Train your environment and your habits will follow.
Changing how you think is hard. Changing your environment isn’t. By training your environment, your habits follow. Here, 18 proven strategies that will help you improve your lifestyle and transform your body, no willpower required.
If we took 50 random strangers to the supermarket and asked them to fill their basket with only nutritious, health-promoting foods, we bet they could do it.
In other words, most people generally know what’s “healthy.” Or good for them.
If that’s true, why are so many people sick from chronic preventable diseases? Why are they sedentary and carrying around extra body fat? Why are people not putting all those nutritious, health-promoting foods into their grocery baskets — or more importantly, their bodies?
If that’s the case, just knowing stuff isn’t enough to do stuff.
Being able to memorise carb grams, or calorie tables, or the names of exotic superfoods doesn’t often change what we eat when it’s time for a hurried breakfast or a got-home-late-from-work dinner.
Those particular eating decisions have more to do with what’s (and who’s) around us — our environment.
Why is ‘environment’ so important?
we assume we make rational, conscious, informed choices based on logically weighing all the available options. We assume that we make our decisions by thinking reasonably about things.
However, research has shown that most of our decisions are automatic, based on patterns and brain shortcuts.
Instead of slowly deciding, step by step, our brains quickly process a handful of grab-n-go inputs and pick from a recognisable menu of options. We ignore stuff we don’t like or want to see, and we’re easily compelled by shiny distractions.
We follow patterns, physical cues that bubble beneath our awareness, and what’s around us. That means our environment powerfully shapes our decisions, more than we realise.
- Most of us will eat all that we’re served — no matter how big the portion is. If we’re served a small bag of popcorn, we’ll eat that. If we are served a bucket of popcorn, we’ll eat that.
- We often eat more when we’re multitasking. Ever started snacking while watching TV or playing video games, then found yourself staring at an empty bag or bowl, wondering where it all went? Your attention was elsewhere, so your eating machine just went on autopilot.
- If we consistently eat bigger portions, bigger portions will seem “normal” — and we’ll regularly overeat. Our great-grandparents would be astounded at the monster portion sizes that are now commonplace in the western world. We’ve lost our perspective on how much we should be eating.
In general, when it comes to engineering healthy eating, here’s the golden rule:
- Make healthy behaviours convenient.
- Make other behaviours less convenient.
- Use smaller plates and cups. Most people eat everything on their plate. Use a smaller plate and you end up eating less naturally.
- If there’s food you don’t want to eat, avoid keeping it around. Why risk the temptation? Make it less convenient to eat.
- Have fresh, healthy whole foods prepared and in plain sight. Veggies and fruits on your kitchen table or counter; that’s a good start.
- Park your car farther away from where you’re going so you have to walk. Those extra steps add up.
- Keep your bike ready to go by the front door. Instead of driving, consider biking.
- Get a dog that needs walking. Even better, one that will chew up your couch as punishment if you don’t take it for a daily spin around the block.
- Sign up for a Meal Subscription Box. This way fresh, healthy produce and/or organic meat is delivered to you.
People often try to “work hard” to change their habits because changing how you think and feel is hard.
But why should everything be so hard, all the time? There’s no need to white-knuckle the willpower. You can make change much easier by simply changing your environment.
Harness your brain’s autopilot for the side of good:
By just changing what’s around you in small ways, you can make changes without even thinking about them.
Here are 18 awesome tips — collected from some of the most experienced nutrition coaches in the world — for changing your environment.
“Hard work” and “willpower” not required.
10 ingenious environment tweaks that will improve your eating habits immediately
1: Keep the ice cream, cookies, and chocolates out of the house.
Make “laziness” work for you by making it harder and more inconvenient to reach for high-calorie, low-nutrition, easy-to-overeat foods.
If you want sweets, you have to go get them. At 10 PM, when you’re snuggled into your sofa binge-watching your favourite TV show, it’s going to be a lot harder to motivate yourself to get up and go to the shop.
Pro tip: Keep a colourful assortment of dried and fresh fruits around for dessert instead.
2: Plan your meals.
Don’t make fresh decisions every day, or keep meal choices open-ended all the time.
Instead, take some time and make decisions in advance.
Pro tip: Every few days, sketch out the meals you’ll eat for the next few days. Check the list daily so you know:
- what to buy at the supermarket;
- what to pre-prep;
- what meal you’ll eat at what time (or when you’re really hungry).
3: Keep chopped, ready-to-eat vegetables in the fridge.
Put them front-and-centre so you see them and can get to them easily.
Pro tip: To make your favourite salad veggies even easier, store them “restaurant-style.” Clean and sterilise one of your refrigerator’s drawers, dump chopped veggies (loose) into it, and cover them with a damp paper towel and a couple of ice cubes.
4: Don’t be hungry and in the supermarket at the same time.
Treat food shopping like a surgical operation: Have a plan (like your meal list from Tip 3). Get in and get out efficiently. (See if you can make a game of it.)
Pro tip: Focus on the perimeter — the produce, meat, and dairy sections. Don’t even go down the processed food aisles, so you won’t be tempted.
Shop with a basket instead of a trolley to limit what you can buy (it sneaks in an arm workout, too).
5: Have your kitchen coach you.
Keep your kitchen as clean, pleasant and clutter-free as possible so you feel relaxed when you enter it (stress = cookie binges). Have an edible plant (like sunflower sprouts) growing on the counter for when you feel like snacking.
Pro tip: Make the fridge door a “vision board” with post-it notes reminding you of your goals, inspiring pictures, and cool looking magnets.
6: Keep workout gear in your face.
Have a kettlebell, resistance bands, a dumbbell or two, a pull-up bar, and/or a suspension trainer in your home or office so you’re more tempted to use them.
Pro tip: Do “trigger training”: Leave the gear in various places throughout your house, and whenever you pass one of them, do a few reps. Over the day this adds up quickly without eating up too much time or leaving you wiped out.
7: Schedule workouts like you schedule meetings.
Put them in your calendar and treat them like any other appointment.
Pro tip: Put everything from workouts to laundry, to work meetings, to rest and recovery on your calendar so that very few things are “unexpected.” Most of our routines are pretty predictable.
8: Separate yourself from your work once per hour.
Work for 50 minutes, then step away from your desk for 10 (may we suggest a walk, some stretches, or some squats?). Cycle this for your workday. You’ll find that you still have energy and focus by the end.
Pro tip: Install anti-RSI software, which “locks” your computer for 5-10 minute intervals every hour so you’re forced to give work a rest.
9: Move social gatherings to the park.
It doesn’t always have to be a bar or restaurant. Make your next date outside (bike ride?) at a nature trail, or the gym.
Pro tip: This goes for professional networking, too. Instead of sitting down at a coffee shop, get coffee to go and have a walking meeting.
10: Turn family and friends into coaches.
To create a supportive environment, be explicit with loved ones that you’re trying to eat better and get fit — and why. They don’t have to participate but ask them to help. That takes the pressure off them to do what you’re doing, and most people (especially kids) like “helping” in some way. (Kids love to nag, so hire them as your alarm clock and workout reminder.)
Pro tip: Involve your family in goal-related activities, such as menu planning, meal prep, and rep counting. This reduces resistance by giving them ownership, meaning you won’t feel you’re the “other.”
Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, and happiest version of yourself?
Most people know that regular exercise and eating well is important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.
Over the past 9 years, we’ve used our coaching methods to help over 1,000 clients lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… for the long term… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.
If you’re ready to change your body, and your life, with help from some of the country’s best coaches, this is your chance.