“Our homes can either be designed to keep us healthy or designed to make us fat,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.” From rearranging your refrigerator to tidying up your house, here are a few ways you can keep your home from sabotaging your healthy eating efforts.
- Change your kitchen chairs. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University says, “The more time you spend in the kitchen, the more you end up eating,” he says. And since most people don’t just stand around their kitchens for hours on end, switching out your chairs for slightly less comfortable ones can help keep you out of the kitchen apart from mealtime. Wansink notes that when people sit in the kitchen on cushionless chairs, they spend an average of 18 fewer minutes in the kitchen than do those sitting on tufted cushions.
- Dim your lights! Bright lights set the mood for overeating. In fact, in one Psychological Reports study, people who dined in a brightly lit room ate 18 percent more calories than those who ate in the same room when it was dimly lit. And get this: Even though they ate less food, they rated the meal as tastier. Researchers believe this may be because dim environments are calming, making you eat more slowly so that you have a chance to realize you’re full — and stop eating — before you’ve cleared your plate and asked for seconds. It doesn’t matter how relaxing the environment is, though; just stay at the table, recommends Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., nutrition expert for USANA and weight-loss expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. If you decide to get comfy on the couch and eat your meal in front of the TV, the tactic could backfire in a big way.
- Get rid of the clutter: “The most important way to keep your home conducive to healthy eating is to cut down the clutter in your home. That includes everything from the closet to the bathroom,” says Coral Arvon, Ph.D., director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center. “Study after study shows that people who are able to lose more weight have a tendency to maintain a clean, clutter-free home.” For instance, in one University of Minnesota study researchers had people hang out in either a messy or tidy room and then offered them a snack. Of the participants who decided to take a snack, 67 percent who had been in the tidy room chose an apple, while 80 percent of those who had been in the untidy room chose chocolate. “A clutter-free home encourages clearer thoughts and better decisions. Your home is a mirror of how you live your life. If your shoes are falling out of your closet, I wouldn’t be surprised if you make unhealthy food decisions,” says Arvon.
- Use smaller plates and dishes: The bigger your plates, the bigger your appetite. Research from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University shows that the size of your bowls and plates serve as an unconscious guide on how much you should be eating. For instance, when Chinese-buffet diners went to the buffet table with large plates, they served themselves 52 percent more food and ate 45 percent more food than those who used smaller plates. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab, recommends getting rid of any plates that are larger than 10 inches. Even if you put the same amount of food on a nine-inch plate as you would on a 12-inch plate, the nine-inch plate will look more packed, leaving you feeling more satisfied with your meal.
- Visibility is everything. “People tend to eat whatever is readily available and easily accessible,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., nutrition expert for USANA and weight-loss expert at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. For instance, people who live in households where breakfast cereals are out and visible — like on countertops or on top of the refrigerator — are an average of 21 pounds heavier than those who live in households where you actually have to open a cabinet door to get your cereal fix. “People say, ‘Gee, I’m a little hungry,’ and then they grab a handful of cereal,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.” Plus, since cereal comes with a health halo, that handful could easily turn into a dozen handfuls and 500 extra calories by the end of the day, he says.
- Banish the electronics and TV: “Banish TVs from your kitchen, dining room or wherever your family eats meals,” suggests Willow Jarosh, M.S., RD, a dietitian at C&J Nutrition in New York City and Crisp Tools spokesperson. “Watching TV or interacting with technology through your smartphone or tablet at the table can contribute to mindless eating and a feeling of being unsatisfied with a meal, which can later lead to overeating.” A 2013 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that multitasking during a meal, be it from watching TV or working on your computer, moderately increases food intake at that meal and makes an even bigger impact on food intake during the rest of the day.
- Move your fruit out of the crisper tray. They’re designed to keep your produce fresher longer. But, in the end, they just make you forget you bought veggies in the first place. “Instead, keep fruits and vegetables out in a beautiful glass bowl so you’ll feel more inclined to grab these healthier choices. This way you won’t waste them, because if you leave them in the fridge you’ll forget about them and they’ll spoil, which is a bigger waste,” says Coral Arvon, Ph.D., director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center. After all, according to research from Cornell University, you’re nearly three times more likely to eat healthy food if it’s in your line of sight. Meanwhile, you can keep the rest of your healthy grocery items on the top shelf of your refrigerator and at the front of your cabinets in clear containers, says Willow Jarosh, M.S., RD, a dietitian at C&J Nutrition in New York City.
As I walked around my home, I found most of these things in play already. I have noticed though when I travel to a clients home I often see and notice major offending categories. In summary it is less about your home but more about your environment. This could be an office, your apartment, etc. wherever….but wherever you are these tips apply.