Do you rely on willpower and dieting when you are trying to lose weight and improve health?
As the North American population expands in their waistlines and the number of diets continues to grow, something is out of balance and isn’t working for the majority.
Life is busy and humans are creatures of habit. With over 200 decisions being made about food for most of us daily, many times poor choices are made due to convenience and habit. Research indicates that most people who have ‘dieted’ with the goal of losing weight tend to gain weight over the long run. Restrictive diets generally make an individual’s relationship to food more dysfunctional and unhealthy in the long-term.
If we change our environment, instead of relying on willpower and dieting to adjust our eating habits, healthier decisions will become easier to make.
There are some daily common automatic routines that many people do. Over time many of these habits can be detrimental for health. Habits such as, keeping tempting, junk-type foods in sight, since this almost guarantees that it get eaten. Also, going shopping on an empty stomach and buying packaged, convenient snack foods will ensure that these highly processed, salty fatty foods will be consumed. Eating from a package, while doing something else will also help to ensure that more will be eaten than portioning the food out in a dish or bowl. Engaging in another activity while eating naturally leads to overeating. Another way to eat more at mealtimes, is to serve food on big plates. There’s evidence to prove that using larger dishes, bowls and utensils will help to support an individual to eat more and will continue to ‘supersize’ the body. Finishing food that is on the plate is an ingrained behaviour for many North Americans. Many people were taught at a young age to ‘finish everything’ on their plate. When parents and caregivers say this to kids at mealtimes on a regular basis, it will send a message to kids that they can’t trust their own bodies to determine if they are satisfied and full at a meal. Kids know how to listen to their own internal cues much better than adults, and many grown-ups can learn a lot from their kids. For healthy habits to start when kids are young, adults can help to offer healthy food choices and children will determine if they eat it and how much. Rewards of sweet desserts to tempt kids to eat their vegetables at meals does not help. This can send a mixed message that ‘veggies’ must not be good, if a reward is needed to eat them.
Since there are no ‘quick fixes’ for good health, small steps in behaviour change can lead to positive health improvements over time.
Planning ahead, making a list, and buying more vegetables, fruits and whole grains can be a good start to making it easier to eat better. Clearing counters and surfaces of all foods but the healthy ones will help change the eating environment for health. Consciously, becoming more mindful and slowing down while eating, and focusing on how the food tastes, smells, feels and looks can help a person determine if
they are truly enjoying it. Being in tune with eating helps an individual become more mindful and connects the mind and body to hunger signals. Also, using smaller dishes, plates, bowls and utensils for meals and snacks will help to reduce how much food is eaten.
Changing the environment to help change health will also work for the landscape and living area around us. As green spaces, parks, bike paths, beaches and attractive surroundings are available to people to get outside for activity, the opportunities are presented that make it easier to get bodies moving and healthy. Many cities and towns have amenities to help people stay active, including indoor facilities, such as the hockey rinks, gyms, athletic halls, Parks+Rec spaces and the wide open outdoor environment. If exercise is fun and easy, it’s more likely that peoples’ fitness will improve with more activity. In the long-term, regular activity will support people to stay healthier in a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritually positive way. Change the environment to help change health.