©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Your environment can sabotage or enhance your success
“But I really do want to be healthy,” Bob insisted. “I’m following recommendations to lean toward a Mediterranean-style cuisine, and I’m drinking plenty of water.” Nevertheless, his weekly weigh-in once again showed a gain of nearly a pound. Same scales; same clothing.
“Start keeping a daily food journal,” said Bob’s wellness coach. “It’s been a consistently helpful strategy for many and can help sleuth out what is sabotaging your success.” Bob agreed. The following week he returned with seven days of food journaling carefully documented. As his coach reviewed the food journal, one daily routine jumped out. “8 p.m. - ice cream, two bowls.”
“Tell me about the ice cream,” said his coach, tempted, but refraining from asking about the size of the bowls.
“Oh, that,” said Bob. “I like my ice cream in the evening, while I watch movies you know.”
“Hmmm,” said his coach. “Ice cream is not on the recommended foods list.”
“Oh, I know,” said Bob, “but I have a huge freezer filled with ice cream. Bought it on sale a few months ago. The ice cream, not the freezer. I’m just using it up. When it’s all gone I won’t buy any more, sale or no sale. I couldn’t throw it out. Why, that would be wasteful!”
“How important is your health?” asked his coach. “A freezer filled with ice cream is very waist-full—pun intended. Eaten, it will go straight to your waist! Only keep in the house what you have decided to eat and drink on a regular basis. Just like unmanaged emotions, an unmanaged environment can sabotage your success.”
“But it’s not in the house,” said Bob. “It’s in the garage!” They both laughed.
Bob decided to donate the ice cream to a local orphanage. He also donated the freezer, since he had two. In return, he received a hefty tax write-off. The following week when Bob and his coach met to review Bob’s food journal and evaluate his weight, both were both pleased to discover that Bob’s weight had fallen by nearly a pound. In only six days.
“Wow!” exclaimed Bob. “The only thing I did differently was stop eating ice cream. I had no idea that would have such a big impact!” (His wellness coach, wondering what size the bowls had been, decided not to ask.)
Make no mistake: your environment can help you toward your goals or hinder you. Make your environment work for you. Here are a few suggestions:
- Bring into your home only what you have decided to eat and drink. Go through your house (and garage) and give away the foods, beverages, and candy that you have decided to remove from your menu. When they are no longer readily available, you will be less likely to ingest them. There’s a big difference between opening the freezer for a half-gallon of ice cream and driving to a grocery store to purchase some.
- Eat to live rather than live to eat. Schedule regular mealtimes to train your brain when to expect food. Remember, everything starts in your brain! Make mealtimes enjoyable. Whenever possible, sit down to eat. If you have the option, eat with family members and friends at the table. Enjoy conversing with each other. Tell jokes and choose to laugh, since laughter releases enzymes that help with digestion. Report on something interesting you saw or heard recently. If you live alone, do something enjoyable during meal time, e.g., listen to Bill Crosby or your favorite musician on CD, watch a travelogue on TV, read a favorite book, or listen to it being read.
- Give your brain plenty of time to register that you’ve had enough to eat. This typically takes at least fifteen minutes. Take a bite of food, put down your fork or spoon, and savor the flavor. The intensity of flavors begin to diminish after the second or third bites. To maintain flavors during the meal, eat only two bites of the same food at a time and rotate among foods selected for that meal. Train your brain to eat slowly and chew thoroughly.
NOTE: If you choose to have dessert, plan to eat only two or three bites at the most. Savor each bite and remind yourself (in 3rd person), “You eat two bites and you feel satisfied.” After the third or fourth bite you are eating from memory and not from hunger or intensity of flavors. Knowing this can help you willingly avoid the calories.
- Stop thinking about or discussing stressful or unpleasant topics at mealtimes. Discuss discipline (if you have children), finances, or areas of disagreement at other times. Your goal is to provide a calm, unhurried, and pleasing environment while you eat. Remember, serotonin levels are influenced by what you think and how you act. And serotonin levels impact not only your brain and nervous system but your digestive system, as well.
- If you are in a huge rush or in the midst of a stressful situation, consider deferring your meal. You can easily wolf down 1,500 calories in under ten minutes when eating quickly and without conscious awareness. And if the situation is stressful, what you eat might just sit in the pit of your stomach, anyway, creating an unpleasant sensation. Drink a glass of water and eat when things are calmer.
Bottom line: Your environment can have a tremendous impact, sabotaging or enhancing your weight-management program. Eat slowly and chew your food well, giving your brain plenty of time to register satiation. Manage your environment wisely and use it to help you be successful. It bears repeating—to yourself, of course: You are eating to live rather than living to eat. You feel better and look better, too.