Our behavior does not exist in a vacuum. Use these hacks to influence your space to work for you in pursuit of your healthy living goals.
Environmental modifications are arguably the most influential strategy that I have used to cause increased health behavior outcomes in both large corporations and at home for families looking to get healthier. Many of us are finding ourselves at home more hours in the day now, and in turn, in closer proximity to the kitchen. In this article, I am going to run through five useful ways to use this to your advantage and improve your health outcomes.
Behavior is a function of the person in the environment. This is a foundational principal of Behavior Modification as written out by psychologist Kurt Lewin back in the 1930’s. Adding and removing stimulus in our space enables habit establishment, and will be the reason a behavior occurs or is absent. Let’s use it to our advantage and be smart about the place we are all spending most of our time in, home:
1. Don’t keep ‘trigger’ foods in the house. Save these for weekend order-in only. Instead of keeping the Costco sized bag of corn chips in your pantry, save these as a special perk of Saturday night Mexican take out. This can be a challenge if you live with others who do not share your enthusiasm for healthy living. If that is the case, I have had clients be successful asking their house mates to please keep the cookies or vodka in their room. Out of sight is out of mind. Similarly, if moderate alcohol intake is a health goal for you to monitor, keep only one bottle of wine in the house per week.
2. Know your values, keep them visible and be clear about what they have to do with micro-choices. Take some time to write out what your 5 core values are and ensure that their “why” is clear and meaningful to you. I have my 5 written with whiteboard marker on my bathroom mirror, and on a sticky at the fridge “Family, Health, Connection, Authenticity, Change.” You bet, when I see my values staring back at me as I’m going for a handful of chocolate chips after 9pm, I pause to remember that choice is not in alignment with my core values of health and change. These type of reminders are called ‘speed bumps’ in programs I run, the extra pauses before an action that we can use to modify our behavior.
3. Take inventory when you’re feeling strong. There is a twist on Marie Kondo-ing that I use with clients: go through your pantry and fridge, holding each items and asking yourself “Does this bring me HEALTH?” Look for processed foods, foods with added sugar, and items that are a trigger food for you. Doing this in a moment of strength can save us from ourselves in weaker moments. The more exposure we have to unhealthy choices, the more likely we are to eat them. Plus, donating to local food banks during this time of need is sure to provide some do-good feelings and help families in need.
4. Have ‘healthy living’ stimulus in your face: running shoes by the door, water by your side, rollers by the TV, scale by toilet, and your dumbbells in the living room staring you down. Again, the more exposure we have to items the more likely we are to use them, and we can use this rule to our advantage here. Try to anchor these actions to specific times of day: weigh yourself first thing in the morning on a Bluetooth scale for effortless tracking and get in the habit of closing your laptop and immediately throwing on your running shoes for a neighborhood walk to get those steps in. TV time? That means stretching now-days.
5. Prep yourself up for success. Fill up all 100 ounces of your water goal at the beginning of the day in easy to drink containers, and add a sugar-free electrolyte powder to them to up your desire to drink it. Having it pre-set, out, visible and tasty will take the guess work out of how many ounces you have drank and increase your motivation to finish it. As a nutritionist, you know I am going to have to give a shout out to meal prep here as well. Having healthy options in your fridge will make or break any wellness plans. Pre-portioning out foods and snacks is another ‘speed bump’ I use in my programs. Research teaches us that eating from a bag or large container will cause us to go over the portion limit. However, if you portion out that big bag of shelled pistachios in ¼ cup bags then you have drastically reduced the potential for overeating behavior.
These small steps can work for our health goals during times that a lot is working against them. Remembering that our behavior is largely shaped by the space in which it is occurring, will cause us to view aspects of our quarters as ‘for’ or ‘against’ our health promoting goals. Look around you now, what do you see?