Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Eating a healthy meal

Creating SUSTAINABLE Behavioral Change: Backtracking Part 12

by Erica Tuminski April 07, 2022

The decision to eat a healthy meal sometimes begins long before you take your first bite whether that first bite is in a restaurant or at home. Figuring out the steps that precede a healthy outcome is called backtracking.

Sometimes you need to backtrack from a healthy outcome to see exactly how you got there. You want to figure out all the steps that come BEFORE that outcome, so you can recreate it in the future. I eat out a lot and I tried to backtrack from those times I’ve gone out for healthy meals and those times when I haven’t. What I realized – by backtracking - is that eating a healthy meal in a restaurant actually begins before I leave home: Because it ALWAYS starts with a decision about WHERE to eat.

In some restaurants I eat healthy and in some I don’t. And that decision of which restaurant to go to usually takes place before I leave my house. In other words, I don’t make the decision to eat healthy AFTER I arrive at the restaurant (which is how you would think it would happen) but way before I get there. That’s why this backtracking technique can be so helpful.  So, if I go to an Indian Restaurant or go to Whole Foods for lunch, I tend to eat a healthy vegetarian meal. If I go to a fast-food restaurant or a deli or a pizza place, chances are I’ll forgo the salad, I will want fries or chips and I will always want a soda, to go with my meal. So, the decision to eat healthy happens when I choose the restaurant NOT when I choose the food.

Another thing I realized by backtracking is that I tend to go to healthy restaurants with certain people and less healthy restaurants with certain other people. So even the choice of whom I go out with is an important part of creating a healthy outcome.

When I tried backtracking from the healthy meals, I consume at home similar insights were revealed. Decisions that take place way before I eat the meal, for example at the grocery store and even before going to grocery the store (when you create a shopping list) and even the decision of WHO does the shopping and who cooks the meal all contribute greatly to the likelihood of whether I will eat a healthy meal or not.  

Years ago, I heard Morgan Spurlock, the director, producer and star of the movie “Supersize Me” speak at the National Wellness Conference. He’s the guy who ate nothing but McDonalds’ food for a month and gained over twenty pounds and had a variety of health problems as a result. At the time of his presentation, he said McDonalds was starting to introduce new healthier items on their menu as the result of all the bad publicity that his film had generated. But he said for McDonalds to add healthy items like an apple to the menu was meaningless because no one would EVER go to McDonalds and choose an apple over a side of fries. The choice to eat healthy – at least at a fast-food restaurant really occurs BEFORE you step into the restaurant if you ask me. And that’s the beauty of backtracking.  

Try backtracking from any healthy outcome you’ve achieved in the past that you want to recreate. Backtrack to all the choices you made prior to the desired outcome step by step: I went for a 30 minute walk during lunch yesterday; Before that I asked a fellow worker to go with me; Before that I put a pair of walking shoes in my bag when I left my house; Before that I packed a bag lunch so I would have more time during lunch, Before that I put out my walking shoes by the door so I wouldn’t forget them and so on.  

In the case of eating healthy look at the decision path that leads to a healthy meal: whether to eat out or eat in; what to buy in the grocery store; whether to shop with a list; which stores to shop in; even how you put away the foods in your refrigerator or allowing your spouse or roommate to do the shopping can all contribute to that healthy outcome you desire. By backtracking from any healthy outcome you already achieved, these steps will all be revealed to you and you can recreate them any time you like.

Erica Tuminski
Erica Tuminski