‘Endless’ Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Healthier

Making minor tweaks in your kitchen can lead to big success in your diet, research shows. Find out more.

‘Endless’ Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Healthier Photo (cc) by Growing a Green Family

If you’ve ever failed at a diet, you’re with the vast majority of folks.

About 95 percent of diets fail, author and researcher Brian Wansink of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, tells HealthDay:

Willpower works for some — but only about 5 to 10 percent of the population.

To help the other 90 to 95 percent of us choose healthier food, the director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab analyzed 112 studies that collected information about healthy eating behaviors.

His findings, published in the journal Psychology & Marketing, reveal three characteristics of healthy foods that make them easier choices. According to a Food and Brand Lab article, they are:

  • Visible and easy to reach (convenient)
  • Enticingly displayed (attractive)
  • An obvious choice to the consumer (normal)

For example, Wansink’s research found that putting fruit in an attractive bowl next to your car keys — or a cafeteria putting it next to a well-lit cash register — is enough to make it more convenient, attractive and normal to grab fruit from the bowl than it is to grab ice cream from the freezer.

He concludes:

With these three principles, there are endless changes that can be made to lead people — including ourselves — to eat healthier.

Other examples of how you can apply the “CAN” (convenient, normal and attractive) approach to help you and your household make healthier choices include:

  • Put cut vegetables on the middle shelf of the fridge (a “convenient” example)
  • Move cookies out of sight (convenient)
  • Offer more tempting salad dressings with cool names (attractive)
  • Offer less tempting bread (attractive)
  • Set salad bowls on the dining table daily (normal)

The CAN approach is an example of how environment is key to changing one’s habits, as has been shown by researcher Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who specializes in habits.

As Wood has explained the concept:

Many of our repeated behaviors are cued by everyday environments, even though people think they’re making choices all the time.

Most people don’t think that the reason they eat fast food at lunch or snack from the vending machine in late afternoon is because these actions are cued by their daily routines, the sight and smell of the food or the location they’re in. They think they’re doing it because they intended to eat then or because they like the food.

To learn about the findings of other research by Wansink, check out “The Tasty Trick to Saying ‘No’ to Junk Food.”

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Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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