Sometimes, it’s best to consider our problems in reverse: Let’s pretend we’re trying to pack on the pounds, in as unhealthy a way as possible. How could we create an environment that would make weight gain easy? We could...
- Have unhealthy snacks at the ready—filling the cupboards, crowding the fridge, and hanging out on the counter.
- Keep all the big serving dishes out on the dinner table as we’re eating, making seconds super easy to access.
- Stuff our exercise clothes in the back of the closet.
- Join a gym that’s out of the way.
But the problem is, most people already have their environments set up this way.
Then they wonder why it's so hard to make any progress. Far too often, we lose battles to our environment but place the blame on our lack of willpower. This is when some parents roll their eyes. "But I have kids," they say. "It's not fair to get rid of everything they like to eat."
I agree! (I have kids too—although only one of them is of snacking age.)
Here are just a couple of things I’ve found that make all the difference:
All of my kid’s snacks are in one part of the cupboard. I don't have anything I regularly eat near his snacks, so the only time I open the cabinet is when I'm getting him a snack. Out of sight, out of mind.
I have plenty of healthy, "mindless" snacks ready to go for me to eat. Being around food can make us feel hungry, so one of the easiest ways to avoid eating something indulgent is to eat something else that’s good for you. So when my kid is snacking, I'll eat some carrots, celery, or peppers that I've already cut up.
I don't allow myself to take a peek. Why slay the dragon when we can avoid it? When the kitchen at home (or work) is filled with all sorts of temptations why look in there? If you don't want to slip... don't go where it's slippery.
I keep the good stuff hard to get to. If I must keep something in the house that's tempting for me (yup, that’s ice cream and chocolate chip cookies), I’ll make it harder to access. Specifically, I'll wrap a few plastic bags around it. This gives me a chance to catch myself. This is known as a "pattern interrupt." I make it hard to do the things I don't want to do.
I control the environments I'm entirely in control of. It's surprising how many people keep candy in their desk yet hope to stop eating it. If you don’t want to eat candy, don’t have candy around. And if you must, make it difficult to get to.
Eating healthfully is hard enough, and so is exercising. Make it easier on yourself: Join a gym that’s close by and make it extra-easy to get to your workout gear by packing your exercise clothes the night before. You don’t get bonus points for having heroic amounts of willpower—one of the easiest ways to change your behavior is to change your environment.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that solves the lack of consistency faced by chronic dieters. Sign up for his free mini course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.