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What Is Environmental Restructuring? And How Can It Help You Achieve Your Weight Loss Goals

March 24, 2022

By Elisabetta Politi, RDN, Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center.

You are in good company if you raised your eyebrows when you first heard of environmental restructuring. In the world of behavioral change, environmental restructuring refers to modifying the physical environment around someone to influence health outcomes. Re-designing a work cafeteria to emphasize healthy foods is an environmental restructuring.

The combination of ubiquitous, unhealthy, processed foods and sedentary lifestyles have been cited as the main causes of the epidemic of excess weight over the last three decades. Conversely, in the blue zones, places on earth where people live exceptionally long lives, the environment supports healthy choices.

National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner reflected, after a 2005 visit to Sardinia: “Sardinians lived in cultures that made the right decisions for them. They lived in places where fresh vegetables were cheap and accessible. Their kitchens were set up to make healthy food quick and easy.”

I kept thinking of Dan Buettner’s words and how to apply them to another country, with different living conditions and limited time available for meal preparation.

During my training as a wellness and health coach, I came across the theory of “Environment Restructuring.” Interestingly, many clients who were successful in lifestyle changes modified their surroundings.

Environmental restructuring refers to modifying the physical environment around someone to influence health outcomes.

Here are some of the strategies that have worked for them:

Learn basic food preparation and don’t depend on always buying prepared foods.

You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to fix a healthy meal: many resources are available online to help everyone proficiently cook easy, nutritious meals. EatingWell is a favorite of Elisabetta Politi, RDN.

Other great sites are:

  • Yummly – Recipes that match your personalized diet/preference criteria.
  • Emeals  – Weekly meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists (various options).
  • Allrecipes – Recipes.
  • Cooking light = Recipes.

Sit at the table and avoid distractions when eating.

If you regularly eat in front of the television, sitting down to watch TV will become a cue for you to eat.

Be selective when eating out.

Many restaurants have their menus online, which makes it easy to choose the destination with the healthiest options and/or ask for substitutions, if necessary.

Keep trigger foods away from the house.

Highly palatable foods such as cookies, ice cream, potato chips, or pretzels may set off a cycle of overeating: how about trying if out of sight is also out of mind?

Always keep around healthy food options.

If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, you are probably not hungry. You are likely reaching for food out of habit, boredom, or sadness. Practicing mindful eating might be a great way to slow down and get in touch with your emotions and how they drive your food choices.

Serve vegetables first.

If you serve vegetables first, you are more likely to eat more of them. Or fill half of your plate with vegetables and treat meat as a side dish.

Buy smaller plates and glasses.

The bigger the portions, the more you’ll eat, between 20 to 30 percent more.

In summary, how you eat may be as important as what you eat, and making some changes to your home environment can help you with long-lasting changes and a healthier relationship with food.


Book: Food Rules

Want Great Longevity and Health It Takes a Village – WSJ

About Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Nutrition Services

Our registered dietitians /nutritionists will conduct a nutrition assessment and create a plan with you that addresses your weight and health goals. Your nutritionist will learn about your personal needs and then assist with creating a nutrition plan and setting lifestyle goals to help you adopt healthier eating habits. During regular visits, you’ll learn how to plan meals that can be adapted to your preferences or if you have cultural eating limitations, food allergies, or other intolerances.

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