Take these steps to banish temptation.
Trying to lose a few pounds? Start with what’s in your kitchen, which has a sizable impact on what ends up in your stomach. “Becoming slim by design works better than trying to become slim by willpower,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., renowned expert on eating behavior, professor at Cornell University and author of “Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life” (William Morrow, 2014). “It’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind.”
Read on to discover experts’ top kitchen tweaks—from which foods and drinks to stock to why you should grow fresh mint (or add it to your shopping list).
Foods and Drinks
First, de-clutter. Laura-Jane Koers, author of “Cook Lively!” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2017), recommends donating or trashing all junk food, including sugary sauces, salad dressings and drinks. “Try taking these items to work in a box marked ‘Free!’” she says.
Say goodbye to the cookie jar. If you must keep treats on hand, stock them in a difficult-to-reach location. Traci Mann, Ph.D, author of “Secrets from the Eating Lab” (Harper Wave, 2015), admits that whenever she makes her favorite dessert, she places aluminum foil over the pan and then hides it on the top shelf of the refrigerator. In my own family, we make special trips to the bakery or the frozen yogurt shop rather than keeping sweets at home. Disguising sugary items in opaque containers also can help, suggests Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at the health app Lifesum.
Display healthy food front and center. Arrange nutritious items in clear containers at eye level in the fridge or pantry. “If it’s in the crisper, it’s out of sight, out of mind,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN. (Personally, I love to showcase fresh produce on my kitchen sideboard, which I always turn to first when searching for meal inspiration.)
Or hide all food. Still, you might want to consider not displaying any food at all, suggests Alyssa Cohen, MS, RD, LDN, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. “Do not keep food out,” she says. “It may look pretty having canisters of nuts or big bowls of fruit on the counter, but this can encourage mindless snacking, as it can be easy to grab a handful as you pass through the kitchen, even if you aren’t hungry. Even a snack that offers a ton of great nutrients, like nuts or fruit, should be consumed in moderation.”
Always keep nutritious ready-to-eat options on hand. Pre-prep fruits and vegetables, including washing (and drying, if lettuce), chopping and cooking. Koers swears by frozen grapes: “The best healthy candy substitute of all time.” Place healthy accompaniments, such as hummus, plain Greek yogurt or homemade vinaigrette, alongside cut-up raw veggies. (Consider serving them with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and unsweetened nut and seed butters. I also rely on roasted or canned chickpeas, roasted seaweed, hard-boiled eggs and baby tangerines.) Nutritionist KJ Landis swears by homemade kale chips, seed and protein bars, cans of already-prepared protein shakes, dried fruits and vegetables, and jerky without added sugars. Pamela Salzman, author of “Kitchen Matters” (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2017), prepares energy balls and popcorn in advance. That way, when hunger pangs hit, you can eat well immediately—without rushing for the potato chips.
Keep your kitchen in mint condition. “Store some mints or fresh mint leaves in an easily accessible place in your kitchen,” Harju recommends. “Making it a habit to have a mint after finishing a meal will not only leave you feeling fresh but also send a signal to your mind that food time is over, which will prevent you from reaching for after-dinner snacks.”
Don’t forget the freezer. Salzman recommends keeping cooked brown rice and quinoa and frozen vegetables in the freezer so you can prep a meal quickly.
Water is your friend. Landis advises drinking water first when you’re hungry—or, at least, when you think you are. “When I drink water with lemon or cucumbers, I can identify whether I am truly hungry or just socially and emotionally hungry,” she says. So keep a large pitcher in the fridge, Cohen suggests. “If you crave something more than plain water, infuse it with herbs, veggies and fruit.” She recommends flavor combos, including mint and blueberries, sliced lemon and lime, and cucumber and basil. Lola Berry, author of “The Happy Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016), favors tea. In particular, licorice and cinnamon “help to curb sweet cravings,” she says.
Invest in healthy cooking equipment. Cohen recommends spiralizers “for turning veggies into noodle-like shapes so they can be the center of your meal. (Hello, zucchini noodles, aka zoodles!)” Salzman stresses the importance of a high-speed blender, food processor and sharp knife.
Pick up some clear storage vessels. You’ll need them for storing and transporting healthy food (especially cut-up fruits and vegetables).
Go small. People tend to eat what’s placed in front of them, regardless of portion size, studies have shown. The larger the plate, the smaller the portion looks and the more you’ll eat. For this reason, opt for smaller plates so your reasonable portions do not look lost, says Carol Meerschaert, MBA, RDN, of Surrey Services for Seniors. “Serve ice cream in a coffee mug, not a huge bowl. Use shot glasses for other desserts,” she adds. When on the go, try prepackaging less healthy items, such as pretzels, into sandwich baggies to help control portions, suggests Kim Feeney, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, CSCS.
Forget snazzy serving dishes. “When serving a meal, don’t leave serving dishes on the table in easy reach,” advises Kristie LeBeau, MPH, RN, RDN, RD. Portion out meals (Sofia Sanchez, RD, recommends using measuring cups to do so), and then put away any extras. “If second helpings are easily available, we are more likely to reach for them than if they’re put away inside the fridge,” Harju says.
Display inspirational notes. Consider posting quotes or notes on pantry doors, reminding you to stay the course, suggests Landis. Koers, who recommends hanging favorite recipes or helpful notes on the inside of cupboard doors, says, “Use whatever visual reminders work for you to keep you nutritionally successful. Print out your favorite motivational quote from Instagram and hang it where you’ll see it. One of my favorites is ‘Motivation gets you started, but habit keeps you going.’”
Nix the TV. “Research suggests that distracted eating (i.e., eating in front of the television) may increase calorie consumption,” Cohen says. “You don’t live in a sports bar,” Meerschaert says, jokingly.
But don’t forget a source of music. “A number of studies found that the music we listen to while we eat actually affects our eating behavior,” Harju says. “The next time you are in the kitchen, play some slow, mellow music, as this is said to slow down our eating.”
For more secrets and tips, check out the In-Home Slim-by-Design Self-Assessment Scorecard in “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life” by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., and “Secrets From the Eating Lab” by Traci Mann, Ph.D.
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