Nutrition Hack: Make Unhealthy Eating Inconvenient

Our great-great-great-grandmothers didn’t need much willpower because they didn’t have donuts . . . or 64-ounce soda slushies. And if Jane Cavewoman wanted to eat at 10 P.M. to bury her emotions about her Neanderthal (literally) boyfriend, she’d have to face nighttime predators just to find a snack. Our cravings are no different today, but our environment is.

We evolved to survive in an environment where finding calories was hard and physical activity was inevitable. But in the past 150 years, our environment changed: now, food—especially high-calorie, high-dependence food—is everywhere, while exercise is rare. Our brains and bodies are just not equipped for it. It’s like we’re cavewomen living in a modern-day world.

The same thing happens today when people from a country with a traditional diet and low obesity immigrate to the United States—in no time they’ve developed obesity, diabetes, and the risk of a shorter life span.

But remember what I told you in the introduction: people who make the healthiest decisions do so not because they have a superpower but because “they do not put themselves in the position where they have to resist temptation as often.” They simply make their environment less tempting, and you can, too.

"It’s like we’re cavewomen living in a modern-day world."
  • Don’t keep it in the house. In surveys of people who maintained long-term weight loss, 80 percent report not keeping tempting foods in their home. If eliminating all junk food incites a rebellion at home, keep some, but simply reduce the number of options (especially for those foods that you cannot stop eating).
  • Rearrange your pantry and fridge to move the unhealthy out of sight. The grocery store knows you’ll grab what’s at eye level—and the same happens in your pantry. If the first thing you see is chocolate, every pantry trip becomes an exhausting exercise in willpower. For those indulgent foods that do stay, keep them on the highest shelf, out of sight and out of reach. Researchers at Utrecht University found that when chocolate was moved just out of reach, study participants ate 70 percent less—without extra cravings. Put junk food high enough that you don’t see it and need a stool to reach it, and you’ll eat less without even trying.
  • Restrict where eating occurs. When you eat in many locations (at the kitchen counter, in front of the TV, in the car), your brain links each of those locations with food, meaning they each trigger cravings. Reduce those brain linkages by limiting where your family eats to, say, the kitchen table.
  • Put the unhealthy options in opaque containers. This would never work, right? Wrong. In a study from Ohio State, people ate 58 percent less M&Ms out of opaque containers than they did from clear ones.Monkey see, monkey eat. Monkey no see . . . monkey no eat!
  • Don’t store snacks with serving utensils. Dr. Traci Mann does this in her own home with Rice Krispies treats, as she relays in Secrets from the Eating Lab. If you have a cake on the counter, keeping the knife with it only increases the chance that you’ll slice off just a teensy sliver . . . ten times a day. Instead, cut yourself a reasonable portion, put the knife in the dishwasher, and enjoy the amount you served yourself.
  • Redirect your route to avoid a tempting stop. If there’s a specific cupcake shop (or a snack pantry at work) that is particularly tempting to you, stop trying to face these temptations head-on. Instead, find a route that avoids the area altogether.

Want more hacks? Check out bestselling new release Mom Hacks, today! Also, follow Dr. Darria on Instagram or Facebook for more great tips.

Darria Long Gillespie, MD MBA
Dr. Darria Long is a Yale- and Harvard-trained emergency physician, author of bestselling book Mom Hacks (Hachette), a TV host and expert on HLN, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show, and other networks, and TED speaker. A mom of two herself, Dr. Darria has become the national "make-life-better-for-women doctor”, taking the best of science to make being healthy easy, enjoyable - and entirely doable. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and residency training from Yale School of Medicine.

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