Always thinking about food? There’s a very good reason for that. Your environment may be throwing food temptation in your path at every opportunity, and it’s no wonder you’re constantly thinking about food. Put simply: the food environment in which many of us live makes it too easy to eat too much.
When you think about your environment—the surroundings in which you live, work and play—you probably don’t think about food. And yet, we all live in a very complex food environment, one in which we’re faced with food and food-related decisions all day long. It’s an environment that makes it really difficult to choose healthy foods—and increasingly easy to choose foods that aren’t very good for us.
The Food Environment
Your food environment is made up of all the influences on your food choices and your eating behaviors. There’s food everywhere, it seems—in your neighborhood, your workplace, at school, at home and on television. Along with the pressure to eat it. And the pressure isn’t on us to eat goodfoods. We’re swayed by the fact that we can satisfy our cravings for fatty, sugary, salty foods quickly, easily and cheaply.
Here’s a question for you: Suppose you’re out running errands in your neighborhood, and as you’re driving around you get a sudden craving for a burger, or a soda, or a piece of pizza. How many places can you think of where you could stop and satisfy those cravings? I thought so… I’ll bet you came up with a pretty good list in no time.
Now, answer this question: Same thing—you’re out driving around and you get a craving for some baby carrots, a carton of yogurt, or a piece of fruit. Now how many places can you think of where you could stop and satisfy those cravings? Go ahead…take your time…I’ll wait…
The Pressure to Eat is Everywhere
You face the pressure to eat foods that you neither want nor need all the time. Walking into the supermarket to buy some apples, someone waves a free sausage sample under your nose.
You stop at your local discount store to stock up on shampoo, and your senses are assaulted by the sight and smell of pepperoni pizza. And no checkout experience would be complete unless you’ve faced the temptation of a wall of candy and a mini-refrigerator stocked with soda.
Here’s another thing about food temptation that I’ve noticed lately. Movie theaters don’t seem to have box offices any more, you have to buy your tickets at the refreshment stand.
As soon as you ask for your ticket, you’re going to have to answer to “Would you like a soda to go with that? Some candy? How about large popcorn?” Imagine what this has done for refreshment sales, not to mention our waistlines.
Controlling Your Food Environment
Consider the two food environments in which you operate. There’s your personal space (primarily your home), and then there’s the food environment of the world at large. Obviously, you have a lot more control over your personal space, which means it’s up to you to make changes to your home food environment.
As far as the larger food environment is concerned, the best place to start gaining some control is in how you respond to those everyday pressures to eat in order to resist them.
How to Avoid Food Temptation at Home
Make a file or bookmark a list with several easy, healthy recipes that you can turn to frequently. It will help you resist the temptation to order in.
Keep tempting foods out of sight, either out of the house entirely or in opaque containers, and preferably on high shelves.
Keep healthy foods visible and readily available. Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, cut up vegetables in the refrigerator.
Determine portions ahead of time, and plate up your food in the kitchen, not at the table. While you’re at it, set aside a portion for tomorrow’s lunch.
How to Avoid Food Temptation Away from Home
At the supermarket. Make a grocery list and stick to it. If it’s not on your list, don’t give in to food temptation and don’t buy it. The only exception would be if there’s a good deal on healthy items that you would be purchasing anyway.
But don’t let yourself be swayed by the ‘buy one, get one free’ type of offers unless it’s something you would normally buy. If your supermarket has a ‘candy free’ checkout lane (some do), choose that one.
At work. If vending machines tempt you, plan ahead and keep healthy snacks at your desk, like nuts or soy nuts, fruit or protein bars. If you normally pass the vending machine on your way to the rest room or the building exit, try to find a different route so you can avoid it.
Other potential problems at work: goodies in the employee break room and co-workers who keep treats on their desks. Having your own healthy snacks and bringing your own lunch as often as you can is your best defense.
When you’re out running errands. Again, plan ahead. Carry water and snacks in the car if you know you’ll be out for a while. If you’re struck by food temptation at your various stops, remind yourself why you’re there in the first place. Did you go to the gas station to get gas? Or to buy a candy bar? Why did you go to the discount store? To stock up on laundry soap, or to eat lunch?
At restaurants. Go into the restaurant with an idea of what you’ll have. That way you’ll be less likely to be swayed by menu descriptions or daily specials. Don’t be talked into appetizers, beverages or desserts that you don’t want—or get talked into supersizing. If you’re with a group of people, try to order first so you won’t be swayed by what others are choosing to eat.