Creating healthy eating habits: The effect of cues + environment

Understanding what's healthy differs from actually choosing healthy options.  Obvious, right?  For example, I know the health benefits of red wine come from 5 ounces per day for a women, but I may still have 2+ glasses on a Friday night.   A pint of ice cream is meant to be 4 servings (!) but suddenly it's gone in one sitting.  So how can we better align our nutrition knowledge (and goals!) with our nutrition actions?  Read on to find out!   

#tbt to treating myself to Bananas Foster || Because one healthy eating Habit is allowing yourself to occasionally Indulge! 

#tbt to treating myself to Bananas Foster || Because one healthy eating Habit is allowing yourself to occasionally Indulge! 

Positive or negative, habits are powerful forces in our lives, helping us to perform actions without much thought.  Maybe you consistently eat dessert after dinner or order pizza on Friday nights, or you might go for a run every morning or drink a glass of water upon waking.  With habits, we can minimize our reliance on willpower...unless of course, the goal is to change that habit (say swapping that post-dinner ice cream for a piece of fruit).

If the habit you're trying to kick is eating unhealthy foods when you aren't even hungry, there's hope!  There's new + promising research suggesting that offering healthy cues can help end the cycle of binging on junk food.  In the interest of complete transparency, the study focused on rats, but we can still learn a lot from their behavior!  The breakdown:  Well-fed rats placed in a high-fat, high-sugar environment displayed behaviors consistent with habitual eating rather than volitional eating compared to rats in a bland chow environment.  Basically, the rats in the high-fat + sugar environments weren't hungry, but they ate a lot of junk food anyway.  Simply reminding those rats of the bland chow option reverted them back to volitional eating behaviors.  

What does this mean for humans?  Well, if we behave in a similar manner, then we have the potential to shift patterns of habitual eating (like junk food binging) to more volitional eating (aligning with our nutrition knowledge and goals).  Tips for doing so include: (1) Keeping healthy food in the house along with little notes reminding you of those options and their benefits; (2) having a partner, friend, or family member act as your healthy eating reminder - alerting you to the nutrition goals you've set every time you're about to engage in habitual eating; or (3) setting reminders on your phone at times that you know you are prone to eating without hunger.  These tiny cues may help shift your mindset to one in which you are making positive health choices rather than eating out of habit.

If you're not sold on using healthy eating cues, there are other tactics you can use to shake a bad habit.  Begin by focusing on the environment in which you spend most of your time (home, car, work).  At home, you can increase vegetable intake by rearranging your fridge (prep veggies for easy snacking + make them more prominent so you actually choose them!).  Replace countertop candy dishes or baked goods with fruit bowls if you're trying to limit sweets.  Switch pizza delivery night to homemade pizza night by grocery shopping early in the week and having the ingredients ready to go.  In your car, keep a stash of healthy snacks so you aren't tempted to swing by a fast food spot.  Alter your driving route if you have a tendency to grab treats at a store along your usual course.  At work, change the scenery during the time you're most likely to nosh - get outside for a quick walk or even just take  a trip to refill your water bottle.  Habit changes will take time, practice, and patience, but with preparation and support, you can do it!  Good luck!! 

As always, you can reach out to Palate Theory for extra assistance and accountability in attaining your healthy lifestyle goals!