If you eat a plant-based/vegan diet, you are most likely a very environmentally aware eater: You are aware that raising animals for food takes a much greater toll on our natural environment than growing plants for food.
But, in addition to having an awareness of how our actions impact the earth, becoming more conscious of how our personal environments affect our efforts to eat healthy is also key. These familiar environments—our home, our car, our mind—have the potential to greatly support or significantly challenge our journey to improved health.
Here are five “environmental awareness” tips to ease your path toward greater health.
1. Home is where your health is. Our home is our primary environment, so if you are striving to avoid certain foods and beverages, do not shop for them or keep them in your home; they will be too tempting. Even if those “special cookies for company” are kept on the highest shelf, way in the back, you will inevitably find yourself reaching for the step stool when you are home alone. There is plenty of temptation away from home, so strive to maintain a healthy home-base.
2. Create a meal-planning environment. Restaurants aren’t the only ones who use menus. By deciding on and writing down what you’ll be eating for the upcoming week in a menu format, you create a concrete plan for success that leaves no room for foods and beverages you are trying to avoid. List all of your meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), snacks and beverages for each day, and then do your shopping for that week so you’ll have everything on hand. You can note specific recipes and/or ideas for meals you can easily put together without a recipe (see here for an example of a filled-in weekly menu I found online). In time, create a few different menus and rotate them. Keep them in a binder in your kitchen along with any copies of favorite recipes.
3. Take it with you. Being “en route” is also one of our common environments. So, in addition to being prepared at home, keep some healthy snacks (fruit, sliced veggies, cooked potatoes) with you in the car, in your purse, or in your carry-on bag if flying. Not having access to healthy foods when we are hungry can lead us to reach for whatever is quickest and easiest, like a fast food meal or “fake food” from the vending machine.
4. Dump the diet mentality. Our thoughts may constitute our most important environment of all. “Going on a diet” to improve health or lose weight usually only serves to bring up feelings of failure and inadequacy. Don’t think of getting healthier as a short-term goal (a diet), but rather a long-term lifestyle shift that will continue to reward you all the years of your life. And try not to let negative thoughts about your eating derail your progress. If you eat something that you were trying to avoid, remind yourself you’re still learning and pick up with your healthy eating again at your next meal.
5. Choose your environment. Where we find ourselves at any given time has the potential to chip away at our resolve to eat better. Precarious environments are all around us: Fast food restaurants, slow food restaurants, lunch out with the girls, dinner parties, potlucks, the potato chip isle, Starbucks, the taco truck, the airport, you name it! As you walk your path of good health, cultivate an awareness of the environments in your life that could sabotage you (you can even make a list). Then make conscious decisions to either avoid certain environments, or enter them with a plan (eat before you go, bring/make your own food, decide beforehand what you will and will not eat, etc.).
Join the conversation: Which of your eating environments are very supportive or very challenging? How have you overcome a particularly difficult environment? Thank you for sharing!