For years, culinary artists have known (and experimented with) how eating has a lot to do with our occipital lobe – the brain region responsible for visual interpretation. But new research shares more evidence that what we see may have a big impact on whether we eat healthy or not.

Even with meditation practices to help us become self-aware of daily routines (such as eating), our brains consistently remain on autopilot, making habits second nature. Are you really mindfully thinking about brushing your teeth each morning? You know it’s important for your overall wellbeing, but odds are, the thought process stops there because your brain autopilots your healthy habit, and you go on to think about something else, like the day ahead of you.

Unfortunately, the same process crosses over into the schedule of eating. Think about how many times a day you eat. The average adult consumes five or six small meals each day (snacks included). That’s 35 meals each week and 1,820 meals every year – not including extra weekend snacks at the movies or holiday feasting. Over our adult lifespan, we will eat more than 109,200 times (guessing we live to 85). That’s a ton of eating and thinking about eating!

Several studies show that our environment or the environment we eat in has a lot to do with what we consume and can really make a difference in eating healthier – without much thought.

  • Women who set fresh produce on their kitchen counters tend to weigh 13 pounds less than those who don’t. And women who keep breakfast cereal on their kitchen counter weigh roughly 20 pounds more than those who don’t.
  • Messy kitchens can leave some people more vulnerable to unhealthy food choices.
  • The average adult spends 9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing.

“Changing your habits [can be] very difficult. Changing your environment is very simple,” says John Brand, a researcher at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

How to Be Mindfull With Food

Mindful eating is being aware of what you are eating and trying your best to enjoy the taste, smell and texture of food, treating each meal as an experience.

Find what works best for your body. Afternoon or between-meal hunger happens. The University of Michigan Health Center suggests that many foods high in protein and carbohydrates can help boost dopamine levels, which gives us that reward feeling and can carry us through the day, when energy is waning. Test out different combinations of snacks and learn which options keep you feeling full the longest. Heed caution with added sugar: The snacks shelf is notorious for harboring added sugar. Try to determine the amount of added sugar you want to set as a daily limit for yourself and see if you can stick to it most days of the week. The American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 24 grams of added sugar (100 calories) each day, and men should consume less than 36 grams of added sugar (150 calories) daily. Besides, too much added sugar may do the opposite of what you want your snack to do: It may slow your body down, rather than fuel it through the day.

Prime your environment with healthy options. Try to keep healthier snack options on hand. Remember, it’s OK to indulge with treats, but keeping them on the counter might encourage you to eat them more often and in larger quantity. Make things easier on yourself by preparing your healthy snacks ahead of time and keeping them in the fridge until ready to take to work. Some of our favorite healthy snacks include:

  • Apple slices with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter
  • A handful of mixed, unsalted nuts
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Plain popcorn
  • Frozen bananas or grapes
  • Homemade smoothies
  • Low-sodium tomato or mixed vegetable juice
  • Greek yogurt parfait layered with fresh fruit
  • Celery filled with natural peanut butter
  • Veggies dipped in guacamole or hummus
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Low-fat string cheese stick
  • Homemade energy bites

Schedule your eating. Another way to mindfully snack that doesn’t require much thought is to try your best to eat on a routine, but not constantly.

Snack mindfully – without really thinking about it – by designing an environment that supports your healthy lifestyle.