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To Change Your Health, Change Your Environment

Posted on June 25, 2019 | by Chris Branch

Last week, I hit rock bottom.

I’m writing this on the Easter weekend, which is normally a time I like to indulge a little (okay, a lot!) with chocolate, but this year I couldn’t.

When Pancake Day came around and Lent was about to begin, I had already been eating more chocolate than normal. It was due to a combination of a busy few weeks of family and work life that made me turn to it, but rather than use Lent as a cue to give it up, I did the opposite. I did a ‘reverse Lent’. I figured, right, for the next forty days I’ll eat as much chocolate as I want and then after Easter, I’ll give it up and eat a clean diet.

Chocolate is my Achilles heel, I love it. I did the rounds on all my favourite bars which filled me with joy … at the time. But slowly, my mood worsened, my energy levels became lower and then one morning, a week before Easter, I woke up and all my joints ached. I could feel a slight flicker of pain from every injury I had ever had. Sugar does this.

My body and mind were suffering. I’d had enough.

Knowing that I’m terrible at ‘tapering’ down with chocolate, I said to my wife, ‘right that’s it, no more chocolate, don’t get me anything for Easter, I can’t have it in the house’. I needed to go cold-turkey.

But my wife looked at me solemnly, she had already bought me my absolute favourite thing in the whole world; a Hotel Chocolat ‘slab’. “Take it back”, I said, “I can’t see it!”.

I knew that if there wasn’t any in the house, I would be strong enough not to buy any and that would be that, I would be eating healthily again.

This got me thinking, our environment is key for all our habits of health. There are examples of our environment affecting our behaviour everywhere. The supermarkets have known this for years. Have you ever found yourself reaching for one last treat at the check-out, even though you’ve ticked everything off your list already?

In order to be healthy, you need to look at your environment and make it as easy as possible to make the right choice.

I like to stretch every day, for example. Nothing fancy, but I just like to move in a way that tests my muscles and joints through their ranges. I do it without even thinking now, and this is down to environment. When my wife and I are chilling in the evening, the kids are in bed, Netflix is on, I have trained myself to sit on the floor rather than the sofa. Once I’m there, it feels the most natural thing in the world to move and stretch and wriggle. The environment of the sofa makes me slouch and sit still, stiffening me up. The environment of the floor makes me move. I pick that one.

If you want to eat more fruit? Get a fancy fruit bowl so it’s on display. You won’t be able to help reaching for that apple before you head out to work in the morning!

Thinking of joining a gym? Pick the one that’s easiest to get to, not necessarily the fanciest. Remove as many barriers as possible in your environment to starting your good habit of exercise.

The list goes on, but the simple process is to ask what matters to you.

What change do you want to make? And what could you change in your environment to make it even easier so that you start your new habit?

So, I know what you’re thinking, did I make it through Easter without eating the slab? God no!

My wife, in all her wisdom, put the slab in our special ‘I’m-taking-that-back-to-the-shop’ place, which just so happens to be on the kitchen worktop. Being a busy mum, there wasn’t quite the time to take it back, so the slab just sat there, mocking me, day after day. I could have moved it, obviously, but secretly I knew what the outcome would be, and deep down, I wanted it.

When Easter came, I thought, I’ll just have a little corner. Three days later, it was gone. Gobbled up, in my belly. I have no willpower!

I feel rubbish, but now there is no chocolate in the house. I am free! I am eating a clean diet and my environment is helping to keep it that way. I hope you find a way to make your environment make you healthier too!

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