The -20 degree forecast, the DQ you hit up on your way home when you’re stressed, your kitchen that feels like a cave, or your cluttered living room. What do all of these things have in common? They are all a part of your environmental health. Each of these also has the potential to get you off track with your weight loss goals. While the word “environment” tends to make people think “weather”, that is only a small part of what makes up our environmental health. I’m going to highlight four areas of our environmental health and how each area can impact our weight loss process. The areas include: weather, physical surroundings, decor, and organization. Some of these directly affect our weight, but others increase our stress levels (or mental health), which in turn increases the risk that we will get off track with our weight loss goals. This is the holistic health concept I have been talking about. All areas of our life impact each other. Some of these examples may or may not apply to you, but it’s always a good idea to reassess different areas of your life to make sure they are all working together to support your ultimate goal of weight loss.
The weather can affect our ability to enjoy exercising outdoors, get to the gym, and do basic outdoor activities such as yardwork that keep us moving. For those of you with cold or hot extremes, you know exactly what I’m talking about! We may even get so used to staying indoors, we fail to go outdoors once the weather is nice again. So how do we combat the weather? We can’t change the environment! But, what can we change? Our reaction to it. Be aware of the sedentary lifestyle that may try to creep in during these environmentally tough months and plan for it. Your plan might be to take up cross country skiing in the snowy months or swimming in the hot months. It might be a good idea to plan for more frequent standing/stretching/walking periods at work to keep your body limber. Maybe it is even a time in your life that you are able to become a snow bird and spend your winters in a better environment. It might even be that you choose to move (which I highly recommend 😉)! If that is not an option, learn to embrace the activities you can do for each season of the year.
My husband and I chose to move, and the number one motivation was to get out of Minnesota’s winters. The stress of driving to work in blizzards, scraping off cars and praying they started every morning in winter, and being stuck indoors unable to do some of our favorite activities were things we wanted to wash our hands of. We relocated to Arizona. After getting to Arizona, we realized that yes, summer is HOT, but the sun is out every day and you can usually get in a walk every morning because the lows rarely ever reach the 90s. I also realized that in Minnesota, it wasn’t just the cold and snow (albeit they were still huge reasons), but it was also the overcast days that got to me. Winter in general brought on a general dreary mood for me. I can’t say for sure whether or not this would have been diagnosed as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but SAD is a real thing. SAD is basically a mental health issue where people actually become depressed during the long winter months. Now, if you are seriously concerned about this and think SAD may be something you are struggling with, I highly recommend you see your doctor to get a diagnosis and professional assistance. If it is more of a general dreary mood that applies to you, there are a few things you can do to counteract your mood. UV lamps actually help because they make your body produce Vitamin D, which is a mood booster. Also, keep moving! It is another great way to lift your mood and helps with your weight loss goals as well!
Our physical surroundings have a huge impact on our choices and habits. The fast food restaurants you pass on the way home or the chips or cookies you have stashed in your food pantry are both examples of how your physical surroundings impact your weight loss. You may have an ingrained impulse to stop at the Dairy Queen on the way home when you’ve had a long, stressful day. (I start craving a Reese’s blizzard just looking at this logo!) You also might have the ingrained habit of reaching for the chips or ice cream when you’re feeling stressed at night. Whatever your habits, they occur because of what is available to you in your physical surroundings.
The research on habit actually tells us that cutting out something completely cold turkey is not going to last. No matter our willpower, when stressful times hit, our old habits will return. So, that means there’s no hope? Not at all! The research also tells us how to get around this difficulty: we need to replace the habit/routine with something else that produces the same result. The “Habit Loop” below outlines how this process works using
1) Cue, 2) Routine, and 3) Reward. In this example, the explanation behind how AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) works is outlined. The craving is for relief because the cue is stress. The “old” routine or bad habit is drinking to attain the result of relaxation. So, in this example, stress is the cue (or trigger), drinking is the routine, and relaxation is the result. You can see in the second loop, the drinking is replaced by the new routine of talking to a sponsor for stress relief. How does this apply to weight loss? Well, if you’re like me and eat when you’re stressed, insert eating into the Habit Loop as the routine instead of drinking. This has a huge impact on weight loss and trying to form new eating habits!
It is hard to change the trigger of stress, and, if you experience stress, you need the result of releasing it somehow. These two variables are very difficult to change. By suppressing yourself from stress release altogether, you’re going to build more stress and most likely break down and return to your old routine of eating. However, if you replace your old routine of eating with a new routine, such as a walk around the block, grabbing a cup of coffee (my go to!), deep breathing, or a yoga session, it will produce the same result (or reward) of relaxation. Therefore, these other, healthier routines can replace the routine of eating.
What does this have to do with environment? We need to ingrain these new routines into our lives by removing the physical temptation (chips/snacks) of the unhealthy routines and reinforcing the new, healthy habit. So, you can aid your new routine shift by putting your walking shoes, coffee cup, a note/sign reminding you to take a deep breath, or your yoga mat within eyesight of your kitchen to remind you of your new, healthier routine and make it easier to replace your old habits. By adding these visual cues into your physical surroundings, you are setting ourselves up for weight loss success!
