Smart Ways to Make Healthy Choices (Without Dieting)

I’ve told you before why dieting doesn’t work, but what if you still want to make the healthiest choices possible (and possibly drop a few pounds)?

Well, Dr. Traci Mann of the Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota has spent over two decades researching this very topic, and she’s condensed her tips into a book: Secrets From The Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. And, lucky you, I have read the book and extracted some very interesting bits of information that will benefit you personally.

The thing is, dieting makes you notice food, makes it more tempting, and does nothing to help you stay lean for the long term. Not to mention that willpower is a limited resource and eventually you’re probably going to eat the darn cookie.

So what can you do? Some smart strategies to help you make healthy choices (no dieting required):

  1. Realize that you’re going to go for the path of least resistance, but that’s a good thing. Even if you’re incredibly hard-working, you’re human, which means you will try to make your life easier by avoiding obstacles, even when it comes to tasty treats. Researchers at Utrecht University found that when a bowl of M&Ms was placed 5 feet away from study participants, they ate less than if the bowl was right next to them. Surprisingly, they also ate less when the bowl was just two feet away and they had to extend their arm across the table (a small obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless). Your takeaway is that just about any hindrance, like keeping candy in an opaque container instead of a clear one, will help you eat less. Buy snacks in single-serving portions. Put the knife in the dishwasher and the tinfoil over the pan of brownies. Put your husband’s chips on the very top shelf, the one where you’d have to drag a chair over to get to them.
  2. The whole “path of least resistance” thing works both ways. We just talked about how putting up obstacles between you and the treats helps you to eat less, but did you know that removing obstacles between you and healthier options will help you eat more of them? Keep a fruit bowl where you can see it, and make sure it’s easy to eat fruit (like a banana or an already-washed apple as opposed to a slightly more difficult to peel orange). After you go grocery shopping, take 20 or 30 minutes and prepare your produce so it’s that much closer to being ready to eat, like washing berries or peeling and chopping veggies. If you know you won’t do that, buy already prepared produce, as you’re that much more likely to eat it if it’s easy to see and easy to grab.
  3. Serve a salad first. Dr. Mann’s research showed that if children were given a cup of broccoli while waiting in line for the cafeteria, they ate 4 times more of it than normal! She calls this idea “be alone with a vegetable,” because if you’re hungry and a vegetable, especially an already-prepared vegetable, is available, you’ll eat it! Start with a salad when you go out to dinner. Serve a vegetable dish prior to the main meal at home. Pack yourself baby carrots to take as a snack for work. Do whatever it takes to get yourself alone with the choice of a vegetable or…a vegetable.

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