Health & Food

Don’t Let Our Food Environment Sabotage YOUR Wellness Efforts! (Sabotage Saturday, on Friday!)

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I talk about the importance of changing our food environment a lot on this blog (just a warning in case you are a new reader).  I wrote this post last year about how we should be able to control our own health and wellness efforts, but our food environment often makes it difficult.  It’s true.  Not that there is any excuse for eating an unhealthy diet or living an unhealthy lifestyle.  There really shouldn’t be an excuse for you to take the elevator instead of the stairs, or eat the donut instead of the apple, or order the extra large soda instead of the small.  If you make an excuse, you’re just being naive and failing to admit that you lack self-control, or that you just don’t care about your health that much (is that mean? Hey, I’m the Candid RD!  I give honest opinions, what can I say?!).

People say things like this to me all the time, when I “catch” then eating something not-so-healthy;

“Gina, I don’t eat like this all the time, I promise, it’s just for this one breakfast that I’m eating 2 donuts, honest”.

People feel like they have to apologize to me for their lack-luster diets (or their “one poor food choice”).  I hate that.  Why do they apologize to me?  They should be apologizing to themselves.

Source: iStock Photo

So cheap. So addicting! And, such an easy thing to grab on a quick work break. I get it.

But is it true that so many people really don’t care about their health and wellness?  Is it true that so many people really lack self-control?  Yes, it’s true, but I’ll be the first to stand up for those people because I don’t think it’s all their fault.   I think most people really do care about their health and wellness, obviously, but our environment is setting them up for failure.

This article from CNN.com discussed how many of our behaviors aren’t driven by thinking about the consequences of our actions, but instead they are “automatic, and shaped by our environments and performed without awareness”.  In my counseling sessions at work I try really hard to instill in people that idea of eating mindfully, and thinking about every action you make (specfically, your helath and wellness actions).  I’ve been doing this myself, with my own actions, my entire life, and at one point I did it obsessively.  Now, thankfully, my mindfulness is healthy and positive.  So what can we do to make healthier choices more of an automatic response??Change our environment, of course. I know we don’t have control over it, but I think different laws are being passed, each year, that are slowly working towards the goal of changing our environment and helping to make our “automatic responses” less likely to be poor choices.Even if some people think these laws are crazy, I am a believer that most of them (while they may seem trivial and silly) will really make a big difference in the long run.  

EXAMPLES 

  • Nutrition facts on menus: Having the nutrition facts listed right next to the foods on menus sort of forces you to be more mindful about the choices you make.  Without even thinking about it you will likely notice the calories and even if you don’t really care, you’ll likely make a different choice based on the number you see.  Many people think the entire idea is lame, but what I love about it is that places with a “health halo”, such as Panera, are forced to show people that a “Soup and Salad” combo may not always be as healthy as you would think. 
  • Smoking bans:  Need I say more?  This was the smartest law that was passed in (certain) American cities and states. It’s so refreshing walking into a restaurant and not having to worry about getting seated in an area with smoke.  To be honest, I never really thought about it a whole lot until I was in a city that didn’t have the same ban on smoking that we have here in Columbus.  I walked into a restaurant and was blown away by how smokey it was.  Wow, had I really lived my entire life with this before?? I had no control over it before, so it didn’t really bother me, but now that it’s gone, and it’s amazing.

Less Americans can make the automatic decision to light up, wherever they want.  In turn, less Americans are smoking.

  • Banning of extra large pops:  I’ll be honest, at first I thought the ban on large sodas in NewYorkwas sort of lame.  I mean, you can’t buy a large soda, so you’ll just buy a couple smalls or mediums, right?!  But the truth is, most people won’t do that.  When people buy large sodas it’s because it’s such a good deal, but now that they aren’t offered, that “automatic response” isn’t even an option, so people will have to be content with the options they do I was at a wellness event the other day and the only thing available was regular soda.  What?!  Not even any water on hand!  It was an automatic decision for many of the attendees to grab a regular soda, because they had no choice. Their environment sort of forced them to do this (although I just went thirsty, and used the drinking fountain)
  • Taking away the salt shaker! It sounds like a strange thing to do, but when Boston Market took the salt shakers away from their restaurant tables, less patrons were able to automatically pick up the salt shaker and load their already salt-loaded food with more salt.  That automatic action was reduced.  Who knows by how much, but who cares? Even if 20% of Boston Market customers added less salt, that’s a plus.  Maybe those customers would then realize that their food was already plenty salty, and perhaps they would then not use the salt shaker on other food they consume.  A small change in the environment. It makes a difference.

Source: iStock Photo

I was really happy when the manager of the supermarket where I Work asked me for some ideas for healthy snacks to put by the cash registers. How many times have you made the decision to grab a candy bar or bag of chips as you go through the check-out lanes at a store?  If the only option is something healthy, instead of something that is unhealthy, you will have to choose the healthy option.  Right?!  And you’ll enjoy it too

Source: iStock Photo

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