There’s more to getting healthy than loading your crisper with kale. “After a long day, the leftover chocolate cake on the top shelf in the fridge casts a sugary shadow over the green salad on the shelf below,” says Debra Wein, RD. “Fatigue, hunger, boredom or lack of time all may lead to impulse choices.” Luckily, you don’t have to rely on willpower alone to resist temptation and keep your eating on track.
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The way you store, prepare and even serve up your meals and snacks has a big impact on your wellbeing, too. The good news is that these environmental factors — from how you cook your eggs to the type of plates you use — are easy to change. Try these six simple kitchen makeovers to take your eating habits from so-so to seriously on point.
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1. Clear your counters.
You’ve heard that leaving junk food out can tempt you to indulge (hello, cookie jar). But did you know that leaving your toaster, blender, or even your mail on the kitchen counter could cause you to snack more, too? In his book, Slim By Design, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab Brian Wansink notes that people whose kitchens are organized tend to snack half as much as those whose kitchens are cluttered. All that stuff can trigger stress, which creates a breeding ground for mindless noshing.
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The makeover: Wansink suggests taking everything out of the kitchen that doesn’t have to do with food prep — that includes the stack of bills sitting on your counter, your tablet and more. “Then look at your counters and determine what you don’t need on a regular basis and try to have a place for it in the cabinet,” Wansink says. “The less you have on the counter, the less visual clutter you will have and the calmer you’ll be.”
2. Ditch the plastic.
Are your pantry and refrigerator full of plastic containers? The chemicals in that material could be infiltrating your food and affecting your body’s metabolism, according to Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, the authors of Toxin Toxout. It isn’t just BPA (which the FDA has banned from some products), but its cousin— BPS or biphenol S, often found in BPA-free plastics, that could be causing problems. According to a study published in the journal, Environmental Health, products containing BPS may leach the same type of estrogenic chemicals as BPA, which can disrupt endocrine and reproductive functioning.
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One of the ways that your body may respond to toxins is by increasing levels of inflammation, possibly hindering weight loss. “The point is that different people react differently to environmental stress because our bodies all have unique features,” says Smith, who was the executive director of Canada’s Environmental Defense for nearly 10 years.
“Your favorite Teflon may contain the harmful chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which manufacturers have agreed to eliminate this year.”
The makeover: Tossing all your plastics doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight, but it may help lower your body’s toxin load, allowing it to function more smoothly. Consider getting rid of your old school plastic containers and replacing them with glass or stainless steel options instead.
3. Pour smarter.
When it comes to doling out drinks, a 2013 study published in Substance Use & Misuse examined what causes people to underestimate serving sizes. Researchers asked 73 volunteers to visit several stations and serve themselves a normal serving a wine.
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Turns out it’s pretty easy to overdo it (but maybe you knew that). Wider glasses resulted in participants serving themselves 11.9 percent more wine than when narrow ones. Plus, color contrast also had an effect: When there was a low contrast (think white wine in a clear glass), subjects poured 9.2 percent more than if there was a high contrast between the wine and glass (imagine red wine in the same clear glass). You might want to set your goblet down before you fill it up, too. Holding the glass resulted in 12.2 percent more wine being served than if it was on the table.
The makeover: No need to ditch your glassware. The researchers say that just being aware of how these cues influence your pouring is enough to be more mindful when serving your self (or others) any caloric drink.
4. Conceal your snacks.
Those clear containers you got to organize your pantry may make it easier to see what’s inside. But according to a series of studies published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Marketing, they could be making you eat more.
Researchers from Ohio State University compared how much cereal, candy, cookies and carrots people ate while watching TV. Sometimes the foods were served in transparent packaging, and sometimes it was served in partially transparent or opaque packaging. When eating from clear containers, participants consumed 69 percent more Fruit Loops, 58 percent more M&Ms, 38 percent fewer cookies, and 78 percent fewer baby carrots than they did when eating from opaque receptacles.
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The makeover: Keep bad-for-you foods in colored containers to minimize enticement, especially the small bite-size snacks that could do damage to your waistline, says Wein, president of Wellness Workdays, a leading provider of worksite wellness programs. Save the clear containers for the healthy stuff.
5. Abandon old non-stick pans.
Nobody likes getting scrambled eggs stuck all over a pan. But your favorite Teflon may contain the harmful chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which manufacturers have agreed to eliminate this year. “It is considered by many scientists to be toxic and to cause birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption and high cholesterol,” Lourie, a member of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Advisory Committee, says.
The makeover: Choose pans that are stainless steel, aluminum or cast iron, instead. When used properly, food doesn’t stick to them either. How? Make sure that you have enough oil in the pan and that it’s hot before tossing your ingredients in.
6. Pick new plates.
You probably didn’t consider this when shopping for your dishware, but your plates may determine how much food you serve yourself, says a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Researchers found that when subjects served themselves pasta on plates that matched the color of their sauce, they doled out 22 percent more food than when the food and plate color contrasted. Additionally, they found that people judged portion sizes in comparison to the size of their plates. Participants served themselves 22 percent more food when using large plates compared to ones that were two inches smaller.
The makeover: If your plates are chipped anyways, it may be the perfect time to switch things up. “Change your dishware to better accommodate your dining needs,” suggests Wansink, who co-authored the study. Not in the market for all new stuff? It isn’t just plates that can have this effect, he says. Choosing a tablecloth of high or low contrast can prevent over-serving too. And as for that size issue: Use your salad plates to keep your portions in check.