While diet trends seem to change faster than Kim Kardashian’s hair color, one surprisingly simple way to battle that bulge consistently gets overlooked: changing your kitchen.
Studies show that small changes to your kitchen — from the size of your plates to what’s up front in your cupboard — can make big differences when it comes to weight loss.
Get the skinny on exactly why and how rearranging the space where you cook can help take off the pounds.
Do you snack when you sip?
Google is known for making searches easy. But the company also found success when it set out to make it easier for its employees to improve their nutrition.
The Google Food Team and the Yale Center for Customer Insights joined forces to learn how making small changes in the kitchen break rooms could help employees make healthier food choices, reported the Harvard Business Review.
One aspect of the research uncovered how to stop the habit of reaching for a snack every time you have a cup of coffee or drink of water. Google experimented with putting free drinks and snack foods in different places.
When the beverage station and snack station were close by, people were 50 percent more likely to take a snack with their beverage. Researchers estimated that those who used the beverage station near the snack food gained a pound of fat per year for each daily cup of coffee.
Your kitchen redo takeaway: Make it easy to get water without being tempted to nosh in your own kitchen. Set up your home water cooler by the entrance to the kitchen, and keep those fattening snacks (crackers, cookies, and other snacks) as far from that entrance as possible.
Build in portion control
Do you ever walk into your kitchen feeling so hungry that you just don’t want to take the time to measure out a portion, such as dumping cereal from the box into a bowl rather than measuring it? Google’s team has the solution to that problem, too.
In the company’s kitchen, bulk quantities of M&Ms ruled as the most popular snack. Employees served themselves by using four-ounce cups.
The calorie-cutting change: Rather than loose M&Ms, employees were offered individually wrapped packages. That built-in portion-control change slashed calories per serving from more than 300 to 130!
Your kitchen redo takeaway: Build in portion control by taking those bulk bags of snacks, such as chips, crackers, and candy, and making your own 100-calorie snacks with small plastic bags.
Turn your refrigerator door into a healthy billboard
New research shows that consciously thinking about eating healthy results in cutting down on portion size. In the study, researchers focused on helping the dieters achieve a healthy mindset. That one change resulted in smaller portion sizes.
Discussed at an international conference for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, the study results showed that “daily food intake is highly dependent on the portion sizes we select,” said Stephanie Kullmann, PhD, lead investigator on the project.
“The rise in obesity since the 1950s has directly paralleled increasing portion sizes,” pointed out Kullmann. “We are finding that switching an individual’s mindset during pre-meal planning has the potential to improve portion control.”
Your kitchen redo takeaway: Use your refrigerator door to remind you of your healthy focus, such as hanging signs that read, “My goal is to lose weight through good nutrition,” or “I’m focused today on making healthy food choices.”
Small changes for big benefits
Mimi Clarke Secor, DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, has been a family nurse practitioner for more than 40 years, specializing in health and fitness. She told Healthline that “shifts in mindset” are essential for achieving weight loss.
“If we do not feel worthy, lack self-confidence, are depressed, or are addicted to foods, or have other emotional challenges, [it’s more challenging to achieve] long-term, sustainable changes,” Secor said.
Also the co-author of “Debut a New You: Transforming Your Life at Any Age,” Secor suggested the following changes in your kitchen:
- Replace unhealthy foods such as soda, candy, donuts, ice cream, and chips with healthy foods such as cut-up vegetables, fresh fruit, and lean protein such as plain Greek yogurt and fish.
- If you do have treats such as pretzels, purchase or make your own single-serving snacks.
- Do you have trigger foods such as salty crackers and peanut butter? Move them out of sight, out of mind. “This may be particularly important at night when many people tend to lose their self-control and end up snacking,” cautioned Secor. “These calories can add up quickly and can undermine progress made during the day.”
- Keep filtered water available in your refrigerator, with a glass near the sink to remind you to drink frequently throughout the day.
- Use smaller plates.
- Eat with chopsticks or a corncob pick to learn to eat more slowly. “The slower we eat, the more time we are giving our brains to notice what we have eaten. It takes 20 minutes from ingesting food until our brains will notice and perceive the sensation of satiety,” said Secor.
- Put high-calorie foods such as pie in the very back of your refrigerator in the vegetable bin.
