we’re here to help you stay on track and break all of those unhealthy eating habits. Here are some of the most effective, science-backed strategies for how you can control your environment so you can break those waistline-destroying habits and start snacking smarter once and for all.
Change your plate size
Oh, but you definitely eat with your eyes, too. When you serve yourself on a bigger plate, food appears smaller, which can lead to over searching and overeating. Contrarily, smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, tricking your mind into thinking you’re about to consume more calories than you really are. In one study, campers who were given larger bowls served themselves and consumed 16 percent more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Plus, “Starting small makes it less likely you will go for seconds, and forces you to check in once the plate is cleared before [filling up again],” says Lisa Hayim, RD.
Switch to a smaller glass
Those sparkling crystal glasses look mighty fine, but they might be influencing you to drink more than you should—which means you’ll end up consuming more nutrient-deficient calories. Another study by Wansink found that people automatically pour more liquid into short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume.
Use snack bags
Changing your environment also means changing the portion sizes of the foods you tend to reach for. “Munching mindlessly straight out of a bag or box while you’re standing at the pantry deciding what you want to eat leads to overeating,” advise The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT. “Planning what you’re going to eat and sitting down to a predetermined portion on a plate eliminates this problem.” It’s even scientifically proven! In an experiment at the Cornell University food and brand lab, researchers gave study participants either a single bag containing 100 Wheat Thins or four smaller bags holding 25 each, waited for the munching to subside, then did a cracker count. The tally: Those given the jumbo bag consumed about 20 percent more.
In this day and age, your phone is as much a part of your environment as it’s also an extension of your hand. And that’s not great news when you want to start eating healthier. As it turns out, scrolling through your social feeds is just as bad for your gut as seeking out those trending treats themselves. A review published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that when we see “food porn,” it exacerbates our desire for food through a channel of neural and physical responses called “visual hunger.” In other words, even if we’re not physically in need of food, our bodies will send a signal to our brains—via the hunger hormone ghrelin—that we want to eat.
Have a meal plan
Variety might be the spice of life, but it’s a habit-breaker. Plus, planning out what you’re going to make every night—the day of—can be a pain. “Because we make approximately 200 food choices each day, we get fatigued towards the end of the day,” comments Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT. “Meal planning is optimal to help you gain control of your overall food intake.” That’s right, it’s not bad news if you’ve fallen into the habit of buying, making, and eating the same foods every week. According to a survey of millions of Britons, 60 percent of adults eat the same dishes every week, and one in four adults even cooks the same meal on the same day. The reason? About one in five people claim that if they haven’t planned anything in advance they are more inclined to fall back on a frozen pizza, chips, or take-out. And experts agree!
Adopt eating rituals
Bad eating habits exert an impressionable influence on people who live in a non-patterned environment. And sometimes, we have no choice. When your job requires you to fly to another state every couple of weeks, or your kids’ sports schedules are always up in the air, it can be hard to keep a consistent, daily schedule. That’s why experts believe it’s important to establish eating rituals. Research suggests these rituals are a form of “mindful eating,” which have the power to make food more pleasurable, and may help prevent overeating. In one study, participants who were assigned to eat a chocolate bar in accordance with a particular breaking and unwrapping ritual found the candy much more enjoyable—and even more flavorful—than a group who ate the bar informally.
Find your motivation
People often begin a diet for reasons other than for better health—whether it’s for an upcoming class reunion, a beach vacation, or a family wedding. The issue is that these short-term motivators come with finish lines; once you cross it, your reasons for losing weight fade into the distance. Until you find a new reason to drop the pounds, you become vulnerable to slipping back into old habits, and regaining the weight you just lost. “Researchers believe that reflecting on values can help maintain self-control in difficult situations,” says Cheryl Forberg, RD, and dietitian for the Biggest Loser. In fact, a recent study revealed that when women who were unhappy with their weight completed a one-time, 15-minute writing exercise about an important personal issue, they went on to lose at least 3 pounds over a three-month period while their counterparts who wrote about an unimportant topic gained 3 pounds.
Keep a stocked pantry
You can’t eat the things you don’t have. And when you’re in a pinch on a busy night, it’s all too easy to order take-out or heat up a frozen pizza—that is, if that’s all you have in your kitchen. Instead, read up on these 35 Healthy Foods Busy People Always Keep in Their Pantry so you can have the right building blocks to craft healthy, slimming snacks and dishes that get you closer to your body goals.
Pick up a hobby
Bad eating habits and choices can be caused by something as simple as boredom. When you’re bored you actually lose your ability to make smart food choices. Instead, you become an “emotional eater:” making the wrong food choices and eating much more of those fattening foods than you normally would, according to a new study in the Journal of Health Psychology. In fact, “Because I’m Bored” (as opposed to “I’m Hungry”) is one of the top reasons people give when they’re asked about their emotions before they eat. Rebecca Lewis, RD, says, “Adults will reach for ‘guilty’ pleasures that they think will give them a boost. Instead, take a five-minute walk, call a friend, or try some deep breathing.” Or better yet, develop a go-to hobby you can enjoy whenever those “boredom” feelings come on.
Cook at home
Fast food restaurants have designed their restaurants to entice you to eat more—from the faux smells to the colors of their logos. It’s just one of the 20 Things Fast Food Restaurants Don’t Want You To Know. Many companies use yellow and red in their logos (think: Pizza Hut, In-N-Out Burger, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s). These hues have been proven to grab consumers’ attention, stimulate appetite, and even increase the speed in which we eat, say University of Rochester scholars. To keep your appetite in check, drive straight thru the parking lot and cook at home. Eating in restaurants usually means less individual control over ingredients and cooking methods, as well as larger portion sizes. On the other hand, Johns Hopkins researchers found that people who frequently cook meals at home consume nearly 200 fewer calories than those who cook less.
Get plenty of sleep
Get out of your bad habits by taking a trip to dreamland! Yes, getting some shut eye counts as changing your environment. That’s because many of us who are constantly craving those sugar-, fat-, and carb-laden treats can blame those late nights at the office. A simple switch from a desk to your comfy bed can give you the energy and enhance proper mental functioning so you can exert willpower when necessary. “Studies have found that the less sleep we get, the more apt we are to crave foods that we believe will give us energy,” says Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN a New York City-based Registered Dietitian. “I always recommend about seven hours of shut-eye to my patients to help keep cravings at bay,” she continues.