Mark Fenton‘s life mission is building environmental infrastructures that encourage physical activity in communities. His data shows that education, coaching and similar influences motivate individuals to stick to a fitness plan for about six months, at which point compliance drops off. He believes community infrastructure, or external environment, is critical in taking people beyond that six-month interim to more permanent lifestyle changes.
Might his philosophy have parallels to eating healthier foods?
Like physical activity, if you start eating healthier foods but fall off the bandwagon after six months, could you change the infrastructure within your own home to instill better lifelong habits?
How to create your infrastructure
Think about your eating infrastructure and its influence on your health. Could you make adjustments to provoke more lasting changes?
Family/housemates – The palates of those who live with us greatly influence what we eat. Who doesn’t eat more pizza if there are kids in the household? How many men beg women in their lives to eat less meat? And I, for one, have definitely passed along my love for sweets to my spouse and child.
Solution: No one wants to ditch family and friends. Instead, focus on well-rounded, balanced meals and sneak in healthy favorites a few times/week, just to mix things up and entice all to a different and better way of eating. Experiment with healthier desserts like fruits and sherbets.
Your cupboard – If cabinets are filled with processed foods – ranging from potato chips to brownie mix – you’re much more apt to eat them. Same goes with products in your refrigerator; if it’s filled with soda and juice, you’ll drink them.
Solution: Clear out the cupboard and fridge. Plan your shopping trips in advance, leading to smarter buying habits. Then re-stock with healthy items the whole family will enjoy.
Your schedule. You may have a tendency to eat dinner late, skip a meal here or there, or stay up in the evening and sneak in a few late-night snacks. Any or all of these can lead to poor eating choices.
Solution: Try to be more regimented about when you eat. Avoid skipping meals and schedule healthy snacks throughout the day. If you’re a night owl, prepare healthy alternatives when you get a case of the munchies.
Your work environment – If your office break-room is full of snacks and sweets, you’ll be tempted to partake, sacrificing high quality sources of fuel for short-term satisfaction. If you work from home, you have a different set of temptations.
Solution: If possible, steer clear of the break-room altogether, as one bite usually leads to more. Bring snacks from home to eat instead. If at home, refer to #3 above. If you stock up on healthy foods, then you won’t be tempted to eat junk.
Bad habits – If have drink two glasses of wine while preparing dinner each night, you might have tendencies to over-eat at meal-time. Similarly, you may be in the habit of grabbing dessert after dinner without giving it a second thought.
Solution: Change the routine. Institute new, improved habits in the place of old ones. For example, drink a glass of hot tea or “mocktail” with sparkling water and lime instead of wine. After dinner, walk the dogs instead of grabbing a scoop of ice-cream.
Eat out less – When you’re juggling priorities and syncing multiple schedules, the easy default is takeout or eat out. More families eat out today than ever before, making preferences for high-fat, high-sodium and high-caloric foods all the more likely.
Solution: Plan ahead. And prep ahead, if possible, on weekends. When the wild weeknight arrives, you can whip something up much more quickly.