Arranging the Environment for Success

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10 Dec 2013

junkfood on plateWith Chanuka but a few weeks behind us, I am reminded of something I heard in a shiur over Chanukah.  If you look carefully at the Al HaNissim T’fillah, we say that “Afterward, they arranged the sanctuary, purified the temple, and lit the candles in the holy courtyard.”  Notice that before the Jews got to the main event, lighting the candles of the Menorah, they first had to arrange their environment, clean up the place, make it pure. They could have lit the Menorah right away, but they wanted to make sure that reestablishing this mitzvah was done in the proper surroundings, and we then saw the miracle that occurred.  When we want success in almost any endeavor, arranging our environment for success is vital.  A person who keeps his desk tidy is certainly more likely to be efficient. And when it comes to success in weight loss and healthy eating, keeping your environment clean and tidy is definitely of great importance.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” the saying goes.  It is difficult to have unhealthy or junk food in your home and still be successful.  At the very least, keep it in locations that are not visible to you all the time.  “Environmental Triggers” exist and need to be dealt with.  Changes in the home and in the workplace are usually necessary in order to ensure success.  Remember- if you have been executing the same behaviors for many years, it takes a lot of effort to change those habits and some rearranging will go a long way in helping you.

When it comes to changes at home, Dr. Judith Beck, Ph.D. recommends three specific actions.

Remove your personal temptations. Open all the food cabinets and if possible, give away or throw away foods that could tempt you to go off your food plan.  If you are worried about throwing junk food away, don’t!  Your body is NOT a garbage can.  If you find things you don’t want to throw out for some reason, move them to a higher shelf or to the back of the pantry.  The same holds true of your refrigerator or freezer.

Rearrange your dishes. Many people overeat when using large size dishes and utensils.  A study showed that partygoers who used large bowls and large spoons ate much more ice cream than those who used smaller utensils and bowls.  IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE!

Take others into consideration. There are others in your home who may not be interested in taking on your commitments.  While it is true that they would benefit greatly from eliminating bad foods in their diet, we have to be realistic.  Inform them of the changes you are making for yourself and ask them to cooperate with where they place the food or utensils they may be using for themselves.

If there are some foods you find highly addictive that you really can’t have in your house for the time being, decide not purchase them.  As you are able to build up your resistance muscles over time, you might be able to learn to enjoy these foods as occasional treats without overeating or binging on them.  But in the beginning, it is best to leave them on the shelf of the grocery store.

In terms of your workplace, think about where food is found.  Is it found in your desk or in a room that people gather in during breaks?  Is there a small store or coffee shop where you and your coworkers go to get snacks or meals?  You will have to create a strategy to deal with these traps.  If in the past you shared snacks with coworkers, explain to them that you won’t be doing that anymore. Bring healthy choices with you each day to snack on, like fruits or cut up vegetable sticks. You can even ask the management to be sure healthy choices are available at meetings.

Arranging your environment for success if not just about eliminating all of the land mines that might trip you up. It is also about making sure that your pantry is stocked with food that you should be eating and is good for you. Each time you open your food closet, the foods you see will give you a cue to be eaten.

Here are some things to look for:

  1. Is the food stale or outdated or is the can dented?  Throw it out!
  2. If something has been in your pantry for over one year, it is probably just taking up space and isn’t going to be used.
  3. Anything where sugar is the first or second ingredient should be moved to the back of the pantry, if not tossed altogether.
  4. The same applies to salty and high-sodium products.  Even in so called healthy foods, many times salt or sugar contents are very high—check!
  5. Be sure to have plenty of fruits and vegetables in stock all the time. Variety is important.
  6. Stock up on nuts, seeds and beans.  Avoid the salty ones though.  Cans of tuna, salmon and sardines are great sources of protein and quick to prepare.
  7. Keep whole grain pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, barley and quinoa in good supply.  They are great sources of fiber and B vitamins.
  8. Don’t forget herbs, spices and oils.  Spices and herbs can stay around for about 2 years time. Use olive and canola oils.

Set one day a week where you go through the fridge, the freezer and your food pantry to make sure everything is set the way it should be to help you succeed in your goals of weight loss and healthy eating.  Ensuring that foods that will throw you off aren’t available is just as important as making sure healthy choices ARE available.

Arranging your environment for success is another big step that will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”

(All of the items referred to in this article are readily available with good hechsherim, however, many require checking for bugs before cooking or eating. Please consult with your Rav).


Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.