Ways your environment is affecting your eating habits
By Emily Gagnier, RD
Emily is new to the team at Our Clinic. She’s a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and a member of Dietitians Canada. She has completed two Bachelors of Science in the field of human nutrition from the University of Guelph and Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. Upon completing her Dietetic Internship with the London Health Sciences Centre, she relocated to Western Canada working in chronic disease prevention and management, as well as the long-term care setting. She has experience working with individuals of various backgrounds and is passionate about empowering others to improve their health and wellness using the power of food and human nutrition.
One of the challenges many of us face today is the constant testing of our ability to resist unhealthy foods. It’s easy for us to pin this on our wavering “willpower” but in reality, there are countless factors that contribute to our eating habits. Many of these factors are social cues that are present in our environment and we may not even be aware of them.
Consider your commute to and from work. What fast food chains do you drive by? How many billboards with tasty looking treats do you come across? What grab-and-go snacks do you see at the check out counter in the gas station? How many times do you hear food advertisements on the radio? Taking into consideration this is merely a portion of our day, it can certainly make it difficult to stay on track with our health-related goals.
Our environments can have an effect on when, what, how much and how often we eat. So, let’s give our willpower a break and focus on the facts.
Social cues are occasions that trigger us to behave in a certain way, usually habits we’ve formed over time. For example, watching a football game with friends is a social cue for many people to eat snacks and drink beer or soda. The best way to overcome social cues is to stay away from them, but this is not always possible or ideal. In such a case, we can try changing the cue or responding differently to the cue. Changing the cue might look like sharing your efforts to improve your health, as generally people are willing to help if they understand you want to change. An example of responding differently to the cue might be saying “no thank you” and offering a specific alternative like a cup of tea. Also note that not all social cues are problematic and we can add in helpful social cues such as bringing lower-fat and lower-calorie foods to share.
Remember it takes time to break an old habit or to build a new one. The interdisciplinary team at Our Clinic can work with you to help identify unhealthy environmental factors and help you build healthier habits for a lifetime.