Sure, you can rely solely on your willpower to resist the delicious snacks in your kitchen. Or, you could just do a bit of reorganizing.
Brian Wansink is the Cornell University researcher and author whose work uncovers the surprising environmental cues that keep us skinny (or don’t). His new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, comes out this week, and he chatted with Science of Us about his recent research that suggests a few ways skinny people’s kitchens look different from the rest of ours.
And, yes, these findings are purely correlational, Wansink acknowledges. “What’s the causality here? I don’t know,” he said. “But we always say, If you want to be slim, do what slim people do.”
Hide the cereal. Keeping a couple of boxes of cereal on top of the refrigerator, or a wide and varied collection proudly on display à la Seinfeld, is something many of us do. But Wansink’s research suggests that people who keep breakfast cereal out end up weighing about 20 pounds more than their neighbors who keep their cereal in a closed cupboard (or who don’t buy it at all). Cereal is a quick and convenient between-meals snack, but many varieties are packed with sugar, and so keeping the stuff within easy reach may not be the kindest thing you can do for your waistline.
For that matter, clear off your countertops. Keeping a clutter-free kitchen is also correlated with lower body weight, Wansink said, no matter what the clutter actually consists of. “It could be newspaper, mail, car keys or dirty dishes,” he said. People with crowded countertops tend to snack about 40 percent more than those who kept more organized kitchens, perhaps because a clearer space leaves more room for food prep, and research suggests that cooking more meals at home is correlated with weight loss.
But keep out a fruit bowl. This way, you’ll be more likely to mindlessly reach for an apple or banana when you’re a little hungry, instead of something of lower nutritional value. Wansink’s research has shown that people who keep a fruit bowl out tend to weigh eight pounds less than their fruit bowl-less neighbors. “And make sure it’s within two feet of where you walk,” Wansink says. “It’s gotta be within arm’s length of where you’re at or you’re not going to use it.”
But one thing skinny people’s kitchens aren’t, Wansink says, is empty. He and his team sometimes do “kitchen makeovers” for some high-profile clients, including a recent one for a gossip columnist (whom he declined to name). “She told us, The kitchen’s not a problem; I don’t have any food in it,” he said. “But that’s a problem.” Keeping no food in the house often means you’re more likely to order takeout, and will subsequently wolf down an entire meal, when all you really wanted was a little snack. Instead, Wansink said, “make sure there’s enough single serving of protein things in your kitchen. Low-fat cheese sticks or yogurt or cans of tuna fish. It’s so you don’t get to that ravenous state.”