Knowledge vs. Environment

We hear it all the time: “I know what I need to do, I just can’t seem to do it!” 🤦‍♀️

We get it – we are guilty of this too! 

Are you struggling to make progress, despite ‘knowing’ what to do? Maybe you’ve read everything there is to read on nutrition but still can’t seem to get your body fat percentage within a healthy range. Maybe you follow all the fitness people on Instagram but can’t seem to find the motivation to get your own butt in the gym. The problem might not be how much you know… it might be what’s around you.

When it comes to making healthy life changes, we hear a lot about the importance of ‘mindset’. How you look at the world shapes the way you approach problems and view your experiences. And this happens both consciously and unconsciously. The latter part is particularly important; many of our assumptions and worldviews are unconscious. We aren’t aware of them, even as we’re thinking them.

Have you ever ‘zoned out’ while driving, and reached your destination without remembering the journey you took to get there? You must have been paying attention on some level, or you’d have crashed the car! And yet, most of your mind was elsewhere. Your unconscious brain was handling the job of driving while your conscious brain was focused on getting your errands done, what happened to you at work that day, that comment your partner made, or whatever else you may have going on right now 🤔

The way we approach health and nutrition is similar as there are ideas and thoughts that we’re aware of, and ideas and thoughts that we’re not. We can dive down into our brains to find our unconscious and subconscious thoughts and bring them to the surface. This might include unconscious thoughts like:

  • I’m not worthy of self-care.
  • I don’t deserve to look good.
  • Looking good is for vain people.
  • Eating bad food makes me feel good.
  • I don’t want people to notice me.
  • Staying overweight is an excuse not to be sociable.

It can be a minefield in there! 🤯 And it might take weeks, months, or even years to untangle all of our thoughts and assumptions about health and nutrition. But if you want to start getting in shape now, there’s one thing you can do straight away that will make a difference – change your environment.

How to change your environment

You can change what’s around you immediately. This includes things like:

  • Your daily routine
  • What tools you have available to you
  • The people you surround yourself with and interact with
  • What foods you have near you (or far away from you).

Struggling to get to the gym? → Get home equipment.

Can’t seem to kick the evening chocolate and biscuits on the sofa routine? → Don’t keep chocolate and biscuits in the house.

Having trouble getting enough vegetables in your diet? → Buy ready prepared vegetables at the supermarket.

Scrolling through Instagram keeping you up late at night? → Set an ‘old-skool’ alarm and keep the phone out of the bedroom.

Friends always inviting you out for pizza and beer? → Talk to them about your goals, explore other options for socialising and look for opportunities to develop new friends who share your goals.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that having the knowledge and a plan is enough to coast through any health and fitness obstacles that get in our way.

📢 Newsflash! 📢 Knowledge and planning don’t necessarily translate into behaviour changes.

Control your environment — before it controls you

Brian Wansink, author of ‘Mindless Eating’, describes the ways in which portion sizing has changed over the years, and how this affects our behaviour. There are two basic ideas here:

  1. Most of us will eat all that we are served — no matter how big the portion is. If we are served a small bag of popcorn, we’ll eat that. If we are served a bucket of popcorn, we’ll eat that. Presumably if we are served a people wagon full of popcorn, we’ll do our best to finish that off too!
  1. If we consistently eat bigger portions, bigger portions will seem ‘normal’. Our great-grandparents would be astounded at the size of the portions we consume. We’ve lost our perspective on how much we should really be eating.

Bringing our portions back to a moderate level, relative to our own body size is key and using your own hand for portion guidance is a great place to start.

Your environment is your foundation

If you think of body composition change as a pyramid, here’s what the pyramid should look like.

The most important stuff is at the base of the pyramid: your social environment, what’s in your kitchen, your grocery habits, your day-to-day routine.

Next it’s the portion sizes and making sure you’re eating regularly and in line with your activity level to keep your energy balance on point.

Counting calories, adjusting macros, and all that jazz, are at the top of the pyramid and should be the last things to focus on in your development. Adopting these strategies before you have the rest in order is unlikely to help you progress, as you still won’t be able to stick to a programme if your environment isn’t serving you well.

Changing your thinking eventually is essential. But in the meantime, it is much easier to take action today and change your environment.

How to set yourself up for success

Junk food, no exercise, sedentary living, hours and hours of TV watching, etc. have become the norm. We can be very impressionable when it comes to our levels of physical activity and how much we eat.

Set yourself up for success by adopting some of these tactics:

  • Use smaller plates and cups. We’re often used to just filling the dish and eating until the food is gone.
  • If there’s a food that you’re eating which is getting in the way of achieving your goals, get it away from you. Don’t keep it in the house. Make it hard to get.
  • On the flip side, if there’s a food you should be eating, make it easier to get.
    • Have fresh, healthy whole foods on hand and prepared. If necessary, buy pre-cut vegetables.
    • If you have more money than time, consider signing up for a healthy meal or fresh produce delivery service like Hello Fresh or Riverford
  • Put the TV in an inconvenient place or make the seating in front of it uncomfortable. Cut your subscription services down so you don’t have 200 channels to scroll through, or better yet, get rid of them altogether.
  • Park your car farther away from where you’re going so you have to walk. Or sell the car and get a bike. 
  • Join a social group organised around activity: a class, club, or meetup group (e.g. hiking tours). Find a buddy to run with. Surround yourself with people who are also working on their health, fitness and nutrition. Organise your social events around activity instead of brunches, lunches and drinks — get a group of friends together in the park for a game of rounders!
  • Get a dog that needs walking — one that will chew up your sofa as punishment if you don’t take it for a daily spin around the block.

You’ll notice that these tips share two features:

  1. They make problem behaviours inconvenient.
  2. They make healthy behaviours convenient.

In the battle between knowledge and environment, environment usually wins. If you think it might be time to switch up your environment, do it. It might be the best way for you to stimulate new progress.

And if you need some help, book a Free No-Sweat Intro with us and come and have a chat.

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