If you’ve put on weight over the years, it’s helpful to acknowledge the potential effect of your past and present food environments. It may also help you take control of your current and future food environments.
Your food environment includes foods and drinks:
- In your home, whether you or someone else bought them
- In your workplace
- Offered to you socially when with family and friends
- That are fresh, affordable, and easily available near you
- That are available from local cafes and restaurants
Have you heard the term ‘food desert’? These are places where local fresh food grocers are disappearing and have been replaced by high-processed take-away foods. This can mean both the lack of fresh foods and the unavoidability of processed foods and drinks.
We are lucky in Australia and New Zealand to have an abundance of fresh foods available in our local supermarkets, local farmers markets, great butchers and loads of fruit and vegetable shops.
The best and easiest strategy is to take proactive steps to manage all your food environments, so you always have available the foods that match your food plan, wherever you go. It’s always best to have a few days’ supply on hand or plan out a weekly shop if you like to pre-plan.
Go check your fridge and pantry. Grab your program shopping list and stock up on your proteins and low-carb vegetables and fruits. Get rid of off-plan foods. If you can’t bear throwing them away, give them away.
Never go shopping hungry or without a shopping list. If the supermarket food environment is a place where you might succumb, give your shopping list and credit card to someone else with the clear instructions to only buy what’s on the list, and nothing else. Alternatively do your shopping order online.
Be warned that the mission of the supermarket, packaged food companies, and service stations is NOT to help you manage your weight and health. It’s to make money. They do everything possible to craft their environment to trigger shoppers to make discretionary purchases of highly-processed obesogenic foods. Their job is to sell a product dressed up in attractive packaging that tastes good and looks like food.
Have you heard the saying, “Only eat what your grandmother would recognise as food”?
Certainly, don’t leave it to willpower!
Imagine you’re at a restaurant with friends. You have clear soup to start, followed by steak and a large green salad. You’re feeling comfortable and enjoying your friends’ company.
If the waiter then offers everyone a bonus free serving of chicken breast, you and your friends would probably decline the offer as you are no longer hungry.
Just imagine if that same waiter offered you all a slice each of the chef’s signature chocolate cake with a dollop of his award-winning ice cream! Complimentary. Would you with your friends’ encouragement say yes? Now you have a dilemma as well as peer pressure!
You’re not at all hungry but you’re finding it hard to say no to the free chocolate cake. Can you hear yourself saying “It’s only one slice, just a bit won’t hurt as I’ve been good all week”?
Everybody likes the dopamine effect of the sugar-sweetened cake however it may contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Everything in moderation may not be the answer!
Other common food environments to be aware of include buffet eating, cultural and family events, and general socialising with food and alcohol.
The message is that your food environment matters. For weight loss, and weight control, it’s much easier to manage your environment than manage your willpower. Learning self-awareness of hunger and satiety and eating mindfully (and slowly) can also help you to manage your environment.
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