We all know we should eat healthy foods and portion sizes, but the reality of ‘healthy eating’ is far from universally practiced. Even when we know the what to eat, actually making the right choices is still challenging. With a food environment that is plagued with an abudence of tempting, tasty, yet unhealthy indulgences eating continues to be a daily struggle.
Put away the willpower and start practicing these 3 proven psychological strategies to making eating healthy easier.
1. Make Healthy CONVENIENT to Choose
We choose things that are easy. We choose the shortest line at the grocery store (less waiting), closest parking spot (less walking), prefer pre-cut foods (less prep/cooking) because it reduces our effort which is a major driver of what we ultimately eat. This is why impulse foods (candy, gum) are strategically placed at the register (easy to grab) and why big brands (e.g., Coca Cola) are always placed at eye level (no bending over).
The EASIEST food choice is often the option we choose.
Instead of using willpower, we should work with our universal craving for conserving effort and set up our environment to make healthy choices physically and cognitively convenient to choose.
Make Healthier Foods = More Convenient/Easier to Choose
Here are some ideas — Make healthier foods easier to see in your kitchen, place them in front of unhealthier options in cabinets, Put healthier in the front of fridge and unhealthier in back of fridge. If you hate cutting/prepping food then buy them pre-sliced. The goal is reducing the effort and steps to eating healthy!
Make Unhealthy Foods = Less Convenient & Harder to Choose
In addition to making healthier easier, we should make unhealthy harder to choose. For example, we can store unhealthy foods in hard to open containers, and put them out of sight or in a hard to reach cabinets. The goal is increase the effort to eat making them less likely to be chosen.
2. Make Healthy ATTRACTIVE to Choose
We choose things that are attractive. Most eating is done with our eyes, and whether we realize it or not, we largely choose foods that “look better”. We post pictures of food that look good, that arouse our senses and entices us (and others) to eat. Knowing our food choice is influenced by attractiveness, we should make the healthy choices the more attractive one relative to the other options that are available.
Here are some ideas to make your fridge, pantry or food prep more attactive…
Place Vibrant Fruits/Veggies in Visibly Attractive Containers
Get Creative & Use Color with Dishes
When cooking consider the plate presentation. Find ways to incorporate color or exercise creativity to make the dish more fun and attractive to eat.
3. Make Healthy NORMAL to Choose
Many of food decisions are dominated by what is ‘popular’. We rarely consult with the back of package, but rather choose foods that are normal, trendy, and widely consumed by our friends or people we follow. Just like we use Amazon reviews to choose products, we look to others food choices to help us pick what is healthy.
While making “food comparisons” (e.g., looking at what others eat) is an inescapable part of life, we should be more aware of how this impacts what we think is healthy to order, purchase, prepare.
Therefore we need to be careful, who and what we follow. Unfortunately popularity is a not the best indicator for what is healthy.
Watch out for Popular People Looking to Build Followings by Sharing Bad Advice
Just because someone has a lot of money, doesn’t mean we should take their financial advice (they could have inherited it instead of worked for it). Likewise, just because someone has a big instagram following or looks in shape doesn’t mean they got their body by knowing how to eat healthy (they could have been born fit). Check credentials and track records for helping people change.
BEWARE of “Recommendations” that Wrongly Signal a Popular Choice
Our mind gets easily sucked into cues that signal that something is popular, normal or widely. Confusing “popular” for “healthy” can be disastrous. While popularity cues help us simplify choice (5-star, customer favorite, most popular, etc.) don’t assume popular is the best option. When it down look at the nutrition facts.
Start Eating Healthier without Will-Power by using these 3 Psychological Strategies!
- Make Healthy More Convenient to Choose
- Make Healthy More Attractive to Choose
- Make Healthy More Normal to Choose