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    Think you have absolute control over what you eat, when and why? Think again
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    The food environment can play a key role in our energy intake
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    There are strategies to help stay on top of your goals despite this

I don’t have to explain to you that eating healthier and more in line with your goals is a difficult thing to do.

What’s even more difficult?

Keeping things under control when you’ve successfully reached your goals.

A number of lifestyle factors we can introduce can keep us humming along but what about some food environment ‘hacks’, so to speak?

What strategies can be set up to help control our food environment to help build upon our daily successes?

But first...

‘The Food Environment’: what you need to know

The term ‘food environment’ encompasses a lot of concepts.

Changes in how food is produced, farmed and marketed can all fall under the umbrella term when it comes to ‘food environment’.

Closer to home, our food environment probably means our fridges and cupboards, our workplaces and their canteens (if present) and the nearby shops.

How the 'food environment' sabotages our efforts

1/ It contains super-palatable(tasty) foods1,2

Food production has changed. You don’t need me to tell you that. Freakishly delicious food items have crept into our line of sight and don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Here’s a run-down of what’s happened:

Rapid industrialisation along with new legislation plus a DEMAND FOR TASTY THINGS aided the development of a monster.

Where once treats were in limited supply, they are now in abundance.

Where once the high energy meals were reserved for a long work day, we now have access to it as often as we like – without a more labour-based workload, I might add.

We got used to the things that taste excellent and used to them in abundance.

And now we have a problem.

2/ Increased food energy supply2

Increased food energy supply means, in short, that the food energy provided to us has increased.

Why is that a bad thing?

Well, our energy requirements haven’t increased to match this. In fact, it could be argued that we have become less active and reduced our energy requirements.

Basically, our energy supply is surplus to our actual demands. We DON’T need the amount we eat but it’s still there, available to us at a second’s glance.

3/Omnipresent Palatability2

Sometimes, there are things out of our control. Bigger aspects of our food environment must be considered. Highly palatable convenience food is EVERYWHERE and often times calls out to us.

Consider your work environment for a moment. Maria from accounts always brings in cakes or donuts on a Friday for the whole team. Even those with the strongest will power may succumb to a donut every once in a while.

What about the petrol station on the way home from work. You put some fuel in the tank and go to pay. What lies in wait is orderly line of treaty goodness as you approach the till? They are more than willing to sabotage your health efforts..

How do you respond to this? Is it even possible?

How to handle your food environment

1/Create stimulus control – don’t have too many treats in your home environment

The key to stimulus control appears to be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Now, does mean that you will magically no longer seek them out? Hardly. You’re just creating a little bit of space between you and energy dense food sources.

Limit the presence of foods that provide you with limited nutrient quality and high food energy and you won’t go wrong.

You don’t have to do away with all foods that have those qualities.

The key might in limiting their availability…

2/Promote satiety, fullness and nutrient density WHENEVER possible

This may go without saying but it’s smart planning to have most of your meals consist of a protein source, vegetables and nutrient dense carbohydrate sources.

The reasons are well understood and are consistent with what is recommended in research.

Protein creates greater satiety, in the same way that vegetables contribute a considerable portion of daily fibre intake.

Combine this with the understanding that low-energy density, high food volume foods create more fullness and you will likely manage hunger and energy intake better relative to higher energy foods.

3/Be prepared to push back (and know that you must)3

Understanding that maintaining your new condition/weight  is going to be a battle against this environment and even things within you.

Hunger is going to creep in (maybe more than you know), as is the potential for old habits. Be prepared for this. What you must do though, is be prepared to ‘push back’.

Some really intriguing research has highlighted the need to ‘gain control over food cues’ along with the desire to eat as before.

The subjects involved were also educated on the hard truths of keeping weight off. This can prove to be another motivating factor to keep going and to be vigilant against the threat of over eating.

There are a number of factors that combine to create weight loss and weight maintenance success. The basics of a sustainable approach to nutrition and some form of exercise hold true. Being aware of how our food environment can stack the decks against us may be just as important.

Be vigilant and prepare to push back!

Just to recap...

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    Food production, availability, demand and taste has led us to a place where excessive energy intake is very easy to achieve. It's almost a passive process.
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    The energy of common packaged foods and their taste, or palatability, creates everyday problems when trying to make more health-conscious choices or capitalise on recent health-focused successes.
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    The good news is that you can create the appropriate responses where possible. Create stimulus control, eat a varied and nutrient dense diet whenever possible and be aware that creating a habit of health sustainability is an everyday commitment.

Want to kickstart you nutrition journey?

Why not download the guide to dropping weight without tracking or counting calories!
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    Identify OTHER ways of eating better and losing weight that don't involve counting calories
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    Learn about how to set them up and examples of what a day of eating can look like!
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    ​​​​Make subtle daily changes without being overly restrictive to bring you closer to your goals
References:

1.Hall, K. (2017). Did the Food Environment Cause the Obesity Epidemic?. Obesity, 26(1), pp.11-13.

2.Vandevijvere, S., Chow, C., Hall, K., Umali, E. and Swinburn, B. (2015). Increased food energy supply as a major driver of the obesity epidemic: a global analysis. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 93(7), pp.446-456.

3.Lowe, M., Butryn, M. and Zhang, F. (2018). Evaluation of meal replacements and a home food environment intervention for long-term weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 107(1), pp.12-19.

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