Healthy & fit on the go
BEYOND WILL POWER - HEALTHY DECISION MAKING
Good intentions, determination and will power are skills people think they need when trying to make changes
towards a healthier lifestyle. However, what influences one’s actions is much more complex. Responses and
habits that have developed over a lifetime can easily sidetrack the best of intentions and have very little to do with
The average person makes hundreds of decisions daily. Actually, over 200 of those decisions are about food.
Faced with a familiar situation or environment, you have learned to make automatic decisions. For example, when
you wake in the morning, you follow a series of habits – take a shower, brush your teeth, etc. These kinds of habits
form associations in your memory between the environment (your bathroom) and your actions (your habits).
Similar environments will activate your usual responses. When faced with a new situation or environment, you
have to really think about what you will do. So now you are making conscious decisions instead of using mindless
Since habits are well-practiced responses that are cued automatically by the environment, changing the
environment will force you to think more consciously about the decision you are going to make. If you have the
habit of eating fast food in the car, just driving and passing fast food can trigger your response, and you may find
yourself pulling up to the window to order before you have given it a second thought. However, if you change
your route so that you don’t pass fast food, your usual response (habit) won’t be triggered.
Here are some more ideas on how to control your environment to remove the cues that trigger less than healthy
Keep tempting treats out of sight - better yet, out of the house.
Use smaller bowls, plates and glasses.
Serve on a plate rather than eating directly from the package.
Dine next to the slowest eater at the table.
Eat foods you love, but take much smaller portions.
Fill half your plate with vegetables.
At a restaurant, choose only two of the following: appetizer, entrée, drink, dessert.
Sit at least an arm’s length away from the buffet table or snack bowl.
Over time, you can turn your unhealthy habits into healthy ones. These new habits will “kick in” when you are
distracted or stressed.
Having an intention for a goal, such as “I want to exercise more,” isn’t enough to guide the behavior that you
desire. You also need to have some ideas on how to implement your goal.
If you develop a strategy you intend to implement BEFORE you encounter a trigger, you are more likely to be
successful. These are called “IF – THEN” plans.
IF I go to a restaurant, THEN I will order a salad.
IF I drive in the car, THEN I will only take water.
IF I go to a party, THEN I will only choose foods that are not fried.
Developed by Jill Kokkonen May, Extension Educator, Health & Nutrition, firstname.lastname@example.org For more
information, visit www.extension.umn.edu/health University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity
educator and employer. This material is available in alternative formats upon request. Direct requests to