food still available.
Snacks: have a healthy alternative when you feel tempted by something unhealthy. Sometimes the healthy option just will not taste as good or satisfy your craving and that is okay. In that case, try to satisfy your craving with a smaller or portion-controlled option such as a Hershey kiss or chocolate miniature. Again, you need to be careful here. If you end up eating the entire bag of chocolate in a short period of time, you might need to go “cold turkey” on the chocolate to eliminate those cravings and find an alternative snack that can still satisfy you.
Eat Before: if you are going out with friends, eat something before so you do not overeat at the party. Make it something light, just to keep you from feeling like you are starving before you get there. And although many health professionals may frown upon it, I am apt to eat before going out so that my calories when I am out with friends are spent on drinks and not food.
Sharing: if you receive a yummy, high calorie gift, offer to share with everyone else or save some of it for later.
Do Not Eat Distracted: do not eat while you are doing something else like watching TV, socializing at a party or working on the computer. You will have no idea how much you have eaten, and your gut-brain connection will not be able to tell you when to stop eating.