The same can apply to cues of boredom and cravings of stimulation, cues of inactivity and cravings of rest, or cues of hunger and cravings to overeat. You choose… it’s any cue that happens in your life that craves a result. Replace any unhealthy routines you have for fulfilling a craving with new, healthier routines, and they will eventually become your new habit! A great way to start making these changes is by putting visual cues into your physical space to support your healthier routine!
(Ideas and Visual borrowed from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg).
Do you have a room that’s been bugging you for years because of how dark it is? Or a paint color on a wall that your significant other picked out that you were never crazy about? Or maybe a new, apple wallpaper in your kitchen that looked way better in the store than it does on your walls? (That one may still scar my mom even though it’s long gone now.) These things in your home (or possibly workplace) take a toll on you. It’s like a constant to-do list staring you in the face that you aren’t doing anything about. This produces stress in our homes and keeps us from truly relaxing and feeling refreshed.
How do we change this? Brighten up a dark room with new, brightly colored curtains or paint. Change the paint color you aren’t a fan of. And take the wallpaper down! Most of these fixes are inexpensive and would only take a day or just afternoon at most to do. The result? A space that you enjoy more and completing the to-do list that’s been quite literally hanging over your head.
Maybe you are happy with your home and feel great about the environment you’ve created. There are still some relatively small changes you can make to enhance your living space even more. Add in pictures of loved ones, positive messages, a calendar showing your goals and successes, different decor or signs that remind you of your faith, values, or purpose, plants or flowers (succulents or cacti if you’re not the best with plants like me!), memorabilia from fun trips, display dishes or other gifts passed down for generations in your family, or different knick knacks that are special and uplifting to you.
Another aspect of our environment that falls under both the decor and organization categories is clutter. How much space do you have in your home? Do you feel you can get through spaces easily? Is it aesthetically pleasing and/or clear of clutter to the eye? I tense up and have the urge to get out a garbage bag just looking at this picture! Others may think it looks homey. It’s all about perspective. I had my daughter’s toys taking over our living room, and I never felt that I had truly finished cleaning up. I got a storage cabinet and made a spare bedroom into a playroom, and it felt so awesome to look at our living room, feel the space, and relax! Clutter might be caused by too much furniture, furniture arranged in a way that isn’t conducive to clear walking paths, or just too much “stuff” in general.
I had a co-worker who started reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and it is about cleaning up your home. She said the book guided her to touch everything in her home and ask herself the question, “Does it bring you joy?”. I think that is a great rule of thumb! However, I could probably do this with some things like my dishwasher and honestly answer that it does not bring me joy. But, alas, that bad boy has to stay because it saves me from the worse fate of doing my dishes by hand. So, I invite you instead to look at things around your house and ask yourself a few different questions: “Have I used this in the last year?”, “Does this serve a purpose that I need it for?”, “Does it bring me more joy from having it or more stress from the space it takes up?”. If an object does not serve a purpose that you readily use it for and it is bringing you more stress in your life than joy, it is time to take a trip to Goodwill (or maybe just the dumpster). Clear your spaces and environment of the clutter to clear your mind of the stress and constant to-do list that is surrounding you!
Part of clutter may also have to do with your basic organization. Does your mail stack up (guilty!)? Do you have your recycling overflowing through a space in your house or garage (also guilty!)? Or do you have a stressful time getting all your paperwork ready for taxes every year? Admittedly, these are all three examples of organization issues I’ve had in my home before. For mail, I started hanging my weekly ads on the side of my refrigerator and being more purposeful about sorting mail as it came in (still have a ways to go with this). For recycling, I have moved the mess to the garage, so not necessarily a huge solution, but it helps the inside of our home feel less cluttered. And for taxes, I started organizing documents into different categories as they came in (car info, medical bills/info, etc). I think this will be a huge weight off of our shoulders next tax season! Organizing helps you to have systems that become a natural habit and make for a cleaner overall look and feel to your home. It will give you more time in the long run because you won’t have to clean up big messes and go through stacks of papers or do any other big tasks that stem from disorganization. Organization frees up not only time, but also stress, giving you the freedom to focus your time and energy on weight loss instead.
The environment around you impacts your weight loss journey in one way or another. It may not have been any of the simple examples I gave, but it may have sparked an idea for you on how you could create a better space, habit, or reaction in your own life. My hope is that you can somehow apply this to your own life, create new, healthier habits, and align your environmental health goals to support your ultimate weight loss goal.
If you are currently doing the Kindness Challenge with me for the month of September, I’d also love to hear how it’s going! I did the drive-through difference at Starbucks the other day… What a fun experience!
A Holistic Approach to Weight Loss: Can Weight Loss Impact Our Ultimate Goals? and Exploring Love Languages to Show Optimal Love to Those in Our Lives
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“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi