The commercials you see on TV for cookies, ice cream and fast food seem to be aimed straight at you. The snacks that surround you in the checkout line are calling your name. The messages that surround us can make it tempting to buy foods that are less than healthy and more difficult to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.
Instead of stretching your willpower to its limits to keep your diet on track, create a series of habits that put healthy eating on autopilot. “Making some small changes over time can help you make better choices about the foods you eat,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Amber Denmon, RDN, LDN, at Geisinger Medical Center. “With some planning and patience you’ll see results.”
Here are a few suggestions and tips for making healthier food decisions:
Tailor your environment for healthy eating
There are measures you can take to reduce your caloric intake before you worry about the actual foods you eat. Making a few easy changes to your home (specifically your kitchen) can help make your diet healthier. Here are a few ideas:
- People tend to weigh less when they make healthy snacks easily accessible in their homes. Keeping a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter, for example, can lead to increased consumption of fruit.
- Keeping all foods out of sight except for fruit. One study showed that women who kept just one box of cereal out in the open weighed about 20 pounds more than women who kept all cereal put away.
- Keep your kitchen clean. Research also showed that people who had cleaner kitchens demonstrated more self-control. Messier kitchens had opposite effects on people.
“It’s a classic Pavlov’s Dog kind of thing,” said Denmon. “You see triggers in your environment that make you want to eat, so you eat. But when you become aware of what those triggers are, you can eliminate them or manipulate them so they lead to healthier actions.”
Watch your portions
Once you have your kitchen straightened out, think about the portion sizes you eat.
“Nutrition labels can be confusing when they tell you how much of the food equals one serving size, especially when the serving size they give is a quantity you can’t easily measure,” said Denmon.
Research has shown that people eat more when their food comes in a bigger container, or bigger dish.
“If you usually buy large boxes or bags of certain foods, break them down into smaller portions by dividing them into smaller bags,” said Denmon. “That will help you cut down on your tendency to overeat.”
People also have a tendency to fill their plates at dinnertime. Eating from smaller plates can help you maintain appropriate portion sizes.
Plan meals in advance
Knowing what you’re going to eat for every meal at the beginning of each day can help cut back on the amount you eat when you’re not really hungry. You can take it a few steps further and plan out meals days or weeks in advance.
“If it’s more convenient, you can even set aside time one day every week, like on a Sunday, to put together all your meals for the upcoming week,” said Denmon. “You can keep them in your freezer and heat them as you need them.
Stressful situations at home or at work, boredom, sedentary activities such as watching television can also make you want to reach for something unhealthy, or cause you to overeat.
“Once you become aware of the times throughout your day you tend to overeat, you can start using all of these tips to make healthy changes,” said Denmon.