5 Mind Tricks for Eating Healthy Food

Man Cutting Fruit
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Aside from “Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach” (or risk ravaging the Pop-Tart aisle), there aren’t many other mainstream tips for shopping and eating healthy—until now.

If you constantly cave to cravings and fall prey to the colorful marketing tactics shouting from TV screens and staring at you from bodega shelves, try incorporating these simple eating hacks. They’re basically brainless and backed by science, so giving in to them is as easy as reaching for that second (or third or fourth) potato chip.

1. Make fruits and vegetables convenient

Researchers from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab analyzed 112 studies which collected information about healthy eating behaviors. From the research, they found that most healthy eaters acquire and maintain their habits because a restaurant, food store, cafeteria, or spouse made fruits and vegetables convenient. Not surprising—Americans tend to err on the side of lazy and easy. To make this work for you, keep a bundle of bananas or a bowl of fruit in a high-traffic area in your house or apartment (e.g., on the kitchen table, on the counter, next to your keys), prepare and portion veggies in portable containers for work, keep bags of nuts and dried fruit in your car, or put healthier foods in the front of your fridge and pantry shelves so they’re easy to grab.

2. Make healthy meals attractive

The same Cornell study, published in Psychology and Marketing, also found that when healthy foods are displayed attractively or given enticing names, we’re more apt to reach for them. When you’re at home, take the time to prepare meals that look appetizing. They don’t need to have five-star-restaurant-quality pizazz—just appear colorful and appealing.

3. Make healthy food choices habitual

The last takeaway from the Cornell study is that people eat more healthy foods if they become normal and appear to be an obvious choice. If your fridge and pantry only have fruits, veggies, and less-processed foods, you won’t be as likely to binge out on a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater. Take away distractions and temptations, and soon enough grabbing a water bottle over a Pepsi will become reflexive.

4. Eat fruit before you shop

Yep, this is the one you already know: Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. But it turns out any old snack won’t do. Grab a slice—of apple, not pizza—before you go grocery shopping and you’ll buy more fruits and vegetables, research published in Psychology & Marketing found. In the study, 120 shoppers were given an apple sample, a cookie sample, or no sample at the start of their shopping trip. Those who were given the apple sample bought 28% more fruits and vegetables than those given a cookie sample, and 25% more fruits and vegetables than those given no sample; those who ate a cookie opted for more processed, unhealthy options. Try it yourself—not only will eating an apple wedge, a slice of orange, or a stalk of celery decrease your hunger, but it could also encourage you to shop healthier.

5. Make grocery lists

Go food shopping with a plan and armed with a list. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, using a grocery list is associated with a healthier lifestyle. Researchers surveyed 1,372 participants with limited access to healthy foods. Just under one-third of participants said they “always” shop with a grocery list, while 17% did so “often,” and 26% did so “occasionally”. Those who always shop with a list had higher-quality diets and a lower BMI.

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