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Published on February 01, 2022

friends making lunch together

Focus on Your Environment for Better Eating

Instead of focusing only on the foods we eat or avoid, consider ways to change your environment that make healthy habits easier.

We can focus on changes to things like:

  • When
  • Where
  • How
  • Who we eat with

Work through the questions below; your answers might help pinpoint some changes and lead to a healthier diet.

When Do You Eat?

Some of us are all-day grazers. Others have three solid meals, and that’s it. Yet other people do a one-meal-and-done approach. This might not seem like a real environmental question. Ivan Pavlov demonstrated that dogs can learn to associate the sound of a bell to being fed.

It’s extremely likely we all have some similar conditioned stimuli to food. So the question really is:

  • Am I eating as a response to my body’s hormonal request for nutrition, or
  • Am I eating because I hear the intro to the TV show I watch with dinner?
  • When Do You Shop for Groceries?

This question is a bit more black and white. There is a tremendous amount of science and marketing strategy working against you when you step foot in a grocery store. This question is more about finding the balance between going often enough that you have fresh foods available but not so often you have a pantry full of impulse purchases.

Always avoid shopping when you’re hungry.

When Do You Dine Out?

The occasional date night or evening out with friends is part of a healthy relationship with food, and won’t drastically change our health or weight. However; if you dine out regularly for your job, have a full social calendar or find it much simpler to swing through somewhere and pick up dinner, it’s key to make good choices. They might include sticking to specific restaurants, looking at the menu online and deciding what you will be having ahead of time or ordering first so you aren’t tempted by the choices others make.

Where Do You Eat Your Meals?

You should be looking for specifics with this question. Are you sitting at a table in the kitchen or a recliner in the living room? When you dine out do you request a table near the window or a dark corner in the back?

Lighting, temperature, plate color and utensil size; although these details seem small, they can make a surprisingly big impact on food choices.

Where Do You Keep Foods You Want Most?

The subtitle to this question should say, “Foods you want most, but really shouldn’t have.” Think of the saying: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Many people have an easier time maintaining control when they know the foods they crave the most are available, but not in their face. But it’s important to consider your own personal relationship with food. If you would never make a special trip for a sweet treat – or salty snack – it may be best to keep them out of your environment.

How Do You Eat?

How do you feel when you overeat or indulge? These questions have less to do with the bloating and discomfort, and more about emotions. Many people experience tremendous guilt when they indulge, and that isn’t part of a healthy relationship with food.

Everyone indulges now and then – even dietitians!

How do your surroundings affect your choices? This question is also to help pick up on any conditioned stimuli or mindless habits, for example, you do well at work but lose control as soon as you get home.

Or, when your parents come to visit, you can’t get enough to eat. What is different about those conditions or surroundings that makes healthy choices more difficult?

Who Joins You When You Eat?

Who is a positive influence on your choices? Surrounding yourself with people who already have healthy habits and support you is certainly going to make change easier.

Who is a negative influence on your choices? Food pushers and those that use food as a sign of love are everywhere. Although they might not be intentionally sabotaging your efforts, they can make healthy change significantly harder.

Who models behaviors you would like to see in yourself? No one’s life and relationship with food should be used for comparison; however, other people can be used as guideposts to help discover new habits.

The healthy approaches they use might be a good fit for your life.

Learn more about nutrition and your health by contacting Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota Dietitian Lauren Cornay.

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