How Well Does Your Environment Support Healthy Eating Habits?
Congratulations! You have made a commitment to good nutrition and healthy eating habits. Now ask yourself, how well do the foods in the cupboard and refrigerator reflect your healthy eating commitment? Do the time saving meal suggestions from family members emphasize high quality foods or fast food? At lunches and social outings are you offered a fruit bowl or a chip bowl? In other words, how well does your environment support your healthy eating goal?
According to Social Cognitive Theory, there are two ways to bridge the gap between intention and desired behavior: developing the ability and skills necessary to act on the behavior, for example shopping and cooking healthful meals, and creating a supportive environment. Environment refers to both the physical surroundings and conditions a person operates in, and the people that influence an individual’s life. It is interesting to note that although environment can influence a person’s behavior, an individual can also reshape their environment. Creating a supportive environment for healthy eating habits would include, but not be limited to, the availability of quality food, the means to acquire and prepare healthful meals, and modeled healthy eating habits.
An important tool for restructuring personal environment is stimulus control. Stimulus control includes identifying triggers for unhealthy behaviors and generating a plan for controlling those triggers. For example, many people find they consume more bread with dinner when the basket is sitting in front of them. A possible plan would be to ask the waiter not bring bread to the table and start the meal with a tantalizing array of vegetables. Salty or sweet treats are often difficult to pass up, especially in a group setting. A stimulus control plan might involve providing fresh fruit or other healthy tempting treats when hanging out with family and friends. Time, or the lack of it, can be a trigger for stress and unhealthy food choices. When faced with limited time for meal preparation substitute easy to prepare meals, such as omelets, open-faced sandwiches, or a stir-fry, for fast food. When your social environment needs stimulus control, make healthy eating habits a family affair by planning menus together, shopping at the farmers market, and sharing recipe ideas. The key to stimulus control is to identify the trigger, generate a plan, and stick to it.
Social Cognitive Theory views behavior pathology through a dynamic interrelationship of personal factors, environmental factors and behavior. Environment influences behavior and can be either supportive to our intentions or an obstacle to adopting new behaviors. The good news is that we can restructure our environment. How well does your environment support your commitment to quality nutrition and healthy eating habits?
Social cognitive theory: Explanation of behavioral patterns. University of Twente. http://www.tcw.utwente.nl/theorieddnoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Health%20Communication/Social_cognitive_theory.doc/
Contento, I.R., 2007. Jones and Bartlett. MA. Nutrition education: linking research, theory, and practice. Chapter 5 Foundation in theory and research: facilitating the ability to take action. Pg 121-123.