A chat with a discouraged client, experiencing a post-weight loss plateau inspired me to write about behavior modification. I think everyone can relate to her story, I know I can. The main issue we discussed was justifying our poor choices during moments of weakness. I think a lot of people’s moments of weakness happen when we are tired or unprepared. Maybe I’ll get home from work and cooking a healthy meal just seems like too much effort. So I’ll decide to go for the easier, tastier, and unhealthier option, justifying my actions with a “well I worked out today.” From there I might say “well I already broke my healthy eating for the day, so I might as well have dessert too.” Next thing I know I’m having a cheat meal…and then a full blown cheat day….and then the gates are open and all bets are off. Sound familiar? Here’s the good news: You can make the “too-much effort” mind-set work in your favor. One of the greatest ways to enhance behavior modification is to make good choices easier and poor choices harder. A great way to do this is to take one day out of your week and meal prep. Cook up lots of protein, sauté your veggies, boil some rice or quinoa, and have them all ready in your refrigerator to heat up when you get home from work. Put your snacks in portion-controlled containers so you don’t over-do it in between meals. Having a healthy meal prepared and ready to go during busy times can make a world of difference. Okay, make healthy choices easier…check. The next step is to make poor choices harder. If you stock junk food in your home, put it in the back of the cupboards. If that’s not enough, move it to the garage or the basement. Then, when you are hungry you have to make more of an effort to grab the bad stuff. You have more time to talk yourself out of it before you even get to your snack. The ultimate goal would be to not buy the junk food in the first place. That way, when the cravings creep in, you are forced to make a decision about leaving your house to go buy something! You can literally make eating unhealthy “too much effort”!
Here’s the thing. As humans, we operate on a finite amount of willpower. So when our “eat healthy” willpower runs out we need something in the reserves to save us from our own poor judgment. Google did a fantastic experiment which suggests that the decisions we make are based on a series of cues that we inadvertently experience each day. Google provides free food to their employees, so they subtly altered the way this food was displayed, resulting in secretly “nudging” their employees towards healthier decision making. Google simply hid their candy in opaque containers, and fruit and nuts in clear glass containers. Both were stocked in the same location, but candy consumption dropped by 30% and 3.1 million calories were saved in a seven week period! If a company can produce results of this caliber, imagine what you can do for yourself at home. Make your environmental cues work in your favor by placing healthy food in the most visible places, and make the unhealthy options a little bit harder to get to. Display fresh fruit in a bowl on your counter and make sure your veggies are the most visible thing in your fridge. If poor choices are a little bit harder to make, you may find yourself automatically reaching for what's available. Here is the full article about the Google experiment, it’s really interesting so give it a read!