Controlling Your Home Environment

October 5, 2010 in Tips by Joyce Bunderson

In the 1980’s I was the director of a program for obese and morbidly obese patients. I wrote and taught classes that the patients received each week. One of the main goals was to help each patient learn to keep their food environment safe. The lessons’ aim was to help the patients see that ‘will power’ did not become stronger with exercise. The classes gave the patients ideas for individual techniques to make it easy on their ‘will power.’ The fun part of this post for me is to know that I was teaching techniques in the ‘80s; Susan Phelan at California Polytechnic State University just finished a big government funded study that concluded that those who improve their home environment are more successful at maintaining weight loss in the long term.

This is the lesson: Develop skills using our will power in advance to make the home food environment safe, then you don’t have to strain your “won’t power” whenever a coveted food is encountered.

Phelan puts it this way: “The home environment really came out as a stronger factor than we would have anticipated.” The study compared those who had managed to lose 10 percent or more of their body weight and kept it off for five or more years, with those who had not succeeded, were struggling with overweight or obesity and had a history of dieting.

They found that the weight-loss maintainers:

  1. Were three to 4 times more likely to exercise.
  2. Had more exercise equipment.
  3. Had fewer TVs.
  4. Were about 1½ times more likely to engage in ‘dietary restraint.’
  5. Had fewer high-fat foods in the home and more low-fat foods like fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods.

I believe that we need to think of exercise as part of the day – a must do. We don’t get into a big decision-making process about brushing our teeth. We need to make the decision to exercise, and then take the actions to make it happen. If you plan to walk at work, get the walking shoes in the car or your carry bag.

Exercise equipment
I think that you can start with walking shoes. If you need a place to walk, consider a shopping mall; there are even groups formed in some malls that get together for walking. Beware! You don’t get too many exercise benefits from standing still and gazing into the shop’s windows.

Fewer TVs
I personally never imagined that the number of TVs would make an impact. I’ve got quite a few in my home, but don’t watch them very much. If you’re watching TV and you’re on the treadmill or stair stepper, I can only imagine it would be a benefit in weight management.

Engage in ‘dietary restraint’
Dietary restraint seems like saying just have more will power. I believe that it is more likely that the successful patients developed some personal skills that worked for them individually. I still believe that successful weight management is not trying to exercise our ‘won’t power.’ I think if I stand at the bakery counter and look into it for a while, I’ll risk ordering something that I really don’t need. So I use the will power better under my control and walk by or even purposefully give it a wide berth to avoid seeing what’s on the shelf. (Also, I ignore the talking éclairs calling to me!)

Fewer high-fat foods:
Banishing high-fat foods was only one-half of the equation in my lesson. The other half was making sure that there were tasty, filling, but low-cal food choices easily available in the cupboard. For example, if the freezer is filled with super creamy ice cream and ice cream has the ability to call you by name from any place in the house. (You know, the talking ice cream; “Hello, (your name), I’m in here ….in the freezer….you know you love me…..I’m creamy and delicious……you can have one tiny spoonful….What the heck! How about a bowl full?) You may want to consider not bringing the extra rich creamy ice cream into the house. But if it is not there, you need to have something else planned for a snack. How about a low fat Dr. Grandma’s Muffin (80 to 100 calories)? Or a tablespoon or so, of nuts? Or some fresh fruit? Or some Delight-sweetened non-fat yogurt with Delight-sweetened strawberry sauce? Or a 100 calorie fudgesicle? Or some baby carrots to dip into a few tablespoons of hummus? Or on and on???? Find something that you will enjoy.

Hint for the Day

A little nutrition note is that often frozen vegetables are more nourishing than fresh. If fresh vegetables are subject to warm air they may suffer more nutrient loss than the vegetables that are picked and quickly frozen.