Day 37--Hack Your Environment and Be a Sleuth

Welcome to Day 37!



Part 1— Hack Your Environment


Part 2— Be a Sleuth


Part 1—Hack Your Environment


One of the most important, but overlooked, aspects of long term health and weight loss success is your environment. It can make success easy or hard. People who win at health and weight loss “stack the deck” by hacking their environments first--so that the healthy choice is the lazy choice.

The Easy Choice is Usually Unhealthy

With fast food restaurants on almost every corner, it seems like the unhealthy choice is always the easiest.  Unhealthy snack foods don't go bad and they last forever in the cupboard. In fact, a teacher at George Stevens University took a twinkie out of its wrapper, 40 years ago, and it's still on his shelf.  It's easy to keep these never-go-bad options around.

But, the easy choice doesn't have to be the unhealthy choice. With a little planning, your fridge, freezer, cupboards, and office can help you make the best choice for your weight and health.

The Assistant Brain is Lazy

Your Assistant is kind of like a teenager.

My teenagers have lots of energy if they're motivated--like a friend calls them and says let's go out. But, if I ask them to do the dishes, they're sooo tired.

The subconscious part of the brain, the Assistant, is the same way. She has lots of energy to get stuff done if she wants to, but she's basically lazy. She'd rather lay on the couch.

This is important to remember when it comes to getting healthy and losing weight. You can trick the Assistant to make the healthy choice by using her laziness against her. Make eating healthy the easiest, most convenient choice. 

Use that Laziness to Your Advantage

Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, talks about this concept in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. 

"I've learned to use my own laziness in a positive way. I'll always eat what is most convenient during the day, and if the only easy options are healthy, laziness takes me in the best direction. Laziness can be a powerful tool."

If you have prepped healthy food ready to eat, and you have to make a special trip to the store for junky foods, healthy will usually win. No willpower required. You’ll take advantage of your basic laziness.  


When I go away on vacation, I always leave my house really clean.  


Because I see my house with fresh eyes when I’ve been away for a week or two. I notice how lovely it really is. I enjoy that fresh perspective.  Day-to-day I just stop noticing it.  

I get fixated on how I need to replace my barstools, or how the baseboards are getting dirty, or how the carpet needs to be cleaned. But, fresh eyes helps me to see what I’ve been blind to.  

The same thing happens with all the temptations in your environment.  You just don’t notice them anymore (well the Assistant part of your brain does, but not the Boss).

Jim Was blind

For example, I had a client --let’s call him Jim. When I asked Jim what he wanted to work on in our coaching session, he said, “Treva, help me. I’m doing well except for one thing--I can’t stop eating Little Debbie’s snack cakes.”

“Ok, let’s talk about this. Where are the Little Debbie’s snack cakes?” I asked.

“Um, on my kitchen counter,”  he sheepishly admitted.

Once Jim said it out loud, he felt a little ridiculous. It was obvious to him then.

Blind—Like the Rest of Us

To you and I it seems so basic, but he’d become blind to the fact that he walked by those snacks hundreds of times a day.  And, every time he did, his Assistant took note.

Jim and I talked about moving his children’s snacks to the back of an out-of-the-way cupboard or not buying them at all. He decided he was going to move them to an out-of-the-way cabinet. 

A couple of weeks later, Jim reported that this simple move had fixed the problem.

Jim was trying to resist those Little Debbie’s cakes every time he walked through the kitchen--basically using up all his precious stores of willpower on those treats. But, there was a much simpler and less “costly” solution—just hiding the box.

The Problem with Food and Willpower

The problem with food is you don’t just use willpower once and then you’re done.  

When you walk by a box of Little Debbie’s 5, 10, 20, 50 times a day, you keep using willpower every time you walk by--not to eat it. And if you resist it 49 times, but give in once, well, the caloric damage has been done.  

And research shows that the more times you have resisted it, the more you will eat when you finally break down. 

Assistant Notices Everything

And just because you aren’t consciously thinking about those little Debbie Treats, doesn’t mean that your Assistant isn’t. 

She’s always scanning the environment to keep you safe and alive.  And high calorie treats grab her attention. High calorie foods keep you from starving to death, so she takes note when she sees them on the kitchen counter. 

Most of us are like Jim. We don’t “see” that the temptation in front of us could easily be neutralized. 

To gain back the upper hand, we need to make unhealthy choices invisible and inaccessible and the healthy choices super-convenient, attractive, eye-catching, and accessible. 

In other words, the more you think of something and see it, the more you’ll eat. 

And, he more hassle it is to eat, the less you’ll eat. 

What About Rules?

Did Jim need a rule to stop eating Little Debbie’s?  Maybe, but he was able to stop eating them without a rule. 

Just by moving them (or even better if he’d stop buying them for his kids), the treats became a non-issue. 

You don’t have to make a rule if you don’t really need one.  

But, in order to change the cues from negative to positive, we’ll have to start noticing those invisible cues again.  The Boss needs to see them so she can change them.

Stay tuned for the next section when I teach you to see the “invisible” again.

Part 2—Be a Sleuth


How do you start noticing again all those environmental cues that have become invisible? 

The Boss and Cues

To turn the Boss’ attention to the cues that are influencing the Assistant you’ll need to start being more conscious of those cues. 

Become Aware of Cues

The first step is to be aware of what the most common cues are that tempt you to overeat and be lazy.

Cues to eat

  • Donuts in the office breakroom

  • Cereal or other foods on the kitchen counter

  • Fast food restaurants

  • Baking shows

  • Candy in the gas station

  • Food ads on the gas pumps

  • Supermarket flyers

  • Billboards

  • Magazine ads

  • TV commercials

  • Youtube ads

  • Vending machines

Cues to be lazy

  • Smart phone

  • Internet

  • Netflix

  • Social Media

Now how does the Boss start noticing those cues again?

Take Pictures

To notice those cues again, you’ll need to turn what’s become invisible, visible again. 

An easy way to do that is to start taking pictures of your surroundings. Photos gives new perspective.  

All of us have heard of people who decided to get healthy and lose weight after seeing themselves in a photo. They may have looked in the mirror several times a day, but they hadn’t noticed their weight gain--until they saw a snapshot. 

A photo allows you to gain a third person perspective and start noticing your surroundings once again. 

So, be a sleuth for the day.

The Assignment

Stop to take pictures of the environments that you’re in today, so you can see the cues again.

Then, in the following days we’ll talk about how to change what you found.

Key environments to focus on when you take pictures:

In the Kitchen

  • Your fridge 

  • Your freezer

  • Your cupboards

  • Your counters

Your office

  • Your cubicle/ or office

  • The break room

  • Where you eat lunch

Your commute

  • How many billboards with unhealthy food are there?

  • How many fast food places do you see?

The grocery store

  • Notice the foods at the checkout

  • Samplers

  • Foods on specialRestaurants you frequent

  • Pictures in the menu

  • Placement of items in the menu

  • Pictures of food around the restaurant

Your Media

  • Ads on your phone

  • Ads on your computer

  • Ads in print like magazines, flyers, and newspapers

  • Ads on websites

  • Ads in email

SNAG Points

Pay close attention to the places that you are having to use willpower for or where you keep hitting snags.

Like if you keep getting fast food on the way home from work or eating chips when watching TV.  Were you cued by all the fast food places on your route?  

Were you cued for chips by food ads on TV?

Review the Pics

Now go back and look at the pictures and play a game of I spy.  

Do you see triggers that could cause you to eat unhealthy?  

Or to not exercise?  

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the three steps to setting up your environment for the win!

Mission Freedom!

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