If you’re trying to slim down or maintain a trim figure, you probably already know it’s important to eat a healthy diet (think: lean protein, whole grains and plenty of produce), mind your portions and be active. (More on that here: 5 Simple Ways to Stay Slim.) But you might be surprised to learn that how you set up your kitchen can help—or hinder—your efforts too.
Here are six ways to subtly organize your kitchen to naturally help you make diet-friendly choices.
—Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Research shows that the proximity and visibility of food increases your chance of eating that food. “Visibility is extremely important,” says David Just, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral economics at Cornell University. “Whatever you see first is what you’re likely to start thinking about.” So make the healthier, lower-calorie fare the first thing you see: fill the center shelf of your fridge with loads of fresh veggies (prewash and cut them so there’s one less “barrier” to digging in) or leave a stocked fruit bowl out on your counter.
Just as healthier foods should be easy to spot, less healthy ones should be stashed out of sight. One study—led by Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab (and an EatingWell advisor)—found people wolf down more than twice as many chocolates when they’re right in front of them compared to when they’re farther away (six feet) and covered. Stash snacks like chips, cookies or cereal in a cabinet. People who do this tend to weigh 15 to 20 pounds less than people who store snacks on their kitchen counters, says David Just. And for good measure, you could tuck them away in opaque containers. The easiest way to avoid temptation: don’t bring sweets or unhealthy snacks home—or do it only on occasion.
Related: 3 Ways to Break Your Sugar Habit
Studies by Brian Wansink and others have shown that people eat more when they’re served food in or on larger dishes. Even nutrition experts—people trained in food and calories—overdo it. One of Wansink’s studies involved his nutrition students and colleagues at an ice cream social. When the nutritionists used larger bowls, they served and ate 31 percent more ice cream than those with smaller bowls. Try serving your ice cream in a small bowl (or maybe even a ramekin) to avoid an ice cream overload. You can apply this concept to your main meals, too, and use a 7-inch plate, which is about the size of a salad plate or child-size plate.
In the same ice cream social study, nutritionists who used the larger serving spoon served and ate 15 percent more ice cream. And—a double whammy—those who received a large bowl and a large serving spoon ate the most: 57% more than those with the smaller spoon and bowl combo. So dish up dinner (or breakfast or lunch) with your everyday silverware in place of oversized serving utensils.
Your preference for short, wide tumblers may also be sabotaging your diet. Here’s why: In a recent study of college students, as much as 30 percent more liquor was poured into tumblers than into highball glasses. Although this study looked only at alcoholic beverages, the concept could, in theory, apply to any drink that delivers calories—which is basically anything but water, club soda or diet drinks.
A new study published in Psychological Reports found that a relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption by around 18 percent, or roughly 175 calories. Try softening the lights or put on a little background music—whatever helps melt away your anxiety or stress before you sit down to eat.