Another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also showed that changing your home can change your food intake. In the study, researchers compared behavior therapy, meal replacements, and modifying the home food environment. They found that changing the home food environment was more effective than behavior therapy and meal replacements.
Focus on the fridge, not the pantry
Dr. Michael Russo, a bariatric surgeon for Smart Dimensions Weight Loss in Fountain Valley, California, told Healthline that dieters can help win at weight loss by planning their grocery shopping based on what goes in the refrigerator and what goes in the pantry.
“The worst thing you can do is to go to the grocery store and end up filling your pantry with processed and refined carbohydrates. The focus should be on the fridge,” emphasized Russo.
The surgeon recommends shopping for lean protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables to boost weight loss. Organize your refrigerator and place protein such as meat, eggs, and dairy “front and center,” added Russo. “Protein provides a slow-burning fuel source for your body to run on without the crash that leaves you hungry for a quick carb/sugar rush.”
And if you’re not sure when you’re shopping, Russo offered this guideline: “As a basic rule, if it comes in a box, it’s probably heavily processed and not a good meal choice.”
Engineer your kitchen for success
Psychologist and certified clinical exercise physiologist David Creel authored “A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep It off, One Thought at a Time.” He told Healthline that when it comes to boosting their weight loss by changing their kitchen, dieters should make sure they’re “engineering the environment for success.”
Creel, who is also a registered dietitian, explains that this means making it more challenging to eat unhealthy foods with simple changes such as swapping a candy dish in your kitchen for an attractive fruit bowl.
“Less healthy foods don’t have to be forbidden, but if they require effort (baking cookies from scratch vs. cookies in the pantry), people tend to eat them less frequently and can break bad habits,” he pointed out.
Creel said he recognizes that some dieters find it challenging to resist foods that are available in the kitchen, even when stashed in a high cabinet. But he helped one of his clients overcome that challenge with a different change.
“One of my clients made her husband keep all of his junk food in his car,” revealed Creel. “It is important for people to determine what foods they can eat in moderation if well planned, pre-portioned, or stored out of sight versus those that just aren’t kept in the house at all.”
Follow a proven plan
Creel shared the story of another client named Lisa who lost more than 50 pounds, maintaining her success over a year, by planning her time in the kitchen and taking charge of what went into the room.
These were the kitchen-changing secrets to Lisa’s success:
- Lisa limited her time cooking to twice a week. On those occasions, she made multiple pre-planned meals for herself and her family.
- Leftovers were stashed in the refrigerator with intention, such as last-night’s chicken to be used for today’s lunch.
- Breakfast rotated between two to three always-available healthy items, such as boiled eggs and oatmeal.
- Healthy foods were always available for quick meals, such as refrigerated beans, chicken, fish, or quinoa.
- Snacks are limited to pre-portioned nuts and pre-packaged treats such as low-fat ice cream sandwiches.
With her weight loss success, Lisa also become more involved in exercising. Food became fuel rather than entertainment, and Creel pointed out that’s a recipe for success.
“I encourage patients to make the kitchen represent the place they get nourishment for the things they love to do. Putting hiking pictures on the refrigerator, hanging a picture with healthy foods or physical activity can be simple reminders,” he added.
Healthy kitchen = healthy kids
For parents concerned about their kids’ health, Creel suggested that they keep “sugar-sweetened drinks and even fruit juices out of the house.” The obesity expert has discovered it is all too “easy to get into a pattern of drinking them and developing a preference/habit that is hard to break.”
For parents who feel guilty that they’re depriving their kids of sweet treats, Creel offered a different way to look at the situation.
“Parents who don’t keep a lot of junk food in the house are not depriving their children,” Creel said. “They are establishing family norms that the child is likely to adopt when he or she is a parent.”
Creel also recommended planning treats, such as taking the family for an ice cream cone adventure occasionally rather than indulging in nightly desserts of ice cream.
Even after children fly that family kitchen coop, the habits they form may help them maintain their health throughout their lives.
In fact, a study published in Environment and Behavior found that when female undergraduate students were in a chaotic kitchen and feeling out of control, they ate more cookies than those who felt in control in a more organized kitchen.
“Although a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, one’s mindset in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that vulnerability,” concluded the researchers.