Establishing an environment that minimizes the food-related temptations, which are reinforced by your working brain’s chemical stew, could start by moving to the far reaches of Alaska or Wyoming, and declining TV, telephone, or internet service. That may make getting important regular medical care for your diabetes more challenging, however. A better alternative might be to simply modify your own food environment to whatever extent you can.
Although it may sound overly simple, the benefits can be amazing.
Cues and triggers in the media, your community, and your immediate environment influence unhealthy eating habits, but this is only a problem because the huge majority of cues and triggers are associated with unhealthy choices. It’s unlikely you see many influences toward healthier foods in media advertising, but you can build an environment in your home and office that turns mindless behavior in your favor. You can fool yourself to be healthier.
Start with an inventory of your home and anyplace else you hang out, like your office. What kinds of food have you stockpiled? Is there anything healthy, like fresh fruit, or some low-carbohydrate vegetables? Check to see if your less-healthy choices are the ones right out in plain view, begging you to grab a bite every time you glance up or walk by?
Nobody says you can never snack, even on something that won’t make anyone’s list of healthy foods, but give yourself the chance to make better choices, or to forget you have cheese curls in the house. Make some decisions about what foods you must have now and then, like chocolate, and eliminate stuff that just happens to be lying around.
Choose the best options for snacks, like dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and hide it away so you’re not reminded constantly. Display healthier foods, like fresh fruit, in plain view so cues and triggers to eat work in your favor (and you remember to count the carbohydrates in foods like fruit).
And, when it comes to actually eating, try the following tricks:
Never eat snacks directly from the container. Take an actual serving according to the label, and put the container completely away. This habit allows your thinking brain to ask you hard questions when you consider retrieving the container for another serving.
You eat less if you eat off of smaller plates. If you’re not in the market for new dishware, practice putting much less food on your plate, and leave the second helping across the room instead of in a serving bowl that’s sitting right in front of you. A trip across the room can really discourage additional eating in a mindless way.
Incorporate a healthy, low-calorie appetizer. Start with a salad of colorful vegetables (and low-calorie dressing), or bowl of low-sodium broth into your meals, and give the first course time to communicate with your brain before you gobble down the main course. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the all-full signal.
Chew your food thoroughly. In fact, chew it beyond what it normally takes for you to swallow. Time is your friend in healthier eating habits.
Don’t eat in front of the television. Anything that takes your attention away from your food and your level of satisfaction and satiety opens the door for mindless overeating.
Change your habits. If you always sit down at 10:00 P.M. with a bowl of ice cream, do something different to break the mindless pattern.
Your mind is both mysterious and amazing. Researchers in Pittsburg found, for instance, that subjects who were asked to imagine themselves in vivid detail eating a certain number of M&M candies resulted in that group actually eating fewer M&Ms after the thought experiment was over than subjects in groups asked to imagine they were doing other tasks.
More interesting, subjects asked to simply think about M&M candies, without being asked to imagine eating them, did not show the same tendency to eat fewer M&Ms after the experiment. In a counterintuitive result, creating a vivid mental image of eating a food reduced the desire to actually eat the food.