How do our surroundings affect body weight?
Think about Kevin, who works in an office just a stone’s throw away from a fast food restaurant, with quick access to junk food 24 hours a day. Compare that to Denise, whose workplace provides a healthy canteen for staff, with subsidised meals that are both nutritious and delicious. It’s easy to see how the immediate surroundings of Kevin and Denise could have a significant and completely different impact on their health and body shape.
Now, have a think about the surroundings at either your workplace or home. Is your immediate environment supportive of a healthy lifestyle, or is it holding you back? Portion control and kilojoule counting can be challenging for even the most diligent of dieters. New research has shown it may be easier to change the immediate environment so it works for you rather than against you.
According to an article published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour, food consumption can be unknowingly influenced by environmental stimulus. Factors such as the visibility, size, and accessibility of food can all make a difference. While the decision of how much food to serve ourselves is often subconscious, research has shown that large packages, large plates, large serving bowls, and even pantry arrangements can all increase how much a person serves and consumes by 15–45%. The average size of plates sold in America has increased by 22% over the last 110 years. These variables all perceptually suggest to us that it is appropriate, typical, reasonable, and normal to serve and to eat more food than smaller packages or plates would suggest. Environmental cues may also cause us to mindlessly ignore internal feelings of fullness because they provide an external guide to when we should stop eating.
For example, we focus on cleaning our plate, instead of focusing on how full we feel. In addition, we don’t tend to think about how big the plate is, or how much food was served on the plate. There is also research to show that overweight people are more likely to rely on external cues to determine when to stop eating (such as whether the television show they were watching is over). In contrast, normal-weight people were more likely to rely on internal cues, such as when they were no longer hungry.
Changing your environment to accelerate weight loss
Is the environment where you spend most of your time supportive of a healthy lifestyle? By restructuring your personal environment, you can eat better without relying on willpower, and find it easier to stick to your diet. Following are some tips on how to make your home a bit like a health farm, helping you to reduce portion sizes and make better food choices.
- Your kitchen is an environment within your control. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy foods, and place them in a place of prominence.
- Avoid bringing junk foods or unhealthy treats into your home. You can’t eat what you don’t have.
- If indulgent food does enter your house, wrap leftovers in foil to make them less visible, or place them at the back of the fridge or panty.
- Use smaller bowls, plates, drinking glasses and food utensils. This can help to reduce serving sizes while still making you feel you are getting enough food.
- Use smaller spoons when serving food, or when eating from a bowl
- Avoid eating foods from a large packet. Transfer foods to a small plate or bowl to make portion estimation easier.
- Have a bowl of fresh fruit prominently displayed in your kitchen
- Have a good supply of storage containers. Transfer leftovers immediately to the freezer to reduce any temptation for seconds.
- Stock your kitchen with equipment that makes it easier for you to prepare healthy meals, such as a good set of non-stick cooking pans, a grill and a steamer.
- Grow your own herbs and vegetables to encourage you to eat more fresh food
- Have a good supply of healthy recipe books to keep you inspired
- Make it difficult to watch television during mealtimes. Removing distractions allows you to eat slower and savour your food, helping you to be satisfied with smaller portions.
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