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How Your Environment Shapes Your Food Choices

Eating healthy isn’t just about knowing the right foods to eat. For the most part, we know it’s important to eat more veggies and whole grains, and fewer desserts and processed foods. However, when the time comes to make a food choice – be it breakfast, lunch or dinner – our rational minds don’t always control our final decision. Instead, other parts of our brain weigh in and can override our logical decision making.

How Your Environment Affects Your Food Choices

What Is Behavioral Economics?

Behavioral economics is an increasingly popular area of science that tries to explain how our rational choices become irrational choices. Understanding how behavioral economics influences eating can help us make healthier food choices.

Here’s an example: consider an elephant and its rider. The rider guides the elephant to make sure they stay on track. What would happen if the elephant and rider disagreed? A stronger elephant would prevail and control where the pair went. In this example, the rider is the rational part of our mind; it knows where to go and what plan to follow. The elephant represents our irrational tendencies; they can easily overpower our rational mind and take us off course.

When we make food choices, it’s unrealistic to believe that our “riders” will always have complete control over our “elephants.” One solution is to set up safer environments that are less likely to be influenced by spur-of-the-moment decision. Here are some ways to change your environment and set yourself up for successful food choices.

In Your Home

  • Put a fruit bowl on your kitchen table so it’s easily accessible during the day.
  • Keep cookies, chips and processed foods in the back of your pantry to make them more difficult to access.
  • Use a meal planning tool to track what you’ll make for dinner each night. You’ll be less likely to deviate from the plan when you have one.

At Work

  • Keep a drawer of healthy snacks like nuts and fruit available for mid-afternoon hunger pangs.
  • Don’t leave candies and sweets on your desk (and ask your co-workers to follow suit).
  • Set up a calendar reminder to go for a mid-afternoon walk when you would typically be getting a snack.

At a Restaurant

  • Set aside half of your meal for leftovers to be more mindful of your portion size.
  • Ask your server to not serve you a bread basket.
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