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.
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?
By changing your environment — even just a little bit — you can put yourself back in control.
Notice And Name Your Cues
Don't worry about changing your whole routine and environment right now.
Today, I only want you to notice and name what elements of your environment are helping you or hindering you in your journey.
Your route to work or school?
The people around you?
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.
Your Health Coach, Chris