How to design an environment that helps you eat healthier

Young girl eating a slice of watermelon

If you’re committed to eating more healthily but finding certain times, places and situations make this difficult – this blog is for you. One of my favourite quotes comes from behavioural scientist Professor Brian Wansink, who says:

‘Dieting is exhausting...learn how to put your environment to work for you.’

And that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do.

At home

  1. Convenience really influences what you eat during the week. If you have some healthy meals prepared in advance and ready to go, you’ll be more likely to have a healthy dinner. Once a week, cook a batch of healthy meals, such as soups, stews and casseroles with lean meats and lots of vegetables. You can put these in your freezer. Then you’ll have a nutritious meal ready to go on those nights you get home and don’t have time or the motivation to cook.

  2. Switch to slightly smaller plate sizes and you’ll reduce your calorie intake while hardly noticing you’re eating less. Research has shown that we tend to eat about 22 per cent more from a 12-inch plate than a 10-inch plate. Investing in some smaller plates and bowls is a great way to help reduce the number of calories you’re eating.

  3. Only have a fruit bowl on your counter top. Research shows that we tend to eat less in a clutter-free environment. De-cluttering helps you stop craving snacks, and if you do decide to nibble on something, then your fruit bowl is at hand. 

  4. Don’t have food smells lingering in your home because they prime you to want to eat even when you’re not hungry. However, fresh air and sharp scents like citrus and mint in your home are unlikely to prime your subconscious minds to think of food, and so can help reduce cravings for snacks.

  5. Make sweet snacks and treats really inconvenient and awkward to get to – and make healthy foods easy and readily available. If the healthier foods are easier to get to, you’ll go for them rather than the sweet treats (especially if your sweets and biscuits are stored in your attic or garage). Better still, don’t buy sweets and processed food in the first place. If they’re not in your home, you definitely won’t eat them.

  6. When adverts come on the TV, either mute them or change the channel. Adverts are often for processed or sweet foods – don’t expose yourself to them and you’ll reduce your cravings for them.

  7. Don’t eat your dinner in front of the TV. If you do, you could end up eating about 25 per cent more calories without even noticing. Try and eat with all devices – including your phone, computer and radio – switched off. Being distracted makes you eat more.

Travelling to and from work

  1. Fill your commuting time with inspiring reading and listening materials that relate to your goals and aspirations. Whether you go for books, magazines or podcasts, if the content is about healthy living or things that inspire you, you’ll be much more energised to make healthy choices when you get home from work. For example, if you’re sitting down comfortably in the evening with tempting food around, it can be really difficult to jump up and go for a run. You can make the change from what you’re currently doing to what you want to do much easier by reading or listening to some inspiring material. This will shift your mindset and help make you feel excited and energised about your goals. When this happens, jumping of the couch becomes much easier!

  2. Think about changing your route to work so that you don’t walk past tempting coffee shops and eateries. Instead, take a different route, such as through a park. It might sound hard to believe, but walking past fast-food outlets primes you to crave those foods later on. Change your commute so you go past as few fast-food outlets as possible, and you’ll get fewer cravings for processed foods later.

  3. Most bus and train stations don’t have much healthy food on offer. If you’re catching an early train or bus and need breakfast – try to bring healthy food with you in your bag. Bananas are great as they come in their own natural packaging. The same goes for your commute home – make sure you always have fruit handy, and you’ll probably eat fewer station croissants. That’ll save you both calories and money!

At work

  1. Steer clear of office snacks like biscuits. Don’t buy them and don’t have them near you. If you do feel hungry and want a snack – have some fresh fruit.

  2. Use small plates or containers when you go for lunch. Whether you go to a salad bar or a works cafeteria, choose a smaller plate or bowl. When someone asks you what size portion you want, always say small. This is a great way to reduce calorie intake.

  3. Put salad or vegetables on your plate first. If you fill up your plate with healthy foods first, you’ll be unlikely to load it up with less healthy foods because there’ll be less room for them.

  4. Don’t eat at your desk because you’ll be distracted and probably end up eating more than you meant to. Use your lunch break to have a proper break from all devices.

Social situations

  1. If you regularly meet friends for dinner – say at a local pizza restaurant – suggest somewhere new that offers a healthier food selection instead.

  2. When you’re in a cafe or restaurant, sit so that you’re facing away from the menu on the wall or the food counter. If food listings are not in your line of vision, you’ll be less tempted by them.

Watch my behaviour change webinar for more tips and insights on how to reach your health goals.

Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK

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