Nutrition | POSTED January 31, 2023

Don’t Make Health Harder Than It Needs to Be

Making healthy decisions seems simple right? Just tell yourself to get up and go on a walk, surely 10 minutes isn’t that hard? Or how about simply choosing to have less sugar in your coffee? Perhaps you’ve found yourself after a hot streak of 1-2 weeks, relapsing into old, unproductive habits. Willpower often fails to stand up to busyness and fatigue. What about the context of your social and physical environment?

For example, a 2009 research paper used survey data linked with geographic measures of access to food retailers and found the following:

“The lower the ratio of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to grocery stores and produce vendors near people’s homes, the lower the odds of being obese.” [1]

Although decision making can be complex, the opportunities to improve are many. Better yet, we don’t have to rely on pure willpower. Today we will focus on your social and environmental context. We’ve got three examples to share which will illustrate this point. As you read on today, consider, the physical and social environments you find yourself in and the resources therein. Or better said:

“…the social and environmental context of action which provide, available options, sets incentives and disincentives, opportunity costs and cues with contingency for behavioural responses.” [2]

Your Environment as a Health Motivator

Not all environments are harmful, rather, many can be conducive to your goals.

Our resident moustachioed man-child Harry reflected on how his gym environment impacted his success in powerlifting. He had the following to say: “I’d been training for 3 years in a commercial gym which wasn’t ideal for powerlifting. Regardless, I was excited to compete and decided to sign up for my first powerlifting meet. Despite being self-coached, I placed second and qualified for states. It was at states where I met my current coach, and we began working together. This gave me access to a powerlifting gym where the like-minded community of lifters encouraged one another to new heights. I found myself not only getting stronger but also feeling more related to, confident and inspired. For me, changing my training environment and surrounding myself with a supportive team of friends, coaches and specialists lead to a much healthier mindset and approach to my training as well as allowing me to flourish as a lifter.”

Your Environment as a Health Harmer

Of course, it might just be the interaction between yourself, your circumstance and the environment you find yourself in that causes the issues. Rachael experienced this during lockdown.

With a hectic schedule performing mobile personal training sessions while lugging a weight kit during lockdown, Rachael had to bring meals with her to eat on the road. One morning she had forgotten her usual oat bar and banana and so she opted to stop by Missing Spoon in Gordon. To her delight they had a Bacon & Egg Roll and Coffee combo special…thankfully for Rachael she could swap out her coffee for a hot chocolate.

She started to notice her behaviours shifting however and had this to say: “Do you know how good it felt to eat a Bacon & Egg Roll and hot chocolate after not having access to dining out in what felt like forever?! Amazing. That, paired with the convenience of not having to pack my breakfast and actually being able to leave my vehicle and have some sort of human interaction in the midst of lockdown made me want to do it again. And again. And again. What was supposed to be a once-off occurrence turned into an almost daily activity for about two weeks. Then I thought, this has turned into an unhealthy habit, and it has to stop… now. So, I did. I even took an alternative route to travel between Gordon and Killara to avoid driving past the café. Out of side, out of mind, right?”

Your Environment as Conveniently Healthy

Without speculating too much into human psychology, we often assume effort is equated to both outcome but also virtue. That is, something worth having or doing is usually hard or requires effort and hopefully results in a positive outcome.

Although we don’t necessarily disagree, there’s nothing wrong with leveraging convenience, especially if it helps you be compliant to health-promoting behaviours and stick to your goals.

Here’s Jake’s experience of picking up a new activity, that happened to be conveniently healthy: “For myself I’ve wanted to for years to pick up a Martial Art again. In particular, I was excited about Jiu Jitsu. I was never motivated enough however to carve out more time or wanted to travel far for a class. Ever since I started at Ivy Training, I noticed there is literally a Jiu Jitsu studio next door. Even better, they have classes during my break. Thank you, Legacy! So here I am, 2 months later and loving it! Ultimately, I’m learning a new skill, being active and getting involved in a new community. I can still put in effort but I’m more likely to stay committed due to convenience.”

Context is Everything

We wish for everyone to have greater willpower to make better decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not reality. Instead, consider how you can make decision making an easier process. Furthermore, consider the interplay between yourself and your physical and social environment. We hope these three examples can help you better pursue health-promoting behaviours.

If you’re looking for help achieving your goals, you can contact the team at Ivy Training here.

References

  1. Relation Between Local Food Environments and Obesity Among Adults
  2. Theoretical Explanations for Maintenance of Behaviour Change: A Systematic Review of Behaviour Theories