It’s easy for some of us to stick to healthy eating habits. The rest of us struggle. What’s an easy, and mind you, cheap way to overcome our woes?
The holiday season between November and December always offers generous addition of weight to our bodies. Even the most conscious and fittest amongst us tends to let the guard slip, and succumb to those holiday pounds.
The problem lies not there, but in managing our eating come January. Settling back into a routine of healthy eating is always tough, such that some of us can’t break out of our ‘calorie leniency’ even after the grind of a routine in other aspects of our life has set in. Personally, I was falling back on Nutella sandwiches for dinner or spending quite a bit of money on ordering food in. Not to mention, both these options threw my goals for health consciousness (and eating-out-frugality) into the dustbin.
One way to beat calorie leniency? Get black paint.
Step 1. Paint a Blackboard
If you’re lucky enough to have a blank kitchen wall or even paintable cabinets, use blackboard paint to convert these plain spaces into a writeable surface. This is a cheap option for under $15: a can of paint = $8 – $10 + chalk = $2-$4. Make sure this is painted in a conspicuous part of the kitchen, not a remote spot which easily misses your attention.
Step 2: Write a Menu
Why bother with a blackboard? This way, you can write a menu on the blackboard for the week. The menu is essentially your wish list for healthy eating. At the same time, it can function as a visual reminder of your health-conscious goal, which can guilt-trip you when you are considering ordering burger and fries instead of making that chickpea salad at home.
Step 3: Take a Picture
Carry a picture of the menu with you on your device. When you’re grocery shopping, buy according to what you plan to make, based on your blackboard menu. If it contains a chickpea-spinach salad, you already know that you’re going to need chickpeas, spinach and lemon. You will not need to reach for that box of fried onions in the grocery aisle. It can function as a pseudo grocery list if you know your recipes.
Step 4: Check Boxes
As you make your way through the list for the week, make sure you check the boxes next to each menu item to show you’ve stuck to your plan. Then do the “I’ve stuck to my list” dance.
Step 5: Repeat
After the first few weeks of doing this, take a pulse check to see whether you are naturally making healthier choices without reliance upon a list. If you are, awesome! If you are not, keep at it till you are able to decipher between ‘letting go’ for a day and eating anything that strikes your fancy when out with friends and ‘staying true’ for the other days when you’re looking for dinner options on a more mundane evening. Until this becomes a habit.
Habits take time to form.
Repetition helps form habits.
Why Is This Beneficial?
1 We take the path of least resistance.
As Thaler, Sunstein, and Blaz note in their paper on Choice Architecture, we are prone to choosing what requires least effort. In this case, our lazy minds find opening up GrubHub or Postmates to place an order with a nearby restaurant than to chop up onions and tomatoes to make a sandwich at home (let alone the thought of cleaning up afterwards). Having a visual on a blackboard in front of us gives us a more contained (not limited) set of choices, eliminating the need for us to think about “what to make for dinner tonight” which can help make the choice path a little easier.
2 We like artisanal restaurants
Whether it’s a Chipotle or a San Franciscan restaurant that sources local ingredients, we are attracted to the hand-written blackboard menu displayed invitingly. Why? It instigates a sense of personal announcement of offerings and makes for a more fun ordering experience. Create that environment at home, especially if you enjoy eating out much, with your own blackboard menu.
3 We absorb our own handwriting more effectively
As discussed here, handwriting things registers the information we have written with more effectiveness than other forms of recording. Writing a menu on a blackboard commits us in an informal way to stick to our plan of healthy eating. When your handwriting is staring at your face in the kitchen or dining area, it is harder to ignore its content and intent than it will be if the menu was written on your phone, which can easily be forgotten about or hidden away.
4 We grasp checklists more easily
Despite long-form recipes on Epicurious, other apps or cookbooks, having a quick checklist of the names of dishes can help tremendously. Look through these sources while making that list on your blackboard, but make the list. Checklists are quick and far easier for our minds to follow and process.
5 We like mini-celebrations
At the end of the week, when you see that you’ve checked off all or most of the healthy menu items you planned for the week, pat yourself on the back for the checkmarks on the board. Frequent encouragement on sticking to a simple plan as following a blackboard menu takes us a long way. It goes a lot further than waiting till the end of a three-month period to track weight lost or strength gained.
6 We like group activities
Perhaps it becomes a group activity to engage others, as you gather in front of the board and figure out together which item(s) from the list you’ll be preparing today. This is especially good if your roomates, partner, kids or others are the main influencers of your calorie leniency. Having a menu to look at and decide as a group what to eat is a lot easier than looking through pantry ingredients and deciphering what they can help prepare.
7 We like to use our existing ingredients more effectively
Remember that pink Himalayan salt you purchased that one time you wanted to make that one dish, and then forgot about after that one meal? Having a menu list can help use up ingredients you already possess in your pantry. Look recipes up and write the checklist based on all the ingredients you already have and would like to use up by the end of the week.
8 We like help when grocery shopping
Yes, apps such as ShopShop and FoodSmart can help with really good lists. But if you had your personally planned and written menu, it would make it a more personal shopping trip to pick out the groceries that you’d need for the week. If you’re comfortable with the recipes, just use a picture of your blackboard menu to do the shopping.
9 We like a creative outlet
Blackboards look really cool, admit it. Use this as your creative outlet. Whether it is the way in which your menu is presented with font variation and visual flair, or the awesome combination of ingredients you’re considering for the menu you’re writing, let your creativity show. Use this as a creative outlet at the end of a long day.
10 We appreciate easy ways to form good habits
After all, you are trying to stay health (and money?) conscious by trying to create a simple way of sticking to your eating plans. This involves breaking out of a habit of reaching for the easiest, potentially unhealthy snacks in place of dinner, or clicking an order on a food delivery app. Forming a habit of preparing a healthy alternative at home takes time. It does not happen overnight. Working on a healthy menu week-after-week causes repetition, which can inculcate the desired habit in our minds. We’re just scribbling on a blackboard; it is such an easy way of forming a healthy eating habit with very little effort.
Have you tried something like this? #ShareYourThoughts, would love to hear your experience!
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