Creating a Healthy Food Environment
Following on from last weeks post, as we began to refocus on getting back into a healthier routine (after weeks in self-confinement or lockdown), let’s now go one step further and review a suitable healthy food environment. Your food environment refers to the physical presence of food that affects your diet. While the broader definition of a food environment includes your geographic location and proximity to supermarkets/convenience stores, let’s now examine two factors that are much more in your control: your work life and your home life.
Your conscious, everyday choices affect what you eat, when you eat and how you eat. However, you also make unconscious choices that affect these factors too. This may include who you spend time with and what types of foods are nearby to you. They can influence the decisions you make that involve eating.
Every day, we are exposed to many influences. However, two of the biggest places that influence your behaviour the most are your work environment and your home environment. These are the places where you spend most of your time.
Food Environment at Home
Home is where you cook dinner, spend time with family, unwind after a busy day and get ready to go to bed. It’s where you return to on the weekends and build the foundation of your life. So, naturally, “home” affects your eating behaviours.
Let’s take a closer look at factors at home which shape your food environment:
Family members that have different ways of eating
What foods you keep in your fridge, freezer or food cupboard
How your food is displayed and organised
Where you eat meals (in front of the television vs. at the dining table)
These factors make all the difference in a healthy lifestyle. For instance, if you have a family member that loves to eat junk food and keeps a lot of it in the house, you are more likely to eat the same food – even if it’s on occasion.
Food Environment at Work
You also likely spend a lot of your time at work, especially if you have a full-time job. This is where you may take a lot of your lunch breaks or fuel-up with snacks to energise for the rest of the day ahead. Most people do, in fact, eat during their work day, so their physical surroundings at work also influence their eating behaviours. The downside to this, however, is that you have less control over this environment than you do at home.
These are some common factors at work which can shape your food environment:
What foods you keep at your desk or in the breakroom fridge
Where you take your lunch break
What foods you pack to take to work
Co-workers that have different ways of eating
You may be surprised to find that the littlest details affect your behaviours. If you keep a bowl of sweets on your desk to share with co-workers, for example, you are more likely to reach for one if you’re stressed out, bored or craving sugar.
Tips to Make Your Food Environment Work for You, Not against You:
Be mindful of foods you keep out in the open that can be easily reached for
Communicate to your family and co-workers about your health goals
Be open about what triggers you to eat or reach for a certain food
At home, make healthy foods front and center in your fridge, food cupboard and on your kitchen counter
At home, try to be intentional about eating at the dining table vs. on your couch, etc. so you are less likely to over-indulge
Likewise, at work, try to eat at the break room table vs. at your desk or in your car where “snacking” is more likely
Strive to plan your meals around a set schedule or when you feel hunger start to creep in
Plan your meals/snacks so you are less tempted to hit the fast food drive-thru or eat something unhealthy purely out of convenience