Can how you organize your kitchen predict your weight?

Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Credit: Getty Images

As a nutritionist people love to tell me the old joke: “I’m on the see-food diet. I see food, and I eat it.” It usually gives me a chuckle, but the not-so-funny part is that I've found that many people I counsel are on this same see-food diet without realizing it. A new study from Cornell University underscores the negative effects.

Researchers studied photographs of more than 200 kitchens in Syracuse, New York, to test how residents’ weights were tied to their home food environments, and they found a strong correlation. Women who kept fresh fruit out in the open tended to be normal weight, while those who stored breakfast cereals and soda where they could see them weighed significantly more. In fact, in homes with counters that housed soft drinks the women weighed 24 to 26 pounds more than those who kept their kitchen surfaces clear of sugary beverages. Women with kitchens that displayed cereal boxes were on average 20 pounds heavier.

The researchers’ conclusions are probably pretty obvious here—when you keep unhealthy foods visible and within reach you’re much more likely to overindulge. The opposite is also true—stashing less than healthy options in cupboards reduces the chances you’ll grab them, either due to hunger, boredom, or habit.

The Cornell researchers found that compared to obese women, those of normal weight were more likely to have a designated cupboard for their snacks, and were less likely to buy food in large-sized packages. In addition, showcasing healthy goodies proved to be a savvy weight loss strategy. The women who had a visible fruit bowl weighed about 13 pounds less than those who didn’t.

The takeaway? Clear your counters of foods you want to avoid, and fill up your fruit dish. But don't stop there. Here are five extra tips and strategies that can help transform your home into a stealthy healthy eating zone.

Rearrange your refrigerator

Devote the bulk of the space in your fridge to the healthy foods you want to eat more often; it's also smart to make these easily accessible. Things to put front and center include a pitcher of water infused with sliced lemon and herbs, cut veggies and hummus, and fresh, sliced fruit. If there’s ice cream in your freezer place it in the back, behind bags of frozen berries. Even one or two of these minor speed bumps have been shown to help reduce intake.

Pre-portion foods you may overeat

When I store pre-cooked whole grains in my fridge, like quinoa or brown rice, I always leave a half cup measuring cup right inside or on top of the container, so I’ll use it (rather than a larger ladle or several spoonfuls) to dole out a serving. Many of my clients do the same with shredded or crumbled cheeses, with a quarter cup scoop to prevent overindulging. If you tend to grab a too generous handful of nuts, take a few minutes to divide a larger jar into several small bags or containers. It’s a small but highly effective step, because let's face it, you’re lot less likely to stop to do this when you’re hungry or busy.

Create healthy eating shortcuts

Many of my clients tell me they would eat healthier if someone prepared their food for them, but they can’t afford to sign up for expensive meal deliveries or a personal chef. A quasi-solution is to pre-prep when you have the extra time. For example, on the weekend make “smoothie packs”—freezer bags that hold all of the ingredients needed for a smoothie, so all you have to do is dump them in a blender, add liquid, and blend. Another time-saver is to chop extra veggies when you’re making dinner to store in the fridge, so you’ll use them instead of chips to scoop up hummus as a snack. Finally, on the nights you do take the time to cook try making double portions of healthy dinners made with lots of veggies, so you can bring the second serving to work the next day. This greatly reduces the temptation to order a carb-heavy sandwich or burrito.

Create hurdles to getting to your goodies

Now do the opposite: make your treats harder to access. One of my clients stores her candy reserve on a high shelf in a closet that requires a stepladder to get to (and in a container that’s inside a bag). When she feels triggered to stress eat she often finds it easier to just call or text a friend rather than go to the trouble of uncovering the candy. An earlier Cornell study found that simply placing candy in a desk drawer rather than on the desktop curbed calorie consumption by 25%.

Display motivational images

I definitely do not recommend putting a picture of Gisele on your fridge, or anyone else who's not you (that just sets you up to make unfair comparisons). But I do strongly believe in displaying objects or photos that help you stay connected in a positive way to taking great care of yourself. I often ask clients to think about images that make them happy, and inspire them to want to follow through with eating well, moving more, drinking more water, and getting enough sleep. Many choose blooming flowers, sunrises, or beaches, and even stimulating colors can help. One study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that compared to grey and red viewing the color green enhanced mood and even improved exercise performance. It might be time to re-paint your kitchen, or shop for a few empowering accents.

What’s your take on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously worked with three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Cynthia is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.