15 May 12 What Helps Us Make the Better Food Choice?

What motivates you to make the better food choice – the one that supports your health, your weight, or even your mental health – despite the huge number of tasty, less healthy options? Is it willpower - a form of mindful eating that allows you to pause and reflect upon the choice you are about to make before you actually commit to the choice? Are you willing to consider the consequences of making the less healthful choice every time you decide to eat a meal or snack?

I need food decision making to be easier than that. Sure, I'm willing to use willpower for some decisions, but I don't want to be challenged continuously to make the best choice all of the time. That sounds exhausting to my doughnut-, french-fry, cookie-loving brain. I want the better choices to be my range of options in the first place, so that it is actually easier to make the better choice, and harder to make less healthful choice. To do this, I use a combination of tactics.

Mindless Portion Control

I am a big fan of Brian Wansink's approach to skimming off calories - controlling portion size without cognitive effort. For instance, I use smaller plates and bowls, skinny vs. wide glasses, high contrast place settings so that my food stands out on the plate, keep used plates or chicken wing bones on the table so that I remain accountable for food eaten, store trigger foods out of sight, and serve food out of smaller containers. These simple tactics work well for me.

Environmental Control

I decide where I am willing to get my food and then don't consider other places as options. This refers to all food venues - grocery stores, farms, markets, restaurants, fast food places, convenience stores, etc. When I limit my food venues to those that offer nutritious, calories-controlled, and affordable selections, then I create an "easier" healthful food environment in which to make choices.

I won't blame the obesity crisis on fast food or the restaurant industry, but folks should know that if they want to control calories, limit harmful food ingredients, and maximize nutrients, then they have a tough road ahead of them if they insist on eating most of their food away from home. I find that the more I cook at home, the easier it is for me to maximize nutrients while minimizing calories, sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat content of my meals and snacks.

I negotiate with family or household members regarding what gets brought into the home. If my husband wants to eat one of my trigger foods (e.g. cookies), then he has agreed to do so outside of our home. There is no reason why we "need" to buy or bake cookies.

Are you the only person who needs to create a more healthful eating environment at home? I bet not. When one family member has a weight problem, typically other family members do too. So have that important discussion with family members to get your trigger foods out of the house.


In a recent conversation with MyNetDiary's marketing director and fellow blogger, Ryan Newhouse, I started out with a simple question: "What does willpower meant to you?" In response, Ryan writes:

I think of willpower as the power to put things into perspective - with food, it’s about that moment right before we open the ice cream container (or the freezer for that matter) and admit to ourselves that we don’t “need” this. Willpower can be what keeps us from filling our plates with food or feeling like we need to finish everything in front of us. It could simply be the power to put more veggies on our plates instead of extra meats and carbs (as I often do).

Willpower, for a while, made me think of restraint, control, etc., but when we lose those things it can be hard to bounce back; this is why I believe thinking of willpower as a “big picture” perspective is more helpful. Willpower can certainly include the power to rebound when we “fail” at a meal - when we overeat or sneak treats – but instead of the downward spiral into guilt and feeling “it’s just too hard,” we can think of a reasonable plan to succeed that includes the "why" of what we're doing – better health for ourselves and our family, a more active lifestyle, gaining more self-confidence, etc.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Weight Loss/Behavior Weight Loss/Food Environment Weight Loss/Motivation

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