The Science Behind Healthy Habits

By Rachna Govani
Monday, October 10th, 2016

Build healthy habits, even though the food system doesn’t want you to—with Foodstand.

A poor diet is the leading contributor to death in the United States[1]—higher than cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol combined. More than a third of adults are obese[2], putting them at a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. And the total cost of diabetes annually is $245 billion[3]. This ‘cost’ is just the tip of the iceberg because diet-related disease disproportionately affects lower income communities, putting added strain on their earning potential — an unhealthy workforce is a less productive workforce.

How did this happen? While we encourage kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, our food system has been built by corporations that profit from selling cheap food that’s packed with exorbitant amounts of sugar, unhealthy fats, and chemicals. Look at commercial agriculture as an indication of priorities—only 2% of US cropland is used to grow fruits and vegetables while 50% of our plate should be covered in them. Research shows that our environment is a leading contributor to healthy eating patterns[4], yet our environments don’t support health. Good food ISN’T the easier choice, so there’s no surprise that diet-related disease is skyrocketing.

Many leaders and organizations are doing incredible work to fix our eating environment, but systemic change will take time. And without a healthy system in place, many of us are trying to improve our health individually. Today, existing solutions to help an individual eat better aren’t actually helping us build healthy habits. They are focused on counting calories, eliminating food groups, detoxing this, cleansing that—which has lead many of us down a rabbit hole of yoyo dieting with no real impact on health outcomes.

Instead, nearly all Registered Dietitians suggest that good health starts with healthy habits: eating less processed food, eating more plants, eating less animal products, and eating more mindfully. While many of us know these rules for good eating and want to do better, we are trapped in the current junk food environment. Which is why we designed Foodstand—a solution to help us build those healthy habits despite our unhealthy food system and environment. There’s a proven science behind habit building, and we’ve combined those lessons with sound nutrition advice to develop a joyful experience so you can get (and stay) healthy once and for all.

Simple tracking with positive reinforcements

Clinical Psychologist and Foodstand Advisor, Andrew Miller, Psy.D says “Behaviors are best shaped through reward—that’s been confirmed by both research and practice—yet most healthy eating apps ask you to engage in monotonous calorie logging that essentially turns food tracking into a chore. We designed Foodstand with that problem in mind, combining behavioral science and game mechanics to create a fun and playful experience that rewards users for tracking their eating habits while encouraging healthy choices in an ecosystem of tremendous social support.”

Instead of tracking every morsel of food we eat, we track choices to eat the better option—tea instead of soda, fruit instead of candy in the break room, and sustainable fish instead of a fast food burger for dinner. And we congratulate you via small, positive, and frequent reinforcements as soon as you’ve made the better choice. There is no punishment involved for making a poor choice—punishment breeds guilt, resentment, and has been proven ineffective at changing future behavior[5].

Community-powered

Foodstand is also a community, one that provides you support and accountability, since you now know that to eat well you need an environment to support your good habits. You can do a Challenge (like Avoid Added Sugar or Eat Less Meat) with others, and even add a buddy who can watch your progress. Some of us are good at holding ourselves accountable. But many of us, ourselves included, are more accountable to others than to ourselves, and a buddy fills that gap. Research shows that if you say you’re doing something out loud or to others, you’re more likely to go through with it.

“Foodstand is a powerful tool for anyone seeking to make some changes to their relationship with food and eating. Capitalizing on the science of learning and behavior change, and setting this within a supportive and engaging community setting, Foodstand maximizes the chances of making healthy changes to eating behavior. Foodstand makes it easier to do the right thing when it comes to eating.” — Brian Iacoviello, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Baby steps—the tortoise wins

Our temptation is to swing for the fences—make big changes quickly, but it’s the small, achievable steps and victories that actually create lasting change. Habits take around 45-66 days to be built, and Foodstand gets you there through increased levels and focus, and eventually moves you to maintenance mode with periodic reminders to make sure your new habits are sticking.

Perfect is indeed the enemy of good

Habits aren’t made by throwing in the towel and thinking you’ve failed whenever you take a misstep. So we’ve cooked Free Passes into Foodstand Challenges—if you’re celebrating a friend’s birthday you can have a bit of cake and not feel like you’ve totally blown it.

Healthy eating habits should start at a young age—in infancy and as a toddler, but most of us didn’t start that way. While habits are hard to change, we can train ourselves to make new ones—healthier ones—by making small changes everyday, with a community of friends new and old . Hopefully these habits will be the default for future generations, but for that to happen, we have to champion them ourselves, today.

Rachna Govani is the co-founder and CEO of Foodstand.

 

[1] https://cspinet.org/eating-healthy/why-good-nutrition-important

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14/national-diabetes-report-web.pdf

[4] Dr. Willett’s Thinfluence

[5] Pryor, Karen. Don’t Shoot The Dog! New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

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