Healthy Eating is Abnormal! What You Can Do to Normalize It

Why is diet change hard?  How to make healthy eating more normal.

(  With the New Year’s Resolution season upon us, there have been many excellent blog posts on change – the best lifestyle changes to make, tips for how to be healthier and how to overcome common challenges.  Last week, I wrote a post with thoughts to help you realistically approach your resolution, including the need for “distress tolerance”, a concept discussed at a conference I attended, featuring psychologist Dr Michael Vallis.  You might ask - What about diet change can create distress?

Why is Diet Change Hard?

According to Dr Vallis, healthy eating is abnormal.  In his talk, he highlighted that many people think that healthy behavior is “normal” and that they are abnormal because they are struggling to make food and eating choices consistent with their goals.  In fact, it is the other way around – healthy eating, in our society, is not “normal”.

Our surroundings can be considered toxic since there are many chances for us to make unconscious, possibly problematic eating choices, with little awareness.  For example:

  • Portion sizes for most packaged foods have increased. We know from research that larger portions usually result in eating larger amounts of food without necessarily feeling more full.  The possible result?   Eating more “fuel” that what your body needs to be able to run, which can translate into weight gain or lack of weight loss.   
  • Visual “cues” to eat food are everywhere, making it overly simple to eat food, even if we are not hungry.  “Foods” are available at the gas station, the hardware store, the movie theatre, at the office.  When we go shopping, there are multiple samples to try – another cue to eat.  With visual cues to eat all around us, we are always reminded of the opportunity to eat!  
  • Buying in bulk is overly easy and tempting to do.  It may seem hard to justify buying a box of 6 granola bars, when for a very small increase in price, you can get 30 bars, depending where you shop.  Of course, buying the larger amount of food results in eating more of that food, which may be problematic.

3 Ways to Make Healthy Eating more “Normal”

1) Become aware of your eating behaviors and eating environment. 
It’s been estimated that we make over 200 food-related decisions a day!  How many of them are you aware of?  One way to build your awareness of how your surroundings are affecting you is to keep a food log or diary.  Include the foods and drinks you eat – including your main meals but also any snacks or nibbles you have.  Make note of the:

  • kinds of foods you are eating,
  • kinds of foods you are not eating,
  • foods you are eating but wish you weren’t, and
  • foods you are not eating, but wish you were.

Examine, how are the environments in which you live, work and play set up to help or hinder progress toward your food and nutrition goal(s). For example, is your eating more of a problem at work?  Are there less healthful foods at your office or in your meetings?  Becoming more aware of your eating environment is the first step to creating one that is more consistent with your eating goals. 

2) Increase the effort to eat less healthful foods
Make it a little harder to “access” less healthful foods. 

  • Move these foods into hard-to-see-through containers stored on the top shelf or back of your fridge, your pantry, or in a hard-to-reach area of your office.  Give this food your least-prime storage real-estate!
  • Reduce how much of these foods you bring into the house or keep at your desk or in your car. 
  • If you do bring these less healthful foods into your house, buy a smaller amount, even if it is a better deal to buy the larger size. This one can be a real tough one for people as we all love a “deal”. 

3) Decrease the effort to eat more healthful foods.  Make it easy to eat your goal foods.  

  • Keep more healthful foods in sight – literally. Make it easy to find them by storing them near the front or at eye-level. 
  • Store these foods in see-through containers and give these foods prime real-estate shelf space. 
  • Keep a supply of these foods in your car or at your desk.  
  • Make a DIY veggie platter for a quick snack. 
  • Replace the candy or mint dish on your counter or desk with a bowl of fruit to cue you to select this food.

It might feel like you are swimming upstream against a current that makes it hard to eat healthfully.  Becoming aware of your surroundings is key.  Once you are more aware, you can start creating your own customized healthy eating environment. This will make eating in a way that is consistent with your goals seem more “normal”.


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