Calories, check. Exercise, check. But have you considered the places where you spend time and the people you're with?
They are powerful influences on you, and they may be affecting your weight.
“So many hidden pitfalls in the environment can lead to obesity, which is why your weight isn’t entirely your fault,” says Malissa Wood, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard and co-author of Thinfluence.
You can't control everything, so focus on what you can change, starting in these eight areas.
- Set no-eating zones at home. It’s the easiest way to eat less, especially when these zones are near TVs. When you do watch TV, get up and move during commercials, marching in place or doing strength exercises.
- Be a copycat. Think about your friends and family. Who’s the best at taking care of themselves? Spend more time with them. “Some of their habits may rub off on you,” Wood says.
- Make dinner, and make it social. You're more likely to eat better if you cook your own food. If you live with other people, eat with them. You'll connect, and your conversation will slow down your eating, giving you a chance to feel full. Engage your family in the meal prep, and you’ll spend additional quality time together, Wood says.
- Change where and how you eat. Do you often eat in front of the TV, standing up, or alone? All of these scenarios can encourage you to overeat. Instead, nix distractions like TVs and computers. Sit when you eat, preferably with others, so you’ll slow your eating and thus, eat less.
- Revamp your workplace traditions. Evaluate your office’s traditions and replace the unhealthiest one with something healthier. For instance, instead of bringing doughnuts in on Friday mornings, show up with a fruit platter. Or get a group together to play softball instead of going to happy hour.
- Push for healthier eating on the job or at school. At the hospital where Wood works, cafeteria foods are color-coded red (avoid), yellow (caution), or green (healthy), which has helped employees eat healthier. Suggest something similar for your office or school.
- Set challenges. With co-workers, friends, or family, set up competitions that boost healthy behaviors. For instance, see who can log the most steps in a week’s time. Form teams if possible. You can also do this on your own. Wear a pedometer to track your steps, and try to get more steps every day.
- Keep unhealthy foods out of sight. Store them at the back of your pantry and refrigerator, and put fruits and veggies in front. You’ll be more tempted to eat healthier foods if you see them first. If those unhealthy items are still too tempting, you can throw out the foods that you hid.
Hit the Bull’s-Eye
Do some detective work to discover how your environment is affecting you.
Draw a circle and put yourself at the center. Next, draw a ring around you that includes your relationships (family, friends, co-workers, and others). Are they helping you reach your goal? If not, what could you do about that?
Now draw another ring a little bit farther out. That ring includes your home, neighborhood, workplace, and anywhere else you have access to food. What other things could you try to make these places more supportive of your weight loss goal?
Lastly, draw one more ring, which represents your culture and society. You have the least amount of control over this ring, Wood says. But you can choose not to take harmful messages, like shame about your size, to heart.
Becoming aware of all these things in your environment takes a shift in your thinking. Make that shift, and you're poised for real change.