Building A Healthy Food Environment

Written by Paul Dermody

Managing your food environment will not happen by accident. Many of you overestimate how rigid a diet needs to be for success, whilst ignoring the so-called “lower-hanging fruits” that help manage food intake. The following scenario will likely feel familiar.

You get home from work. You are tired. There are no groceries in the house. Even if they were, cooking seems complicated.
The takeaway option seems tempting.
“This will be the last night before the diet begins.”

Perhaps you had intentions to eat well, but when you came home, your friend or housemate was having a burger. The thought of a burger had not occurred prior, but the smell was intoxicating. In both the above scenarios, the “easy option” is usually taken. Understandably so. We are all at the mercy of the environment we find ourselves in. Your environment is forcing you to think about these foods.

First, it is not harmful to have a burger now and then. It is, however, probably better to save these for occasions whereby you truly want to enjoy them. In our modern world, calorie control will not happen by accident. It will need to be consciously chosen.

Your approach can still be tasty, enriching and vitalizing whilst also being nutritious and flexible.

Food environment guidelines for success


1. What you keep in your house matters

You might be expecting me to tell you to keep all treat foods out of the house. Whilst that may work for some, I think about it a different way. I suggest being deliberate in what you buy, whatever quantity that is. If you cannot buy a 4-pack of chocolate without eating all of them quickly, abstaining for a few weeks won’t change you philosophically.

Instead, I recommend this practice for a month and establish true control. Whilst food environment matters, you can create a space where “junk” foods can be abundant and you have control. When your “mental environment” is calmer, your food environment will organically begin to match once you take the conscious steps to do so.

2. Out of sight, out of mind.

Following on from point 1, there is still something to be said for Whether you have one chocolate in the house or one thousand, keep them in a press you don’t often open. I would suggest buying these foods less frequently if I thought it was likely but unless you live alone, certain dynamics make that challenging. Instead, when your mindset doesn’t feel like it is being restricted, you can practice restraint. Simultaneously, you can recognise the temptation of these foods and keep them out of sight, for practical reasons.

3. Grocery shop

Everyone would take the easy option when they’re hungry and there’s nothing to eat. 1-2 structured grocery shops per week are part of the remedy to spontaneous, unenjoyable and empty eating experiences.

4. Practice Mindful Eating

Irrespective of what you eat, be mindful. This simply means being present in the experience of that meal—the tastes, textures, thoughts and sensations.

5. Routine

This is arguably most important—have a routine to adhere to. For example, I know I eat 4 times daily. I rarely deviate from this structure. If someone presents a short-term pleasure away from meal times, it is almost always not worth it—not because I cannot have it but because I know I always can. Structure is the most efficient form of calorie control there is. If you quantified how many calories you eat from mindless, unsatisfactory snacking, you would be surprised.

6. Keep a fruit bowl out rather than a chocolate bowl

If you don’t want a piece of fruit, you’re probably not hungry.

7. Learn to cook

Learn simple 15-minute recipes. Reframe the experience. See the joy in taking ingredients from the fridge to the plate. If you cannot be happy and engaged whilst cooking dinner, stop and ask yourself why. As a matter of conscious experience, life is always here and now. Keep doing this until you see the value. It may not happen instantly

8. And finally, grow up. I mean that kindly

There will be things you don’t want to do. There is no escaping this. Cooking, eating fruits or veg and drinking water remind us of what we were once commanded to do as children that conflicted with the adult-like autonomy we were so desperate to acquire. We must understand the true wisdom in these ideas—they were designed to make our lives better. Besides, with these little promises, we can escape the temptation of fad dieting as they will contribute to the results we desire. Isn’t that what we want after all?


Our food environment influences us in so many ways. It’s probably not discussed enough and it is too easy to mistake an unhelpful environment for a lack of willpower. Today, take time to implement one of these strategies. I’m confident over time you will see a net positive result in your life.



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