Four Ways to Restructure Your Home to Support Healthier Choices

Lisa Carrigg, Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Lisa Carrigg
Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

What if how your home was arranged was in part responsible for your food choices and behaviors? Researchers at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and experts in the field of Public Health have spent time digging into relationships between the environments we live in and the healthy (and not so healthy) choices we make.1

Research shows the arrangement of your environment specifically influences your choices when it comes to food.2 Classrooms are ideally designed to support learning. A hospital is arranged to support people in need of receiving care. Is your home set up to support healthy food choices?

Here’s how to think about arranging the space you call home to work for you and your wellness goals.

1. Clear Your Kitchen Counter Tops to Make Healthy Choices Easy Choices

What do you see first when you walk into your kitchen? Is it something like a bag of chips or box of crackers? Maybe there is a cookie jar.

One study found an association between body weight and what types of foods were found on their countertops.3 What supported healthy choices? Clutter-free counter tops and an easily accessible and visible healthy option like having a large bowl full of a variety of fresh colorful fruits. Your mindset may either trigger or buffer your choice, but your environment certainly sets the scene. Check out your counters the next time you are home.

2. Shuffle Where Your Healthier Foods Live in Your Fridge and Cupboards

Make healthy food choices as easy as possible. Less healthy choices? Make them inconvenient. Having to put in more effort to get to something (top shelf at the back of the food pantry) means you are less likely to go for that item over something that is easily seen and accessed (the fruit bowl on the counter or first thing you see at eye level when you open a cupboard or the fridge).

Additional time spent on the hunt to retrieve an item may even give you valuable space to pause and consider if this is the best choice for you in that moment or not.

3. Trade Your Dishes for 9-inch Plates and Tall Thin Glasses

The very dishes you use can impact how much you eat. Studies have shown that more consumption is seen when people use larger bowls, larger plates, and shorter wider glasses.4,5,6 One study showed that eaters consumed around 30 percent less food when making the swap to smaller plates.7

It’s not just plates. Pay attention to how much you can pour into your wine glass or a regular glass. One study showed that even experienced bartenders pour more liquid into short wide glasses.8 How does your serving measure up? Experiment with a measuring cup to see how different cup shapes can impact how much you actually drink.

4. Separate Your Cooking and Eating Space from Your Lounging Space

Do you eat in front of the TV or snack while you read? Do you keep snack foods or drinks in the bedroom or living room?

We are very effective at creating associations without even trying. Much like how we learn to associate the bathroom with things like brushing our teeth and bathing, we build associations around others spaces we inhabit too.

Bringing food into spaces where you relax and lounge blurs the lines on where and when you eat. You may begin to use external cues to drive what and how much you are eating without even realizing it. For example, the TV show is still on, so you keep snacking, even if you’re not truly hungry. Try removing food or drinks kept in your lounging spaces. If this feels unrealistic, consider pre-portioning the food and drinks you bring in to these spaces.


When you find yourself at home next, have a look around with fresh eyes. Is the space you call home helping or hindering your health? It may be time for a makeover.

 

References

  1. Cornell University · Food and Brand Lab · Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. foodandbrandlab@cornell.edu
  2. Brian Wansink. Environmental Factors that Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 2004. 24:455–79. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.012003.132140
  3. Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments. Lenny R. Vartanian, Kristin M. Kernan, Brian Wansink. Environment and Behavior.Vol 49, Issue 2, pp. 215 – 223. First Published February 2, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1177/001391651662817
  4. Sharp DE, Sobal J, Wansink B. Using Plate Mapping to Examine Portion Size and Plate Composition for Large and Small Divided Plates. Eating behaviors. 2014;15(4):658-663. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.08.022
  5. Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior Author(s): Koert Van Ittersum and Brian Wansink Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 39, No. 2 (August 2012), pp. 215-228 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/662615 Accessed: 28-06-2017 10:16 UTC
  6. Half Full or Empty: Cues That Lead Wine Drinkers to Unintentionally Overpour. Doug Walker, Laura Smarandescu & Brian Wansink. Substance Use & Misuse  49 , Iss. 3,2014. Published online 12 Sept 2013. https://doi.org/10.3109/10826084.2013.832327
  7. Whether Smaller Plates Reduce Consumption Depends on Who’s Serving and Who’s Looking: A Meta-Analysis. Stephen S. Holden, Natalina Zlatevska, and Chris Dubelaar. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research2016 1:1, 134-146 . http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/684441
  8. Wansink B, van Ittersum K. Shape of glass and amount of alcohol poured: comparative study of effect of practice and concentration. BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2005;331(7531):1512-1514.