In my latest film, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Brian Wansink, the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. He is an expert on how our environment induces us to overeat. In the movie, we visited a coffee shop/bakery where he showed me how a retail food store can wear down your resistance to buying a snack by the way the items are presented. It was an eye opener to say the least, and led me to understand an important truth: That much of the junk that we snack on is determined not by what our bodies are telling us, but by 'triggers' on the outside.
With this in mind, I've started paying attention to these triggers and how they work. I get a lot of insight into how this works from the people who send their comments to our Reboot with Joe community. A great example: One woman who said that her toughest time of the day for resisting high-calorie goodies was 3:15 p.m. That was the time each day when she passed a Dunkin Donuts on her way to pick up her child from school.
She solved it by taking another route to the playground.
This sort of basic "change your environment" approach is all the more important when we realize that urges--the sudden desire for a soda or a candy bar - -may seem insurmountable at the time, but actually pass after just a few minutes. So a lot of what people call "will power" is just a matter of staying out of harm's way until your hankering passes.
So here are five simple but effective suggestions to make eating a healthy diet easier:
1. Don't Stock Your Temptations.
This seems simple, but it's really important. If you have a sugar problem and continue to keep ice cream in your fridge it's like an alcoholic keeping a fully stocked bar at home. If you don't keep cookies in the cabinet, your chance of eating cookies goes way down, because now you'll have to get in your car and go buy them. It's just too easy when they're sitting there at home, calling out to you.
2. Change the Portion Size.
I do a lot of traveling; in fact I'm on another world tour for my new book called Fully Charged. On the road, I'm always amazed by how much smaller the portions are in European restaurants than in the U.S. While we like good value for our dollar, the problem is that we seem compelled to eat everything on our plates. It's like our duty. So try serving portions that are 10 percent or 20 percent smaller. Go gradually, maybe even change the plates you are serving on and you won't notice the difference -- except that you'll feel better.
3. Play the Delay Game.
One big attribute of those who maintain healthy diets is their ability to delay gratification. Recently someone gave me a box of Godiva chocolates as a gift. I was trying to avoid sugar at the time (which admittedly is a common struggle for me) so I decided not to open the gold-foil box until the right time -- a holiday or a celebration -- so I kept putting it off. I actually traveled with it in my suitcase, and it became sort of a badge of honor. When I finally opened it, the chocolate had melted into a big slab. I took a bite and chucked the rest.
4. Avoid the Retail Triggers.
Ring the dinner bell and we all salivate. I understand the lure of the warm, familiar coffee shop, bakery or pizza place. So sometimes, like the woman in my earlier example, you just have to avoid walking or driving past the places that you associate with comfort calories. Walk by the juice bar instead.
5. Beware the Buffet.
As our friend and food researcher Wansink likes to point out, when you eat 'family style' -- with big serving dishes on the table -- you tend to eat more than if your plate was filled at the stove and requires a return visit for more. I suffer the same temptation at a hotel restaurant buffet. I try to sit as far away as possible. The ease of access to food can be a tipping point. Make it harder to reach -- put the candy jar across the room, go blue-plate special at home and always beware of sitting too close to the buffet.