We are on Part 2 of our series about managing food consumption at night. This week, I’m going to give you 6 tips you can use right now to help you deal with those irresistible danger foods in the home.
The strategy? Changing your food environment.
I would like to note that this is a topic that extends beyond eating at night and will be useful for anyone. However, I wanted to address it first because a poor food environment is one of the biggest causes for unhealthy night-eating. When given a choice, we both know people go for what’s quick and easy. We’re all guilty of this. So why live in an environment that stacks the deck against you?
Instead, turn your problem into your solution. Create an environment that supports your goals rather than fights them. Make the quick and easy be what’s best for your goals.
Here’s how to do it:
Did you know food companies pay a premium to have their products at eye level in the supermarkets? They are taking advantage of the visibility trick to make you more likely to buy. In short, what’s visible is far more likely to get attention than what isn’t. More attention means that you’re more likely to purchase or eat it.
The visibility trick applies at home just as well as at the supermarkets. I see too many people with honest intentions buy healthy food only to hide it behind everything else and see it go bad. Stop throwing your goals and your money in the trash. Put the foods you should be eating more of on your counter tops and at eye level in the refrigerator and cabinets.
Put everything you should be eating less of as far away from eye level as possible. Don’t keep any danger foods out – put them all in a single cabinet. If you keep your danger foods in multiple locations, you will be repeatedly tempted when you’re looking for food. To take it a step further, put the danger foods in containers you can’t see through.
There’s a reason fast food is so popular – it’s convenient. When you’re tired or on a time crunch, making a full meal for yourself is not going to happen. We’ve all been there, picking up food on the way home from work because its quick and effortless.
Take advantage of motivated-you to help future-you out. I know you have some free time (or you wouldn’t be reading this). You need to make ready-to-eat options that future-you can eat without any effort.
Spend a few hours each week meal prepping the meals you need the most help with. For me, that would be lunches. When you add up the time you would otherwise spend ordering or picking up food, you’re probably saving time (not to mention definitely saving money). That’s what I call a win.
Do the same thing for snacks – put out a fruit bowl, and stock your kitchen and work spaces with healthy options.
For the foods you should be having less of, you need to make it less convenient. Before, we talked about putting them away from eye level. If possible, also make it hard to physically reach. And NEVER keep danger foods within arm’s reach of where you spend a lot of time (like your desk).
I know it’s obvious – but if you are trying to eat certain foods, you need to have those foods. If you are trying to eat more carrots and only have one in the house, there is a problem. Take a good look at the ratio of foods you have – you should have far more healthy food than unhealthy.
Seriously consider removing all unhealthy foods from your house. Regardless of how hidden and inconvenient a certain item is, you might still keep going for it.
Note: I’m not saying you can’t eat the items, I’m only saying don’t keep it in the house. I don’t stock my house with chocolate ice cream because I know I’m going to eat it. If I really want chocolate ice cream, I can walk 10 minutes down the street and eat some.
We eat what’s available, so make the available be good for you.
Eating the same thing over and over gets boring. We have different moods, cravings, and hunger levels. You should have different foods to match.
If you meal prep, consider having alternating menus. Keep a variety of healthy snacks – fruits, vegetables with hummus, yogurt, hardboiled eggs, etc.
Don’t give yourself choices of your unhealthy items, that will only increase your temptation. Consider having a non-existent selection (i.e., 0-1 options in the house).
People are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating if the eating spaces themselves are messy. Keep it clean and uncluttered.
I mentioned in a previous article that you should always be intentional with your food. If you’re going to eat, eat. Don’t work while eating. Don’t watch TV while eating. Don’t be on your phone while eating. Eat to enjoy the food and enjoy the company.
If you’re distracted, you won’t notice any signals your body is giving you. People eat more when distracted (and report less enjoyment).
Keep distractions out of food spaces (don’t bring cell phones in and don’t keep a TV in there). Keep food out of hang-out spaces.
#7 Where You Live
I know you don’t always have the luxury to choose where you live. But if you do, don’t move in across the street from your favorite fast food spot.
Life far away from danger foods, and live where you can walk/bike to the grocery store and gym.
#8 Who You Are With
They say you are the average of the 5 people you’re around the most. You get to choose your social environment. Find one where healthy behaviors are encouraged, or try to get your friends to join what you’re doing. It is far more difficult to succeed if the people around you aren’t supportive.
That’s it for today. What did you think? What changes can you make this next week? Let me know!
Next week, we’re going to talk about how to stop being hungry at night.
As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or topics you would like covered!
Casey Thomas, MS, RDN
Basketball Performance Dietitian
UCLA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics