To keep weight off, keep kitchen counters food free

kitchen counter

How much food do you keep in plain sight on your kitchen counter?  You might reconsider putting it in a cupboard or pantry as the saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” appears to have a special association when it comes to body weight.  A recent 2015 study conducted by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab headed by Brian Wansink, professor and director of the lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, has found a correlation between the amount and type of food visibly kept on a kitchen counter and how much the members of that household weigh.

Wansink has extensively studied eating behavior for years and this most recent study is an example of how our food environment in our homes influences our eating habits and our body mass index.  This current study has two parts: in Study 1, 500 households nationwide were asked to inventory their kitchen along with providing their height and weight; in Study 2, also called The Syracuse Study, researchers photographed and catalogued 210 households in Syracuse, New York with occupants of the households also providing their height and weight. 

The results of the studies demonstrated habits of slim people differ from habits of overweight to obese people which may play a huge role in whether a person gains weight or not. People desiring to lose weight are often told to go on a diet and count calories when maybe one of the best things they can do is modify their food environment within their homes.  Making some small yet appreciable changes might make a world of difference.

An example of Wansink’s past research shows notable behavioral differences between how obese individuals and normal weight individuals at an all-you-can-eat buffet:  obese diners tend to sit closer, facing the buffet, use a larger plate and are likely to sit at a table.  Normal weight diners tend to sit farther from, facing away from the buffet, using smaller plates and sit in a booth.  Neither the obese or normal weight individuals were counting calories, yet the normal weight individuals were naturally practicing fat-proofing tricks they had unconsciously been doing for years.

This recent study has applications that each of us can use to help design our food environment within our homes, particularly our kitchens, to make them more conducive to reduce temptations to overeat leading to weight gain. 

Food environments of homes where the occupants were overweight to obese:

·      Tended to store or keep food – such as regular or diet soft drinks, cereals, packaged snack foods, cookies, candy - visibly out in the open on a kitchen counter or other highly visible location.  They weighed 24 to 26 lbs more than people who did not store food out in the open.

·      Tended to buy food in bulk or large-sized packages.  Just keeping breakfast cereal on the counter was associated with the women in that household weighing 20 lbs more. 

Food environments of homes where the occupants were normal weight:

·      Tended to have fruit in a fruit bowl on the counter and no other food visible.

·      Tended to have a designated cupboard for snack items.

·      Tended to not buy food in bulk or large-sizes.

Even though the findings of this study are correlational, it does suggest the notion that when we can visibly see food and it’s convenient to us, there’s a good chance we’re going to consistently eat more which increases the chance of gaining weight.  When you remove eating cues in your home environment, it lessens the tendency to overeat. 

Wansink’s Slim By Design book makes these suggestions to help win the battle of weight gain by redesigning your kitchen environment:

·      Keep your kitchen a little less inviting.  Remove the TV, the iPads, computer and comfy chairs so you are not as tempted to spend a lot of time there.

·      Keep tempting foods out of sight and inconvenient to get to. 

·      Rearrange cupboards, pantries and the refrigerator so the first foods you see are at eye level and the healthiest for you.

·      The only visible food allowed on the kitchen counter is a bowl of fruit.

·      Make it easy to cook in your kitchen.  If you can easily move around in the kitchen, you’re more likely to want to cook from scratch which generally is healthier.

·      Even the color of your kitchen makes a difference.  Too bright of a color may cause you to eat quickly eating too much whereas too dark of a color may cause you to linger longer eating more.  Find a happy medium between too bright and too dark of a color.

Overall, we need to consider how our food environment does affect our eating behavior more than we realize.  When we are bombarded by seeing food throughout the day within the convenience of our homes, it can tempt us to overeat.  Make a few simple changes in your environment, and the chances of temptation are significantly reduced.