Weight management: make your environment work for you
Do you struggle with weight management?
How many times have you tried to lose weight or change your eating habits?
Do you start off feeling excited and empowered, certain that this time, with this new diet plan you are going to reach the goal you set yourself? Yet how often are you left disappointed and demoralised, the diet discarded, back to square one, maybe even a few pounds heavier?
This scenario, familiar to so many, can lead to desperation and frustration. What makes it so hard to stick to a new dietary regimen?
Setting ourselves up to fail
There are many potential issues, among them unrealistic targets and thoughts which don’t align with behaviours, but what we will focus on today is our environment. Unwittingly our environment can be counterproductive to our aims. And if we are depending upon willpower as the main factor in making a success of a diet plan, we may end up fighting all sorts of subliminal messages our sub-conscious picks up on, secretly encouraging us to continue with old eating habits.
What is a habit?
Habits can be a double-edged sword; being on ‘automatic pilot’ frees up brain capacity when it comes to mundane tasks, however this can also make creating new routines more difficult.
Habit loops are formed of three things:
- A trigger or cue which initiates the loop
- A routine is the action which leads to the reward
- A reward or pay off which completes the loop.
Every stage of the loop is affected and reinforced by your environment.
A typical dieting scenario
All day you have eaten well, stuck to your diet plan and are feeling positive about your progress. You leave work, but on the way home you pass a well-known coffee and cake store, which triggers thoughts of biscuits, cakes and pastries. Your brain starts to recall their taste, smell and texture, anticipating how good it would feel to be eating them, which it knows from past experience.
You arrive home, walk in through the front door and, as usual, head straight to the kitchen. You flick the kettle switch, grab the tea bag and mug, and before you know it the biscuit jar is open, and you are two down. 10 minutes later you are wondering, how, yet again have I ended up here?
It’s not really that strange; everything in your environment will be reinforcing your established behaviours, sending subtle signals which are fighting your conscious mind and making it hard to keep to the regimen you are trying to implement. The trick is to manipulate your environment to make these conflicts less likely to occur.
- Become more aware of your surroundings. Identify the behaviour you would like to change (in this case eating biscuits) and look at the events that can trigger it.
- Examine the environmental aspects you can alter to make forming a new habit easier.
In the only too familiar scenario I’ve described, we might change our route home from work, what we do when we open the door and how we stock our cupboards.
An alternative scenario
- You leave work and take a different route home; without the visual cue or smell of the coffee shop the habit loop is not initiated. Of course, you might still think about what you are avoiding, but without the trigger, it won’t be as intense an experience.
- When you get home, go for a 5-minute walk, then head upstairs to get changed. By not going straight to the kitchen you will have broken your normal routine, weakening the habit loop further.
- So, your particular weakness is chocolate biscuits. Next time you shop buy something less tempting, maybe a pack of ginger nuts. You are happy to have one, but they are not quite so ‘moreish’, so you are less likely to mindlessly munch your way through a few. And put them in a stone jar, rather than a glass one, so you can’t see them – and instead of keeping them on the kitchen counter, place them in a cupboard. As Oscar Wilde recognised long ago, most of us can resist anything but temptation. Out of sight, out of mind really does help.
Willpower alone is often not enough to make even short term dietary sacrifices, never mind sustained change, especially when you are in an environment which makes it harder. So, do yourself a favour and reduce the stress. Change your environment to make healthy habits and behaviours easier to adopt. And, as over-hauling everything at once will be too much for the brain to handle, better to choose one aspect to focus on and commit to your new behaviour for at least three weeks to have a much better chance of new eating habits becoming just routine!
Ian Thomas, BSc RD, PN1, Registered Dietitian and proprietor of Healix bespoke nutrition, specialises in online weight loss coaching, instructs adults in gymnastics and offers online personal training. With a background in the NHS, Ian believes nutrition and fitness recommendations should be based on sound scientific evidence when available and uses mindfulness and behaviour science to help people achieve sustained improvements to their health.
Ian offers bespoke nutritional advice at HEALIX BESPOKE NUTRITION.
If you want to receive notification of the next Article posting please enter your email address in the subscribe section on the Home Page.