Updated: Apr 26
What's around you?
Changing your body doesn't just mean changing your mind; it means changing your surroundings, too.
It’s movie night.
As you file into the theatre, a nice man hands you a giant bucket of free popcorn. He says it’s some kind of theatre promotion. Cool!
As you settle into your seat and the lights go down, you dig into your popcorn. Your first few bites don’t really taste that great. The fluffy kernels are chewy and tough, like little salty nuggets of shoe leather.
You notice but don’t really mind. You’re paying too much attention to the film to really care what it tastes like. Everyone around you is making happy crunching noises. The air smells like warm butter.
You get into a good regular rhythm of fist-to-mouth. Before you know it, your fingernails scrape the bottom of the bucket.
Little do you know that the popcorn you just finished is days old. It turns out you’re a lab rat in a food researcher’s experiment. And you’ve just proven a point about how our environment affects our eating. You ate a gallon of stale popcorn simply because it was there.
Don't feel bad. You were immersed in pleasant sounds and smells. You were distracted. And other people were doing the same thing. That's how mindless eating works. Our environment shapes our choices.
Experiments like this (yep, it was a real experiment) have shown us that our environment affects our eating habits more than we think.
For instance, Men’s Fitness recently looked at the Fittest and Fattest Cities in America. Cities with fitter people had things like:
• better air quality
• more opportunities for daily-life activity (like walking or biking to work, or running errands)
• better access to healthy, fresh foods (e.g. farmer’s markets, local produce, etc.)
• more opportunities to enjoy outdoorsy and play-type activities (rather than always having to go to a gym)
• urban planning that encouraged activity (like bike lanes, walking paths, etc.)
• cultural and social norms of activity (in other words, everyone’s doing it)
In the “fittest city”, Portland, 86% of the population gets regular exercise because it’s easy to do. Lots of other people are doing it. And those other people are chill about it.
“Laid-back and fun” defines the Portland approach to all things, including exercise. So it doesn’t seem like a chore.
By comparison, fatter cities had things like:
• long commutes, usually by car
• suburban sprawl that forces people to drive everywhere
• more fast-food joints and drive-thrus
• crappy weather and air quality (so people stay inside)
• urban planning that made biking and walking impossible or dangerous
• cultural norms of sedentary living (in other words, exercising or eating healthy makes you a weirdo)
Are people in "fitter cities" more "motivated" than people in "fatter cities"? Perhaps better people overall?
Of course not.
Instead, what's around us changes our decisions. Make your choices conscious. We make literally hundreds of food decisions every day. (Coffee or tea? Peanut butter or jam? Should I finish this taco? Escalator or stairs?).
Most decisions we can’t explain. We just... make them. We sort of “find ourselves” somewhere or doing something.
We’re not consciously choosing. Instead, we just float along with the people around us. The situation. Our habits. Familiar routines.
Floating along, like leaves down a river.
Caught in the current of our environment and what we think other people expect.
Make your environment work FOR you.
Your environment drives your eating and activity behaviours.
The good news?
Changing your environment — even just a little bit — can put yourself back in control. Notice and name your cues.
Don't worry about changing your whole routine and environment right now.
Today, we only want you to notice and name what elements of your environment are helping you or hindering you in your journey.
• Your schedule?
• Your route to work or school?
• The people around you?
• Food advertisements?
• The lunchroom or communal candy jar at work?
• Your morning, lunchtime, or evening rituals?
• What's in your cupboards or fridge?
Look around. Observe. Pay attention. See what factors affect your behaviour. Start to notice patterns and routines.
• Do you have a friendly environment and routine?
• What could make your environment just a little bit better?
• What do YOU need in order to be YOUR healthiest, leanest, fittest self?
Today, just observe. Notice and name. You don't have to change anything just yet. Stay aware of what you're seeing, doing, and experiencing.
From now on, YOU are in charge.
What to do today
1. Consider your environment. Look around at the people, things, daily routines, and food in your physical and social environment. Is your personal environment helping or hurting your decisions? What about your environment might affect your choices today?
2. Notice and name what's already helping you. What things in your environment help you eat well right now? How could you do or get more of those good things?
3. Notice and name when you're rushing. When you rush or "check out" of what you're doing, it's a lot easier to go on autopilot. That's when you're most vulnerable to environmental cues. And when you feel least in control.
So: Stay present. Slow down. Be conscious of your choices. Don't let that smartass environment tell you what to do! Be the boss of you!
Struggling to stay consistent. Here are three ways I can help;
1. Finding out what habits you should be doing or stopping is the first step to gaining control over your health, fitness and wellbeing. Take my free 50 & Beyond Health Audit and in 3 easy steps, find out what you should start doing today.
2. The number one reason people fail to improve their health is not consistently sticking to the correct healthy habits. Join one of my free 30-Day Habit Challenges to learn how to maintain good habits and achieve your desired health goals.
3. If you are someone who is looking to make a change to their health today, book a free one-to-one health call and have a chat about what specific and personalised health strategies are right for you.
Chris Deavin, myHealthCoach