Your grandma didn’t have to worry about living a healthy life. For her, living healthy was easy as there were less junk food and temptations. She didn’t have a screen in front of her face 24*7 and she ate real whole foods. 

For us, however, things have changed. We live in the world where our tastebuds are manipulated by the food industry. Processed food is around every corner and there is no reason for us to move our body unless we want to move it. We can easily sit on our desk and do a job 9-5 and then return to home only to sit again and watch TV for the rest of the night.

The modern lifestyle is making us unhealthy and sick. Getting chronic diseases has become a norm. So, living a healthy life is the only escape you have if you don’t want to much of your life in suffering.

Living a healthy life is a not only a choice, it has become a skill which you need to adapt if you want to live a long and happy life. Even if you don’t want to live a long life, I’m sure you want to live your life to the fullest and spend your money on life experiences instead of medical bills.

The good news is that it’s not too late. You can still save yourself, live healthily and love your life. Here’s how you can design your environment to achieve success.

 

At Home

 

We eat foods available to us. The same holds true for the foods you keep at home.

In a study [1], the researchers took photographs of 200 Americans kitchens to determine if the foods sitting on the counter can predict the weight of the woman living in each home.     Women who had breakfast cereal sitting on their counters weighed 20 lbs more than their neighbors who didn’t. Those with soft drinks weighed 26 lbs more. But those women who had a fruit bowl on their counter weighed about 13 lbs less.

In another study [2], it was found that keeping food at a visible and convenient place leads to overeating. It was also noticed that convenience was a bigger factor for overeating than visibility.

If you keep snacks under an arm’s reach you will overestimate how much you eat. If you keep snacks visible but far away, you will eat lesser. But, if you take out both the factors – convenience and visibility, you will eat the least amount.

You eat what you see. If you keep unhealthy foods at your home, you’re gonna eat what is easily available to you. If you keep healthy foods and snacks in your refrigerator and closet, you will grab those as your default option.

I know it’s hard not to buy those attractive packaged foods at the grocery shop but if you use your willpower reserves while shopping, you will make the biggest win. Later when you’re at home, you will not have to rely on your willpower because you only have the option of eating healthily.

In the beginning, you don’t have to completely eliminate buying unhealthy foods. You can keep healthy foods in front of the refrigerator, closet or on the counter. While you can keep the unhealthy foods hidden behind so that you only eat them intentionally when you plan on having them.

Once you start buying healthy foods you can make it a fun activity to organize your kitchen and prepare a shopping list so you know what you’re running out on. It is important to have fun while doing so as it will give you additional motivation to sustain the new and better way of eating.

Clean kitchens can help us improve our eating habits. Cluttered kitchens can make us overeat especially when we are stressed [3].

If you find your kitchen chaotic during the time of eating, it’s best to put yourself in an “in-control” mindset where you feel you are in control of your food choices, not your impulses.     One study [4] found out fruits sales doubled just by putting the fruits in an attractive bowl. So you can try putting your fruits in an attractive bowl to eat them more often than unhealthy foods.

Your kitchen should be a place of your nourishment. Treat it like one. The color of the paint on the walls, the neatness, and the organization should make you want to nourish your body with healthy foods.

You can also try putting healthy reminders all over your kitchen. Try places like – on your refrigerator, on your table, in a bowl, etc. This way, the kitchen will nudge you towards an environment of health and nourishment.

 

Grocery Shopping

 

In a study [5], it was found that if you go on an empty stomach, you’re likely to buy more unhealthy, high-calorie foods. Having a snack before grocery shopping will help you buy less food. So you should shop for food when you’re full.

In another study [6], it was found that having a healthy snack such as apple before shopping may result in buying more healthy foods. So, next time before you go for grocery shopping, remember to snack on healthy foods.

Once you’re at the grocery store, visit the healthy foods aisle before going to other aisles if you plan on buying some less healthy options.

We should also make a habit of reading nutritional labels to make more informed choices. Here’s a sample label for Macaroni & Cheese and some tips on how to read it.

You should aim to buy foods items with fewer and healthy ingredients. Be aware of hidden names of sugar on the packaging and avoid trans fat which is listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients list.

Food marketers try to trick us into believing that their product is healthy even when it is close to deadly. We often buy foods based on short health claims on the front of the packages.

To avoid getting tricked, you should know that health claims on the front can be misleading [7]. You should check the back of the package to accurately measure the healthiness of a product.

In a study [8], it was found that we often overeat what is labeled as “low-fat”. Low-fat does not guarantee low sugar or healthy ingredients. Check the label before buying the product. When eating, be aware of the serving size on the package and serve yourself an appropriate portion to avoid overeating.

In a similar study [9], it was found that we think a healthy meal at fast food restaurant is more healthy than it is. We should still be concious of the amount of food we eat at “healthy” fast food restaurants. We are more likely to underestimate the calorie content and overestimate the healthiness of their meal.

