We all know the importance of a healthy, balanced diet. Eating well can help us sleep better, give us more energy throughout the day, and keep long-term health conditions at bay. But there's a difference between knowing what's good for us and actually doing it.
Our modern diets are complex and often include pre-prepared foods that we can buy from grocery stores to cook at home or pick up conveniently while out and about. So, even if you know how to eat healthily, it can be a challenge to always stick to an ideal meal plan.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to nudge yourself in the right direction. For instance, a new study (opens in new tab) from Aston University looked at the effect of Instagram-style social media posts of food 'socially endorsed' with many likes.
The researchers found that well-liked images of Low Energy-Dense (LED) foods, including fruits and vegetables, made it easier for participants to choose healthier snacks, such as grapes, over High Energy-Dense (HED) foods like cookies.
This type of intervention is part of a behavioral science theory called Nudge. Rather than dictate what you can and can't eat, like on many weight-loss diets, the idea is to make small interventions that make it easier to choose the ideal option.
In 'Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness,' a book on the theory co-written by the economist Richard Thaler and the Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, the authors noted that "putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not."
Many governments use variations on nudge theory to improve health outcomes across a population. Still, there are a few simple ways you can nudge yourself into better food choices as well.
For example, one study (opens in new tab) found that storing a medium portion of food in a large container rather than a small one meant the participants ate 129% more calories. Previous studies (opens in new tab) have also shown that people eat more when given a larger bowl or serving spoon.
So, if you're aiming to shed some pounds, alongside the best exercises for weight loss, it's worth switching to smaller bowls, plates, and containers. It's also easy to get distracted while eating.
Of course, we eat at restaurants with friends partly for food, but mainly for the social experience. However, when at home, many of us eat meals while watching TV. Researchers found (opens in new tab) that mealtimes in front of the television increased energy intake by 14%.
This can contribute significantly more calories to your diet, especially if you do this most days. Some people find mindful eating, a concept taught when you learn how to meditate, increases your awareness of your food and means you eat less as a result. That said, just powering down the TV can stave off over-consumption, too.
It's also important that you fill your home with tools to motivate healthier eating. Whether you choose to go exclusively plant-based or you want to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, then picking up one of the best vegan cookbooks can be a great source of tasty, healthy inspiration.
James is a London-based journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.
In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.
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