5 Healthy Eating Nudges

Can’t healthy eating just be easy?

Could it please be as easy as stopping off at my favourite fast food spot on my way home from work? 

This is a common theme I hear and see all over social media…why is healthy eating so hard? Well…because we’ve decided that it’s hard.

Okay, maybe it’s not really a choice that we've made individually…but it’s something food manufacturers have done to make it super duper mega easy for us to buy (and then eat) their highly processed (and high profit) foods. 

They use a technique called “nudging”. Nudge theory was first described by Prof. Richard Thaler in 2008. His theory is that 80% of our behaviour is automatic and that automatic/mindless behaviour can be used to change our buying habits. He even won a Nobel Prize for this theory!

Grocery stores and restaurants have been using these techniques for a looong time to nudge us toward their more profitable items. Grocery store chains even charge companies for the opportunity to be in a good location! They charge a lot more for their eye-level shelves…and it's processed food companies that can afford this fee. Most healthier food manufacturers just can't compete.

In it’s simplest terms, nudging, or “choice architecture” means changing our environment so we change our behaviour, without making anything forbidden or out of bounds. 

There’s no one saying you can’t eat a certain food…they just put it out of reach and put something they want you to buy closer. That's why it's the chocolate bars that are staring at you while you pay for your groceries, not the apples.

It’s an interesting idea – so, can we use this for good instead of evil? Can we make minor adjustments to where we stash our food is to make healthier eating easier?

Yes you can! :)

I use nudging behaviour every day in my life, and it really does work :). Here are a few of my every day nudges:

1. Keep healthy food as visible as possible - 

I keep fruit on the counter so it’s the first thing I see when I want a snack. I usually take at least one piece of fruit out in the morning so it reminds me to eat it in the afternoon.

And, I try to keep my produce visible in the fridge, too. Hiding them in the veggie crisper makes it easy for me to forget about them. I’ve had MANY veggies wither and die while cozy in their opaque crisper drawer. I’m very susceptible to the “out of sight, out of mind” concept.

My solution – I only keep the necessary veggies in the crisper (leafy greens, broccoli, potatoes. etc), and keep the rest out in the open. I strategically place fruit on the top shelf in front of everything else…otherwise, it becomes a sad and inedible piece of fruit lost at the back of my fridge. 

2. Partition your grocery cart –

This one has a cool study behind it too, check it out here :)

In a nutshell, the research found that if we have a dedicated produce section in our grocery cart we end up buying a lot more produce. Seeing exactly what we have is the key.

Now, how do we do this with a regular, non-partitioned grocery cart? 

The answer to this problem is simple, you need to be able to easily see how much produce you’re buying. This is what I do:

In a two-tier grocery cart - I use the top tier for fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods, and the bottom tier for everything else. 

In the large basket-style cart – this is a bit harder but totally possible. If I’m doing a smaller grocery run, I use the child seat for my produce. But if I need more room, an easy way is to add a hand-held basket to the main section and then use both spots. 

What do you do at the grocery store to make sure you buy enough produce? Share your tips with us in the comments :)

3. Bring a healthy food for a snack if you’re out and about all day -

…to stop the temptation of all of the fast food restaurants that call out to you on your route home (they’re very well placed to tempt you).

Most of the time I just throw an apple in my purse when I’m heading out the door. And I always have a bar of my favourite dark chocolate tucked in there too. So, if I’m hungry I have something to nibble on instead of picking up something fast.

4. Have fruit first when you want a snack -

This rule came into my life when I started working from home most days…and I had a roommate who loved to make cookies (like every day). Yes, having freshly baked, mostly healthy chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen is heavenly. But it stops being so heavenly when it turns me into a cookie monster.

So, I instituted a rule that continues to this day (even without warm cookies in my kitchen). 

When I go into the kitchen for a snack my rule is: I have to have fruit first. Fruit before chocolate, crackers, cookies, or anything else my brain is asking for. First fruit, then (if I’m still hungry) some chocolate. This is also my rule when I have an apple in my purse (apple before chocolate).

What I’ve found, and what makes this rule super easy to keep is this – I get a boost of energy with the fruit, but I don’t with anything else. So, if I’m feeling a bit sluggish mid-day, I know what will solve my sluggishness. This make that apple, kiwi, orange, or berries so much more attractive than my dark chocolate stash. 

Nudging for the win!

5. Give yourself a smaller portion of a snack in a smaller bowl  -

Even with all of these nudges, I still enjoy the occasional cookie or potato chip. Click here to read about my many nudges to keep these foods in the “occasional” category. 

But the most important nudge I use is a simple one. Don’t eat out of the bag and put the treat into a small bowl. Into the smallest bowl possible. 

I’ve found this works beautifully to keep my portion to a reasonable amount, and if I want seconds that’s fine :). I find that I really savour every bite of my treat, much more than I do when I eat out of the bag. I also only pour ½ glasses of wine at a time for the same reason.

The most important thing to remember is: healthy eating isn’t perfect eating. We’re striving for “healthier” instead. Every extra serving of fruits or veggies can make a significant difference in your overall health. 

This is particularly effective when you’re going from 0 to 1. You don’t need to get to 10 servings of veggies before you feel any benefits. Each one counts, and counts A LOT!

And most of all - enjoy, love, and savour every bite :)