Your food environment is simply all the food and drink you encounter throughout the day and how that food and drink affects you, your lifestle and your goals.
In order to improve our food environment, first we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
1) What foods would I like to eat more of?
2) What foods would I like to eat less of?
3) What are my trigger foods?
4) What foods do I struggle to moderate?
Once you’ve (honestly) answered the questions above, you can start looking at how you can tidy up and improve your food environment, and overcome certain nutritional barriers that are hindering you from sticking to or achieving your goals.
The first step to improving your food environment is to increase the visibility of the foods you want to eat more of: quite simply the foods we see more regularly are the foods we will eat more regularly. If you want to be eating more fruit and veggies, ensure that when you walk into the kitchen you see a nice, big bowl of fruit and vegetables instead of a packet of biscuits or a bar of chocolate. The same goes with your cupboards and fridge. Remove treats, or foods you are more likely to pick at, from eye level and replace them with foods you are happy to, or simply won’t, snack on.
Once you’ve done all of that, it’s time to address ‘food availability’. If you are likely to go looking for a certain chocolate bar (whether it’s visible in your kitchen or not) or a bag of crisps, there are some solutions to help this. The first, and simplest, thing to do is just to buy those ‘trigger foods’ less frequently. If they aren’t always available in your house then you will naturally eat them less frequently. This is not to say you need to eliminate these foods from your diet completely, but by purchasing them less often you will automatically be moderating the amount you consume. By the same principle, when you are out and on-the-go, why not have healthy snacks prepared and with you? This will reduce the likelihood of you going to buy more indulgent treats to curb your hunger or cravings. As has already been stated, the aim is to not eliminate these foods so much as to decrease the frequency with which you eat them.
Now the next step of improving your food environment is to moderate the amounts of different foods that you are eating. For example, if you cannot stop yourself at 1 or 2 pieces of chocolate, or a few crisps, then start off by only buying single servings. This will help you not to overeat certain foods that you struggle to moderate. Quite simply, if you only have a single chocolate bar in the house, it’s going to be much harder for you to eat more than that one bar of chocolate - you’re going to have to leave your house and go to buy more chocolate in order to so. In most cases, this is unlikely to happen.
If snacks aren’t where you struggle with moderation but rather at meal times, then one of the best things you can do is to plate up your food in the kitchen, before moving to the dining table to eat. By moving yourself further away from any leftovers / extra food, it is less likely that you will pick at what is left - you will have to make much more effort in order to do so.
Finally, it’s so important to try and get the people who you live with, or spend the most time with, to get on board with the approach you are following - or at least be considerate of what you are trying to do. This could be by not offering you indulgent foods and drinks to decrease temptation, or by following your lead and surrounding you both with healthier snack options.
Summary of key points:
1) The less choices you have to make in a day, the less likely it is that you will go “off track”.
2) Stack the odds in your favour; make it easy to say no or to make a better choice.
3) Willpower runs out! The more you use during the day, the less you will have left in the evening.
4) Allow yourself what you want sometimes, just be mindful of frequency and/or quantities.
5) Elimination is not the aim, moderation is!