Have you ever wondered why you find yourself visiting the refrigerator repeatedly during TV commercials? Or why it is so much easier to keep your new lifestyle resolutions when you are with one group of friends but not another? There is actually a scientific explanation for this phenomenon – it is called the “Cue Theory of Consumption”, and was first described by David Laibson in 2001. As he says, environmental cues have a direct effect upon our preferences and behavior. The food industry is acutely aware of this, which is one reason a certain cinnamon bun company places its on-site bakeries very strategically in shopping malls and airports, why “junk food” packaging utilizes such bright, attractive colors, and why movie theaters keep that popcorn popping (ahh – that aroma!). We have become so conditioned to these stimuli that just the smell of that popcorn has you turning in your tracks to buy the large bucket (even though that was probably the last thing on your mind when you first decided to see that movie). The most steadfast dieter among us is probably vulnerable to the scent of warm chocolate chip cookies in the oven, or fresh baked bread. Are you salivating yet?
So, what is the health-conscious consumer to do when the odds seem so stacked against you? First and foremost is the importance of changing your immediate environment. Your home should be your “safe space” – i.e. as free as possible of stimuli that could undermine your efforts. For example, keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the table, and always have a dish of washed and cut fresh veggies in the fridge for quick snacking. Ditch the chips and cookies! While your family may object initially, eventually this will start to feel normal to them as well. Researchers at Cornell University have designed a three-step method to help develop healthy eating behaviors, which they call the “C.A.N.” method. This stands for: Convenient, Attractive and Normal. By changing the environment, and making healthy foods seem like the “normal” thing to eat, we can take “willpower” out of the picture and make it much easier to create desirable changes. Thus, the “easy to grab” wholesome snack (instead of the “easy to grab” bag of chips!)
Also, beware of the company you keep. Even the strongest resolve will fail in the face of a group of friends whose idea of a good time is eating and drinking to excess. By surrounding yourself with health-conscious friends, you will find it much easier to maintain focus on your wellness plan, particularly when you are tired, discouraged or emotionally upset. Having a workout buddy who will haul you off to the gym or for a run when it is the last thing you feel like doing, is valuable beyond measure!
So, beat the odds by surrounding yourself with positive cues – i.e. beautiful, wholesome food, good friends, health affirming books and magazines, attractive workout gear – whatever it is that you need to maintain your commitment to glowing health. You can do it!