Coaching

How Environment Affects Your Diet

By Nike Training

Your Surroundings Affect What You Eat

Where to eat: why your environment matters and how to shape it.

Think about the last time you went off the rails with your food choices. Where were you sitting? Which plate or bowl were you using? What music was playing, who was with you? Your answers matter.

"Our environment shapes our choices so much more than we realise—it's a silent driver", says Krista Scott-Dixon, Director of Curriculum at Precision Nutrition and a nutrition educator with nearly 20 years of experience. "Often we think, 'Ugh, I'm making bad choices, I just don't have the willpower', when, in actuality, our immediate surroundings dramatically affect our potential success".

"Our environment shapes our choices so much more than we realise—it's a silent driver".

Krista Scott-Dixon, Precision Nutrition

When Scott-Dixon says "environment", you might picture physical surroundings. And that is a huge piece of the puzzle: The exact location—a kitchen, office, car—and how that environment is set up influences how and what we eat. But science shows that there are other crucial small details about our surroundings that affect our diet choices too, and all are important to consider to eat healthier.

Start with location.

A messy, cluttered kitchen can lead you to make hurried, bad food choices simply because you can't find or easily access what you need to eat healthily, says Scott-Dixon. "You'll never make a green smoothie if the blender is buried beneath the post and worktop clutter", she says.

A clean space matters—one that's distraction-free. Eat a meal in front of your TV, work computer or phone, and you don't fully engage with your food or even the feeling of fullness, according to a study published in the nutrition journal Appetite. This makes you far more likely to snack later in the day.

"You'll never make a green smoothie if the blender is buried beneath the post and worktop clutter".

Krista Scott-Dixon, Precision Nutrition

The concept holds true for eating on the go, too. Grab an energy bar while you're busy doing other tasks and you're far more likely to snack later. That's because your mind never registers having a real meal, according to British researchers who studied the topic, and that dissatisfaction makes you search for more food later.

Your Surroundings Affect What You Eat

Presentation matters.

Tableware makes a difference. While trendy, oversized bowls, plates and cups look cool, they can subconsciously coax you to eat far more than you normally would, according to a University of Cambridge meta-analysis of more than 60 studies.

So much more, in fact, that the researchers found that if we were to simply serve ourselves portions on smaller tableware, we could reduce our overall food consumption by up to 218 calories a day.

Previous research has found that even the colour of your dishes has an impact: eat white rice on a white plate and you don't really notice how much you're eating. Put that same rice on a darker plate, and now you're more mindful of how much is disappearing. The tip here, according to experts, is to differentiate the colour of your food from its dish whenever you can. The upshot: If you eat nutrient-dense, brightly coloured foods, using standard white dishes will always work.

Listen to your senses.

Our environment also encapsulates other senses. Hearing, for example, plays an important role. Is the TV droning on in the background at your kitchen table? Are you blasting music while snacking? These scenarios can cause you to eat more and more unhealthy foods, recent research published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences suggests.

Loud noise raises our heart rates and generates a stress response, the study authors explain. This can cause us to subconsciously eat more and faster, and choose comfort foods that are higher in calories and fat.

Who's eating with you?

Finally, there's the social environment you construct—the people you eat with and the reason you're eating together. Recent studies have shown that when we share a meal with people who eat healthier, we're more apt to make good choices too. The inverse is also true: Dining with folks who go all-out on junk food and booze primes us to follow suit.

Right now, we don't have a lot of choice about who we eat with, and that can also have a major impact on our diets, says Scott-Dixon. The uniting theme for all of these details: To eat your healthiest, you need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Your Surroundings Affect What You Eat

"I'm not aiming for the perfect environment for every meal, I'm aiming for slightly better, more and more often".

Krista Scott-Dixon, Precision Nutrition

The uniting theme for all of these details: To eat your healthiest, you need to pay attention to your surroundings.

"That's where I imagine a continuum", says Scott-Dixon. "I'm not aiming for the perfect environment for every meal, I'm aiming for slightly better, more and more often". This could mean eating away from your desk one day a week more than you do now. Or, if your dinner routine includes scrolling through social media, put the device away once a week.

The point? You don't have to make major, sweeping changes to your surroundings to feel more present, calm and primed to make healthy-eating choices. Start with the little things. Clear a clean, inviting space to eat. Limit the distractions. Consider your dishes, your background noise, your company. Taking these small steps to curate your environment will create the constant, positive momentum that, over time, leads to big results.

Make It a Habit: Think of one small, positive change you can make to your environment, such as sitting at a table for at least one meal a day. Anchor this new behaviour to a habit you already have, like checking your phone to see what time you're starting to eat. So, when you check your phone, think, "time to sit!" Each time you successfully do this, don't forget to congratulate yourself; this will help seal in the routine.

Your Surroundings Affect What You Eat

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Your Surroundings Affect What You Eat

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Get access to our world-class experts and trainers to help you stay active and healthy.

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