These Food Environment Problems

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I noticed some really weird patterns about myself several months ago.

Normally, each weekend, I’ll visit my Mom and we’ll spend time catching up after our busy weeks at work. She usually has different types of snack foods around on her kitchen counter: chips, crackers, nuts, etc.

The way that I make entrance into her house has something to do with what I’m exposed to as well. I’ll come through the garage (as opposed to her front door), and that leads me through a utility room and directly into her kitchen.

Out on the counters, easily accessible, is all of those foods that are within reach and, despite not necessarily being hungry, or bored, or stressed out, I start picking at them.

Next thing you know, I’ve put back hundreds of calories in snacks within just a few minutes of time.

It’s not just her house, sometimes it’s my own.

Where I’m most vulnerable is after dinner when I’m washing my dishes. I’ll put them in the sink or the dishwasher and then wander around looking for something else to nibble on, typically one of Sebastian’s snacks or treats that’s within sight.

What I know is that this isn’t remotely uncommon, especially with my clients looking to lose fat: they’re constantly picking and grazing and snacking even if hunger isn’t the problem they’re struggling with.

So, how do you change it?

Well, that’s a bit harder to sort through but it starts with changing the environment and reducing temptation to the best of your ability.

I’ll put myself under the microscope to make my point.

Let’s assume that fat loss is a goal of mine and I’ve recognized the patterns mentioned above.

I might say something to my mother about how important it is for me to lose weight and that, while her snack foods might not be problematic for her, they’ve presented a problem to me.

I could ask her to put the snacks into other places in her home: in cabinets or otherwise out of plain sight. While this doesn’t remove the snacks completely and there’s nothing stopping me from opening a door to the cabinet, it’s one potential barrier that gives me pause and can remind me that I’m not hungry.

In addition, I could ask her to give me a verbal cue when I come into her home so that my kneejerk reaction to entering her home isn’t to find something to eat. Perhaps, upon entering, she says: “Hey Jason, come into the living room, I wanted you to see something in here.” This changes my pattern of stopping in the kitchen to start looking for food.

Mind you, no tip or strategy is foolproof. I’m not asking my mother to stop buying snacks altogether, I’m just trying to minimize temptation.

Now, what about my own home?

Unlike my mother’s house, many (not all) of the snack type foods are in the pantry or on top of our fridge. What my wife and I try and do is to buy snack foods for Sebastian that we know he’ll enjoy but will be less tempting for either of us. This can be trial and error as well. There are certain things I might buy for Sebastian that Marissa has had to tell me are too tempting for her, so I’ll make a mental note to try something different. The same thing applies for me.

However, since Marissa and I are frequently eating dinner together, I can ask her to give me a verbal reminder as I’m heading to the kitchen to wash my dishes that I was trying not to eat anything afterwards.

Never mind the fact that my body hasn’t even had a chance to digest dinner and register feelings of fullness before I’m off to graze on something.

Ultimately, what I need is verbiage that doesn’t sound like it’s nagging. So, I would need to determine what that verbiage might be so that my wife can use it when the time is appropriate.

Keep in mind that we’re practicing better eating habits not perfect eating habits. Improvements can be made and there can still be occasional slip-ups. Again, this is normal. Treating the behavior as if it’s a character flaw is not only incorrect but also not remotely helpful.

Of course, the easiest way to reduce temptation is to not buy the tempting foods to begin with. However, that’s much easier said than done, especially when our children are frequently the ones who may be asking for the tempting foods. So that we don’t get caught in a trap of demonizing foods to our children, there has to be some give and take.

In closing:

-Make tempting foods less accessible by putting them out of plain sight.

-Consider putting these foods in areas they aren’t normally at to reduce a pattern of checking the same places (pantry, freezer, etc).

-Where possible, eliminate the purchase of tempting foods or find substitutes that are less seductive by comparison

-Have a “safe word” or “safe verbiage” that a friend or a loved one can use that prevents you from mindless grazing while also not making you feel like rebelling.

-Forgive yourself for the occasions when you still feel the need to snack despite putting plans in place to reduce the frequency of the behavior.

Side note: Certain dietary philosophies give you the flexibility to eat whatever you like without judgment and allow your intuitive senses to put a limit on the amount of those foods. I think this is perfectly fine assuming you benefit from this approach. That being said, not everyone is in position to trust their intuitions when they eat hyper-palatable foods and may need to utilize other tools until and if an intuitive approach works better.

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