The kitchen is the heart of any home. It’s where people gather, the place where nourishment, the anticipation of delicious meals, and the sharing of the day’s news come together. It’s good smells, family traditions, and the bustle of everyday activity. There’s a reason why guests tend to end up in the kitchen at parties. People used to gather around a fire—now, the kitchen is the place to congregate, eat, and bond.
For all those benefits, your kitchen can also affect your health in a negative way. Here’s what to look out for, plus a few easy changes you can make to avoid falling into these traps.
1. Your counter is like a junk food buffet.
I never understood how some people could have cookie jars—especially glass ones—and candy dishes on their counters. The truth is that most of us will go straight for those things if they’re lying around in the open. This goes beyond common sense—research backs it up, too. According to a 2015 study out of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and published in Health Education and Behavior, your environment plays a major role in your eating habits. Researchers found that when people only kept fruit on their countertops, they had lower BMIs than when they kept treats like candy in plain view.
“If you just came back from work and were feeling hungry, would you steal a chip or two or three from a bag of chips lying on your kitchen counter? Most people probably either would or they would spend a lot of willpower resisting the urge to eat the chips,” говорит соавтор исследования Брайан Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life.
I’m totally that person who will eat the chips while expending a considerable amount of energy trying to resist diving into the bag a second and third time. You may be the same, and while that’s normal, it’s not necessarily the best thing for your wellbeing. Grabbing two or three chips or a few pieces of candy here or there doesn’t sound like a lot, but hell yeah, that stuff adds up over time!
The power of suggestion is real. Tuck snacks and treats out of sight in a cabinet. Either keep your counters clear of food, or put a bowl of fruit out. If you find yourself going back again and again to the same unhealthy food regardless of where you put it, it’s probably time to consider how regularly you should be buying it.
2. You stock your kitchen without thinking it through.
As a registered dietitian, I have plenty of clients who buy all sorts of unhealthy food “for the kids” or “because my husband likes it.” Yeah, right. They know as well as I do that a lot of that food is going to end up in their stomachs, not anyone else’s. I feel their pain, though, because I do the exact same thing with peppermint fudge ice cream every single Christmas.
If you want to keep unhealthy food in the house, be mindful of the reason why you’re buying it, then ask yourself if it makes sense to have it around at all times. Are you really buying it for other people and not yourself? Can you actually indulge in moderation—a good thing in my book—instead of devouring the entire bag of chips, box of cookies, or whatever it may be? Would it make more sense to approach it as the kind of treat you have to go buy when you’re really craving it instead of keeping it in the house? Think about these questions when you’re browsing the grocery store shelves—you’ll thank me later.
3. Your plates are giving you portion distortion.
Bigger isn’t always better: A 2015 paper in the British Medical Journal reports that the size of tableware can directly impact people’s weight by nudging them to eat more or less. The researchers theorize that using smaller tableware, along with other portion-awareness methods, can cause a reduction in daily energy intake of between 22 to 29 percent in American adults. In other words, this can mean the difference between you taking in 2,000 calories a day and 1,420 calories a day. Whoa.
If you can, choose smaller plates, bowls, and cups to eat and drink out of, then do so until you’re satisfied. And while you’re at it, fill half your plate with colorful vegetables—that’s what it should look like twice a day.
4. Your kitchen is distraction central.
Yes, we live in a busy world, but you shouldn’t need to watch TV, go on your computer, use your phone, or scroll through your iPad as you eat every meal. Ideally, the kitchen would be a distraction-free zone, whether you’re just portioning out your food there or eating there, too. Doing either of these when you’re not paying attention can cause you to take in more calories without realizing it, and it’s not even like you really enjoy them!
When was the last time you sat and just ate without multitasking? If your answer is, “Uh, never?” try being mindful while you eat instead of gulping your meal down while watching your favorite show. Turn the technology off and chew slowly, enjoying every bite. You’re not going to miss anything in the 20 minutes it takes you to eat. Instead, you’ll gain a sense of contentment, peace, and fulfillment—things that happen when you eat a quiet, nourishing meal while using all of your senses to focus on the food in front of you.