We give in to temptation for a many reasons; our emotions, tiredness, during certain activities such as watching TV and even due to the people we surround ourselves with. Yet an area that is often overlooked is the effect your food environment (or foodscape) can have on your healthy habit success.
Things as specific as the packages our food comes in, the plates we use and how we store our food can have a massive impact on your ability to resist temptation. Research shows we make more than 250 food choices a day (Wansink 2013). Large or small coffee? Two biscuits or one? Eat on the go or sitting down? Each of these choices have an impact on your healthy habits. However, a lot of these choices are subconscious, we are not even aware we are making them.
Self-control (i.e. resisting temptation) is like a muscle, if you use it consistently, it becomes stronger. If you use it too much (resisting multiple temptations) it becomes fatigued and doesn’t work properly (Baumeister et al., 1998).
It almost goes without saying that fatigue and emotion also have an influence on your self-control/ ability to resist temptation. It is best if you try to limit exposing yourself to temptation when you are feeling emotional or tired.
Otherwise you are likely to set yourself up for self-control failure.
So how do you do this?
The key principal of foodscaping is ‘out of sight out of mind’. Every time you see a specific food you have to make the decision whether to have it or not. The more decisions you have to make the more likely you are to fatigue your self-control. Whereas, if you can manipulate your environment to provide less temptation – the less strain you put on your self-control and therefore the less likely you are to give into temptation.
In your kitchen:
•You want the healthy foods to be the ones you see first. Put prepared fruit and veg at eye line in your fridge to encourage you to nibble on it. For example, wrap healthy stuff like carrot sticks in cling film or put cherry tomatoes in a bowl at the front of your fridge.
•Put less healthy stuff in tin foil or in a non transparent lunchbox so you don’t see it.
•Always put your cereal or large packages of food in the cupboard. Research has shown that those who leave cereal out tend to be 1.5 stone heavier than those who have it hidden away.
•Using smaller diameter plates i.e. 10 inch vs 12 inch can save 60 kcal per meal or 22,000 kcal per year!
•By pre-plating your food rather than having a buffet style meal, where you have the serving dishes on the table, you’ll eat on average 19% less per meal.
•You will serve yourself 12% less wine in tall glasses than wider glasses.
In your office:
• The average office worker has 476 kcal of food at their desk that is within arms reach. When sitting at work, this is the time when food is used as a distraction.
• Research has shown that those that keep sweets on their desk weighed at least two stone more than those that didn’t. In a study where they removed sweets from the top of the desk to the drawer, people ate 74 fewer calories per day (equivalent of not gaining 5/6 lbs a year).
• Keep tempting food as far away from you as possible or in packages that are difficult to open. The more effort you have to make to eat a food the less likely (and frequently) you are going to want to eat it.
• If buying lunch out, use cash. People who paid with cash were less likely to get dessert or soft drinks. Better yet, limit the amount of cash you bring out so you can’t deviate from your plan.
• If you go to a canteen use a tray, studies have shown we tend to eat more vegetables that way. If you don’t use a tray your more likely to pick up more convenience foods (such as prepacked sandwiches) as they are easier to grab.
• Want to further eliminate temptation – make your lunch at home, after (not before) dinner. You make better food choices on a full stomach (the same goes for supermarket shopping). If you buy your lunch at work you are generally too hungry to make the healthiest choices and will end up having additional unplanned snacks too.