‘Nudge the­ory’: eat to lose weight

The art of small, sub­tle changes now has a sci­en­tific sta­tus. You can use it to im­prove your eat­ing habits.

The Dominion Post - - Summer -

The nudge the­ory – mak­ing small, sub­tle changes – was re­cently put to the test to im­prove eat­ing habits in The Nether­lands.

Over 12 weeks, 14 work­place cafe­te­rias in the Nether­lands un­der­went a ‘‘nudge makeover’’ that in­volved 14 small changes to the food ser­vice en­vi­ron­ment, such as al­ways hav­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles avail­able, ‘‘bet­ter choices’’ in ev­ery food cat­e­gory, cash reg­is­ter food dis­plays re­peat­edly ad­ver­tis­ing health­ier op­tions, and of­fer­ing wa­ter for free.

The re­sults pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nutri­tion, con­firm that sales of health­ier sand­wiches, health­ier cheese as sand­wich fill­ings, and fruit all in­creased and stayed con­stant dur­ing the study.

Small pos­i­tive changes ap­pear to stick, with­out mak­ing a change to a per­son’s au­ton­omy in mak­ing food choices. So how do you give your whole eat­ing rou­tine a ‘‘nudge’’ makeover?

When Cor­rie Van put on 30 kilo­grams dur­ing her sec­ond preg­nancy, she made small changes to her eat­ing habits, one meal at a time.

Break­fast was the first: ‘‘I chose three break­fast meals that I liked, were easy to pre­pare and achiev­able, and for a month just im­ple­mented these with­out wor­ry­ing about any of the other meals. Once a healthy break­fast be­came a habit I moved on to snacks,’’ she says.

‘‘I be­gan buy­ing a smaller choco­late in­stead of the fam­ily block for the first week. On week two, I chose a sweet fruit, like orange or grapes, and had them twice a week in­stead of choco­late. On week three, fruit was my go-to sweet for four days and by the end of the month I was no longer crav­ing choco­late as much as sweet fruits, so I cut it out al­to­gether.’’

Lunch was eas­ier to im­ple­ment as a healthy habit over a six-week pe­riod with a pro­tein bal­anced salad sand­wich or wrap, but din­ner was the most chal­leng­ing meal to change.

‘‘The last thing I wanted to do af­ter work­ing a full day was to come home and cook din­ner, so it had to be sim­ple. I scanned through a list of sim­ple meals that my hus­band or I would be happy to make, and we came up with ba­sic meat and veg­etable recipes, think tacos, wraps and stir-fries, and we would make enough to last two nights.

‘‘It took well over six months of try­ing, fail­ing and try­ing again, but in the end I suc­ceeded to get rid of the weight and keep it off.’’

Ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian Ge­or­gia Be­van agrees that fo­cus­ing on one be­havioural-based goal at a time is a great way to nudge you into last­ing habits.

‘‘When peo­ple want to change their health they of­ten over­haul their life through four- to sixweek pro­grammes or 30-day detoxes which is a recipe for dis­as­ter,’’ Be­van says.

‘‘Fast-fix pro­grammes usu­ally re­quire a change of habits all at once, in other words, an all or noth­ing ap­proach, which can work for a cou­ple of weeks but in most cases the mo­ti­va­tion wanes when the pro­gramme fin­ishes and you end up at square one.

‘‘On the flip side, by fo­cus­ing on small goals, you re­ceive mo­ti­va­tion by tick­ing off that goal at a more sus­tain­able pace. Con­sider a min­i­mum of three weeks for each meal, and then you can work to­wards de­vel­op­ing your next eat­ing habit.’’

Through­out ev­ery meal the ap­proach to achieve health­ier eat­ing habits re­volves around con­sid­er­ing fill­ing half your plate or bowl with veg­eta­bles, and load­ing up the other half with a quar­ter of car­bo­hy­drates and a quar­ter of pro­tein and roughly a thumb-sized por­tion of fat.

‘‘This model aims to help guide your meal por­tions, so you’re on your way to meet­ing the nu­tri­ent and fi­bre rec­om­men­da­tion plus keep you sa­ti­ated for longer,’’ Be­van says.

Break­fast and snacks

When fol­low­ing the plate model for break­fast, swap veg­eta­bles for fruit. Be­van sug­gests a por­ridge with fruit, yo­ghurt and nuts. ‘‘The fruit, nuts and oats are high in fi­bre while the yo­ghurt will pro­vide pro­tein to keep you fuller for longer.’’

An­other ex­am­ple would be whole­grain toast with avocado, tomato and boiled eggs. ‘‘Again, you’re hitting the quar­ter of car­bo­hy­drate with high-fi­bre grains, the quar­ter of pro­tein with the boiled eggs, the avocado in­cludes the bonus of healthy fats and ad­di­tional fi­bre mak­ing it a sat­is­fy­ing and fill­ing early morn­ing meal,’’ adds Be­van.

‘‘A bal­ance of healthy nu­tri­ents first thing in the morn­ing means longer-last­ing en­ergy, less­en­ing crav­ings and the need to snack through­out the day,’’ she says.

But if you’re in need of some en­ergy, Be­van sug­gests snack­ing on fruit, vege slices with cot­tage cheese, a boiled egg, a home­made pro­tein ball, tinned tuna on whole­grain crack­ers, or fruit toast topped with cot­tage cheese, or nut but­ter on fruit.

Lunch and din­ner

Lunch can be as easy as lentils with tuna, a sand­wich or salad with avocado driz­zled with a nut dress­ing or left­overs from the night be­fore, such as a stir-fry or a rice dish.

To make home-made cook­ing at night eas­ier, fit in the fam­ily favourites. Be­van sug­gests adding two to three veg­eta­bles to a spaghetti bolog­nese sauce, or a veg­etable stir-fry with brown rice and chicken for pro­tein.

Have a reper­toire of tasty recipes you can fall back on and a va­ri­ety of spices in your pantry to give your meals flavour, stock whole grains such as pasta and brown rice; bar­ley and buck­wheat to bulk up your meals; legumes like lentils, and stock the freezer with veges and cuts of meat and fish.

‘‘That way, you can quickly whip up a meat and three veg, or a brown rice with some frozen veges,’’ Be­van says.

Adding fruit, nuts and veg­eta­bles to your fam­ily’s meals will is an easy way to start health­ier eat­ing.

Add fruit and nuts to ce­real to boost the nutri­tion in your break­fast, and veg­eta­bles to your favourite din­ners.

Cor­rie Van, who put on 30 kilo­grams dur­ing her sec­ond preg­nancy, grad­u­ally switched her nightly choco­late hit for fresh fruit.

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