Transform your food environment for healthier meals

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In January, many people make New Year’s resolutions about healthy eating. Achieving these is often difficult, and changing eating habits can be difficult. However, improving what you eat is a worthy goal because a healthy diet can improve your physical and mental health.

author

  • Georgie Russell

    Senior Lecturer, Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), Deakin University

  • Rebecca Leach

    Deakin University School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow

One of the reasons why it is difficult to change your eating habits is related to your food environment. This term describes:

The collective physical, economic, policy, and sociocultural environments, opportunities, and conditions that influence people’s food and drink choices and nutritional status.

Our current food environment is designed to make it easier to choose unhealthy foods over healthy ones. However, it is possible to change certain aspects of our personal eating environment to make eating healthier a little easier.

unhealthy food environment

Finding fast food restaurants in Australian cities isn’t difficult. Meanwhile, junk food is stocked at supermarket checkouts, gas stations, and sports venues. Takeaway and packaged food and drinks are usually larger in quantity and considered to be tastier than healthier options.

Our food environment also provides a variety of information that encourages us to eat unhealthy foods through media and advertising, as well as health and nutritional claims on food packaging and attractive marketing images.

Supermarkets often promote unhealthy foods through prominent displays and discounts.

Also, in our daily lives, we are exposed to various situations that make it difficult to eat healthy. For example, at social events or work settings, unhealthy foods may be served in large quantities.

Not everyone is affected in the same way

The extent to which food intake is influenced by the food environment varies from person to person.

This depends on biological factors (such as genetics and hormones), psychological characteristics (such as decision-making processes and personality traits), and previous experiences with food (learned associations between food and certain situations or emotions). (e.g. gender).

Susceptible people are more likely to eat more and eat more unhealthy foods than people who are less influenced by food environments and situations.

Susceptible individuals may pay more attention to food cues, such as advertisements or cooking smells, and feel a strong desire to eat when exposed to these cues. On the other hand, you may pay less attention to your body’s internal cues that tell you when you’re hungry or full. These differences are due to a combination of biological and psychological characteristics.

These people may be more likely to experience physiological responses to food cues, such as changes in heart rate and increased salivation.

Depending on what people have learned about eating, other situational cues may prompt them to eat. Some of us tend to eat when we are tired or in a bad mood, but over time we have learned that eating can be comforting in such situations.

Others may be in the car on their way home from work (where they may pass multiple fast food restaurants on the way), at certain times of the day, such as after dinner, or when other people around them are eating. I tend to eat when I am. , I learned about the relationship between these situations and diet.

Being in front of the TV or other screen can also cause you to overeat, eat unhealthy food, or eat more than you intended.

make changes

Although we cannot change the broad range of food environments or individual characteristics that influence sensitivity to food cues, we can try to adjust when and how we are influenced by food cues. This allows you to reshape some aspects of your personal food environment, which can be helpful if you are working towards healthier eating goals.

Meals and snacks are both important to overall diet quality, but snacking is often unplanned, and the eating environment and context can have a significant impact on snacking.

Foods consumed as snacks include sweet drinks, sweets, chips, and cakes. However, some snacks can be healthy (fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.).

Remove unhealthy foods from your home, especially packaged snacks, or avoid buying them in the first place. This means less temptation, which is especially helpful for people who are easily influenced by their food environment.

Planning social events around activities other than eating can reduce the social influence on eating. For example, instead of having lunch at a fast food restaurant, why not go for a walk with a friend?

Creating certain rules and habits can help reduce food triggers. For example, not eating at your desk, in your car, or in front of the TV will reduce the impact of these situations as cues to eat over time.

You can also keep a food diary to identify what moods and emotions trigger your eating. Once you’ve identified these triggers, create a plan to break these habits. Strategies may include doing other activities that help you manage your moods and emotions, such as going for a short walk or listening to music, which would normally make you reach for the fridge.

Write (and stick to) a shopping list and avoid buying food when you’re hungry. Plan and prepare your meals and snacks in advance so that you can make meal decisions in advance, especially in situations where you may feel hungry or tired or may be affected by your eating environment.

conversation

Rebecca Leech receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1175250).

Georgie Russell does not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that might benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations other than an academic appointment. has not been made clear either.

/Courtesy of The Conversation. This material from the original organization/author may be of a contemporary nature and has been edited for clarity, style, and length. Mirage.News does not take any institutional position or position, and all views, positions, and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the authors.

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