In yet another study [10], it was found that labeling products “organic” leads consumers to believe that they are healthy through the “health halo effect”. “Organic” refers to how the ingredients were created, prepared, or raised. You still have to look at the label to make healthy choices.

 

Advertisements

 

We are also surrounded by advertisements on TV, newspapers, magazine, internet, etc. While you can’t control them, you can still be aware of them.

In a study [11], it was found that as obesity rose, mentions of sweet snacks in the New York Times increased and mentions of fruits and vegetables decreased. It shows how susceptible we are to advertisements and mentions in the TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Notice how the advertisers are trying to sell their product and how you are getting affected by their message.

Try not to get affected by the advertisements as you know what is right for you and the advertisements don’t care about you at all. They only care about selling their product. Let me repeat that again – They don’t care about you or your health. It is your job to make the right decision for yourself.

 

Portion Control

 

Now, let’s get down to some simple tweaks you can make in your environment to eat better without even realizing it.

In studies [12] [13], it was found that we serve ourselves more food if our plate is large and the color of our food matches the color of the plate. If you want to go further, match the color of the plate and the color of the background (tablecloth, table, etc.) to eat less food. This tricks your mind into believing that you have more food on your table and you’re less likely to over-serve yourself.

Bigger Plate vs. Smaller Plate

The takeaway here is that when you want to control your portion size, eat in small, contrasting colored plate. For example, if you want to control the portion of white rice, eat in dark-colored plates. You can also use this strategy eat more healthy foods. For example, if you want to eat more green vegetables, eat it in large, green colored plates to eat more greens without even realizing it.

In a similar way, you can use tall, thin glasses for drinks other than water or unsweetened tea and coffee. [14]

As it was found in a study [15], we rely on external cues to monitor our hunger. In another study [16], it was found that an average adult finishes ninety-two percent of foods on his/her plate. So serve yourself an appropriate size and smartly choose your plates, bowls, and glasses.

In a study [17], it was found that depictions of food portions and plate size have increased over the millennium. Even the recipes in the cookbooks have increased the calorie content of each serving [18].

So we should be aware of the serving size suggestions and eat only the amount that our body needs. If you want to eat healthily and you’re not sure what serving size you should eat, then read this article from Precisioun Nutrition to get started with eating well while controlling portion size.

We can also make a rule of serving vegetables first and fill at least fifty percent of the plate with healthy foods.

A few other tips to control portion sizes:

1. Serve once.

2. Divide unhealthy foods in small portion sizes. They can provide you with similar feelings of satisfaction as eating bigger portions. If you distract yourself for fifteen minutes, you will feel satisfied even with few small bites of unhealthy foods. [19]

3. Have a food log (diary or pictures – bonus points for posting it on Instagram). While there are many calorie counting apps. Out of all, the best app that I recommend is Cronometer. It not only tracks your calories and macros (protein, carb and fats), but it also lets you see if you’re having enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Having adequate micronutrients is critical for your body and Cronometer let’s you do that.

4. Weigh or measure your food using food scale or measuring utensils (not necessarily for calories but for awareness).

It may come as a surprise but even the lighting and the music affects our eating behavior. In a study [20], it was found that when we eat in a well-lit environment, we eat more healthy foods. The reason is because we are more alert when we sit in a bright environment. So, next time you’re in a restaunrant with dim lights, try to feel more alert and you’re likely to order healthier foods.

Ever wondered why many restaurants put on a background music? That’s because listening to music while eating is linked with more food intake and longer eating sessions. [21]

Watching TV while having food can affect your food intake. In two researchs, it was found that sad and action movies can lead us to overeat [22] [23]. To control your eating while watching TV, you can:

1. Pre-portion food instead of eating from the package. [24]

2. Swap unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. 

3. Keep food out of arm’s reach.

Lastly, you can practice slow eating by putting down the utensils between bites, taking small bites, chewing slowly and chewing more times before swallowing your food. If it’s too hard for you, try using a timer to make yourself finish your food at a slower pace.

 

The Internet

 

You might not realize but you have a digital environment. Most of us have access to the internet and we spend time on social media and consume articles or videos from the people or websites we follow.

If you keep your digital environment a healthy place, the good habits will transform into your daily life.

So, what blogs, email newsletters, YouTube channels, Twitter accounts, Instagram pages, Facebook pages, groups, forums do you see regularly? Are they helping you to succeed?

Unfollow or unsubscribe from anything that is wasting your time or not supporting your goals.

Designing environment takes some effort but once it’s done, it will take minimal effort to maintain it. Using these methods, you won’t get triggered to eat unhealthy foods as often. You will avoid indulging most of the times as eating healthy foods will become your new default.

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