“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
Our food choices are influenced by our individual tastes, mood, hunger levels, and dietary needs. They are also influenced by our social network and our environment. This environment includes where we buy our groceries, what is available for us to purchase, cost, and how far we have to go to buy our food, this is known as our “food environment”.
Previously it was thought that our hunger signals and eating patterns were mainly influenced by internal factors that could inhibit or stimulate our appetite and energy intake. However, more recent research suggests that our external environment including our food environment may play a bigger role than we thought.¹ In fact, studies have found that external food cues play an important role in both what an individual eats and their weight starting in childhood.²
Our food environment also extends to our homes. What we choose to buy and keep in the house, how we store food, and how we consume food also greatly influence our overall diets and weight. You have probably heard that if you don’t want to eat a certain food you shouldn’t buy it or keep it in plain sight. However, the influence of your kitchen from the countertops to the pantry, fridge, lighting, and even colors can be making it harder for you to stick to a healthy eating plan.
So if you have been having a hard time eating better, whether it is to lose those last few pounds or for other reasons, maybe it’s time to give your kitchen a nutrition makeover.
The color connection
It is no secret that part of eating includes our sensory experience of food. Not just how it tastes but how it smells, looks, and feels (texture). This sensory experience also applies to the packaging our food comes in and the colors of our surroundings.³ Colors such as red signal to the brain that a food may be sweet while yellow may help to stimulate production of serotonin. Both colors are linked to increased appetite. While white seems like a neutral color that should not make much of a difference to how much you eat, the blandness of white may actually cause you to pay less attention to what you are eating and increase likelihood of overeating. Blue is the most unnatural color for our senses to interpret. We tend to eat less of blue foods and blue surroundings may help to diminish our appetite.
Plates with a purpose (bowls and glasses too!)
Similar to our surroundings, the type of dinnerware and utensils we use can have a major influence on how we eat. Swapping out full size dinner plates and utensils with salad plates and forks or even smaller spoons may help an individual eat fewer calories. This is also true for replacing large cereal bowls with smaller bowls or even a coffee mug and drinking fluids from tall skinny glasses vs. short wide glasses. Eating off of plates that have a color which contrasts with the color of the foods normally eaten (such as using blue plates) can also limit portion sizes. Other ways to be more mindful of how much food is being consumed at a meal is to forgo family-style dinners, meals in which all foods are placed on the table, with meals that are plated in the kitchen and brought to the table. Perhaps saving space at the table for a plate of sliced vegetables, a salad, or a bowl of fruit.
Set the mood
Bright lights and colder temperatures can also increase hunger levels and increase how fast a person eats whereas low lighting or dimmer lights as well as a warmer environment can create a soothing relaxed atmosphere which allows an individual to relax, slow down, and enjoy a meal.
Clear counters and table tops
A disorganized kitchen, especially countertops may contribute to being less aware of what is being eaten during the day. While it may be hard if a kitchen is small to have a perfectly clear counter, removing all foods except for fruits and vegetables that can be stored at room temperature can help a person reduce the urge for a sweet, salty, or fatty treat and grab a healthy snack instead. Bonus tip — if you have a sweet tooth allowing a fruit to warm up so it is closer to room temperature can increase how sweet you perceive it to be!
Makeover Your Pantry
It makes sense that if a person wants to avoid a certain food they shouldn’t keep it in the house, but sometimes that is just not possible, especially if other people also live in the same household. Consider stocking up on healthy pantry staples including the following:
- Beans, grains and cereals (such as quinoa, brown rice, & oatmeal) or lentils
- Whole grain pasta
- Unsalted broths and low sodium soups
- Nuts, seeds, and nut or seed butters
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Olive oil
- Low sodium canned vegetables and pasta sauce
Keeping these healthy pantry items at eye level, and for bulk items in clear containers, can help you plan for healthier meals or quickly throw together dinner when time is short.
For those less healthy items such chips, sugary cereals, pretzels, and cookies, think about purchasing them in smaller packages or putting them higher up in a harder to reach spot. The less convenient and accessible something is, the less likely a person will reach for it.
Organize Your Refrigerator
Move your fresh fruits and veggies from the fruit and vegetable bins to the shelves. They may not keep as well but they will be easier to grab. It is also helpful to precut salad topping or have fruits and vegetables in snack size portions that are easy to grab and go.
Rethink your floor plan
Having an open floor plan for your kitchen may create a beautiful, light, and cozy atmosphere, however, it may also increase urges to grab a snack or eat food between meals.⁴ While it may not be very feasible to remodel your kitchen just to curb the urge to snack, shutting off the lights once you are done cleaning up from dinner for the rest of the day or putting up a stand-alone screen can be enough of a deterrent to help fight mindless eating.
It goes without saying that when we are distracted we tend to eat more. Keep all screens, including phones, computers, tablets, and T.V.s out of your eating space — books too! Likewise, try to limit eating to your kitchen or table to train yourself to focus on your meal and associate a specific area with eating, as opposed to your bedroom or vehicle.
Want to learn more about how your eating behaviors can impact your health? Read our previous blog “Do Bad Genes = Bad Behaviors”.
- Hopkins M, Blundell J, Halford J, King N, Finlayson G. The Regulation of Food Intake in Humans. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., eds. Endotext. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; March 30, 2016.
- Berthoud HR. The neurobiology of food intake in an obesogenic environment. Proc Nutr Soc. 2012;71(4):478-487. doi:10.1017/S0029665112000602
- Wang QJ, Mielby LA, Junge JY, et al. The Role of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Sensory Factors in Sweetness Perception of Food and Beverages: A Review. Foods. 2019;8(6):211. Published 2019 Jun 14. doi:10.3390/foods8060211
- Rollings KA, Wells NM. Effects of floor plan openness on eating behaviors. Environment and Behavior. 2017;49(6):663-84.
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