Positive Eating Environment at Home: A Blueprint for Behavior Change

Woman looking in fridge and reading food label
March 13, 2024
We can’t always control the food environment around us, but our home environment is one that we can modify more than others. Creating a home environment that supports the behaviour change you want to make can make it easier to sustain that new healthy habit!

In today's rapidly evolving lifestyle, the environment we live in plays a critical role in shaping our dietary habits, particularly in our homes. With the majority of people spending more time at home now than ever before, understanding and modifying our home environment can significantly influence our behavior towards food. This, in turn, is pivotal for weight management and fostering healthy eating habits. This post draws on insights from behavioral psychologist Dr. Wendy Wood's book, Good Habits, Bad Habits, to explore how a positive eating environment at home can be a blueprint for meaningful behavior change.

•The Power of Environment on Eating Behaviors

•Overcoming Environmental Obstacles for Better Food Choices

•Your Home: The Ultimate Bastion of Dietary Control

•Actionable Steps to Design a Positive Eating Environment

•Kitchen Setup: Highlight the concept of 'first thing you see' and its power

•The 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' Strategy

•Curating your Home's Food Inventory

•Positive Eating Environments: Frequently Asked Questions

Image of woman imagining cookies

The Power of Environment on Eating Behaviors

Our surroundings significantly influence our daily choices more than we realize. A simple example can be observed in the grocery store:the placement of products, the smell of fresh baked goods, and even the music playing can subtly guide our choices, sometimes towards less healthy options. Dr. Wendy Wood, in her book Good Habits, Bad Habits, elaborates on how our context can significantly impact our choices. She articulates that our habitual behaviors, particularly eating behaviors, are largely driven by our environment. It’s a myth that willpower alone can steer us towards better food choices; our surroundings hold a potent influence over our decisions.

Overcoming Environmental Obstacles for Better Food Choices

Navigating through the maze of dietary choices isn't always a walk in the park, especially with environmental temptations lurking around every corner. Be it the mouth-watering aroma from the workplace cafeteria or a family member’s penchant for stocking up on sugary snacks, these external snags can challenge our resolve. And oh, the 'visible snacks' scenario — who can resist a cookie jar on the counter? Tackling these environmental hurdles requires a mix of awareness and a sprinkle of strategic tweaks to our surroundings, setting the stage for better food choices.

Your Home: The Ultimate Bastion of Dietary Control

Unlike the outside world, our home is a little kingdom where we have the power to control our eating environment. The new norm of spending more time at home has turned our abodes into a central hub for dietary habits. So, why not make this hub a haven for positive dietary choices? A little bit of mindfulness can transform our homes into a supportive eating environment and is one of the easiest places to begin when working on our weight management goals.

Actionable Steps to Design a Positive Eating Environment

Creating a supportive eating environment doesn’t have to be a Herculean task. With a few simple tweaks and a dash of mindfulness, you can set the stage for healthier eating habits.

Kitchen Setup: Highlight the concept of 'first thing you see' and its power

Our kitchen can either be a springboard for healthy eating or a pitfall of poor dietary choices. The power of the 'first thing you see' concept is real and can be harnessed to promote better eating habits. Displaying fruits and vegetables openly on a countertop, or pre-cut snacks in the front of the fridge, is not only visually appealing, but also a nudge towards a healthier snack choice. Moreover, stocking frequently accessed areas with healthier options makes the more nutritious choice the easy choice.

The 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' Strategy

The old adage 'out of sight, out of mind' holds a kernel of truth when it comes to food choices. Manipulating the visibility and accessibility of food can significantly impact our eating behavior. For instance, by tucking away foods you'd like to limit consumption of and placing healthier options at eye level, you can subtly steer your choices towards better food options. A little rearrangement can go a long way. Allocate a specific spot for treats, preferably out of immediate sight, and make healthier foods easily accessible.

Curating your Home's Food Inventory

The choices we make at the grocery store lay the foundation for our home food environment. Mindful purchasing can set the stage for a supportive eating scenario at home. Being mindful about what enters your shopping cart directly impacts what enters your home, and eventually, your body. If you are hoping to decrease the consumption of certain foods, consider not bringing them into your home in the first place. Again, if it’s not easily accessible, the chance of consuming it decreases.

Here are two tips that have proven incredibly helpful to our clients:

1. Never go grocery shopping hungry! Remember grocery stores are designed to sell food, and they’ve purposely created an environment designed to get you to walk by all the tastiest treats. Going when you are hungry will make it almost impossible to resist what’s on offer.

2. Go in with a shopping list. If you already know what you’re looking for, it will make it a lot easier to avoid other things on offer. It will also help you save some money :)

Positive Eating Environments: Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start making my home a positive eating environment?

Starting with one step, like rearranging snacks in your kitchen or discussing dietary goals with your family, can set you on the right path. Small changes can have a big impact over time.

Can environmental changes replace willpower?

While a supportive environment greatly aids in making healthier choices, willpower and motivation still play a crucial role. However, it is important to note that by modifying your environment to add friction and make unhealthy food choices less accessible, you can significantly reduce the amount of willpower needed to resist temptation. In other words, creating an environment that makes it harder to indulge in unhealthy options can help you rely less on willpower alone.

How can I handle unsupportive family members or housemates?

Communication is key. Discuss your goals, explain their importance, and try to find middle ground or compromise. It’s a journey that can be undertaken together.

Are there any books or resources to learn more about this?

"Good Habits, Bad Habits" by Dr. Wendy Wood is an excellent resource. It delves  into how our surroundings impact our habits and offers insightful strategies to harness the power of habits in our favor.

Fran Wild
Lead Dietitian
Frances Wild is the lead dietitian at Constant Health, specializing in diabetes and weight management since 2013. As a Certified Diabetes Educator with experience in working with individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery, Fran understands that everyone's nutritional needs and preferences are unique. She advocates for a sustainable approach to weight management and believes that lasting weight loss can be achieved without sacrificing the joy of eating!
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