An arch is the strongest architectural structure there is. It has to do with the way the forces are distributed. Essentially, the shape of an arch distributes the forces such that each part of the arch carries the same amount of the load. The most important part to the arch is the keystone, it is the final pieceplaced during construction, locking all stones in place and allowing the arch to bear weight. Our nutrition habits are like an arch. We establish a solid foundation (i.e. our mindset and our community) and then place the keystone. In my opinion, the keystone to healthy eating is your environment.
The old adage “we are products of our environment” is especially true when we talk about nutritional habits. We can use epidemiological, anecdotal, and research evidence to show that the food environment you live in plays a strong role in predicting your nutritional habits.
To avoid diving into the scientific literature, let’s think about your own experiences. How often do you consume something unhealthy because it is there? How often do you actively go pursue unhealthy foods? For example, if you are hungry and want something to eat, how likely are you to eat what is available versus going on a mission to get something specific?If you go to the fridge and there is a bowl full of prepared vegetables, left over roasted meat, or a piece of fruit would you choose that over deciding to bake a batch of cookies? What if the situation was reversed? There are cookies in the pantry but you know you should take the 30 minutes it takes to sauté up some meat and veggies, what would your choice be? I know from my experiences that I often tend to choose what is available first. In fact, I always make sure I have a meal or two worth of what I consider health food ready to go in my fridge in case I am too pressed for time to cook. Even though I have the best intentions, sometimes convenience overrides me knowing what I should be doing.
What does it take to set up a successful eating environment? It really is not as difficult as one would think, it simply requires planning ahead. Below is a specific list of tips and ways to set up a successful eating environment.
1) Preparing meals ahead of time if you have a busy schedule
-Pre-chop vegetables/meat/fruit in large quantities for use in recipes (i.e. omelets, stir-fry, roasting, quick sautés, etc.) or quick snacks. For example, I usually chop up a large batch of veggies every Sunday evening so I can make omelets or quick stir-fry dishes in the morning or for dinner when I get home from a busy day.
-Prepare meals ahead of time if you have a busy schedule.
-Cook a large batch of food on Sunday and take the left overs for lunch for a few days.
-If you are someone who doesn’t like more than 1 day old food simply make a little extra each night at dinner and just have 1 day-old left overs.
-Use a crock pot
-Throw a bunch of ingredients in the crock pot in the morning and have dinner ready when you get home.
-This is also where pre-chopped veggies are nice. Just throw pre-chopped veggies with a chunk of meat and some stock in the crock pot in the morning.
2) Remove the foods you want to avoid.
-This seems simple but it is extremely effective. From my experience, if it isn’t there you won’t eat it and you won’t crave it because you never see it.
-Toss out or better yet donate food you know you don’t want to eat. Also, you can swap it with people you know.
-Purchase the foods you do want.
3) Eat at home more often
-This is possibly the biggest key. Eating at home removes many of the triggers that result in poor nutritional choices. The variety of a large menu, the smells and sight of food, and the overall environment promote poor choices and over consumption.
-Plus, eating out is more expensive, so eating at home allows you to save a few dollars.
I love flow charts and diagrams so I have put together one for you all to have and refer to when you are thinking about how to create a healthy nutritional environment.
Setting up a successful environment requires you to be conscious and deliberate about your habits. It also requires you to adopt the correct mindset and enables you to develop a healthy baseline. While it definitely is not rocket science, it makes a huge difference in your nutritional habits.
Go out and create the healthiest nutritional environment you can! Trust me, it will make a world of difference!
Brad Dieter is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Idaho in the Movement Sciences department. He is an athlete and nerd who is constantly pushing himself to be a better athlete, coach, and scientist. He is a nutrition wizard who also happens to love weightlifting and developing athletes. He and Mike Vaccaro run Evolutionary-Health.com and work hard day in and day out to bring next-level information and techniques to the health and fitness scene.