Get the latest from TODAY
When it comes to losing weight, you know the drill: Eat less, move more, repeat.
It’s a pretty miserable experience for most people, but what if you could also shed pounds by making small changes at home and in other places where you spend your day? That’s the message from Brian Wansink, author of the book “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.”
“If you look at most dieters, they try to become slim by will power. They try to resist every single thing. The problem of becoming slim by will power is it’s a 24/7 sort of job, it’s never ending,” Wansink, who is also the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, told TODAY Health.
“What we find is that by simply changing our immediate environment … it ends up leading people to mindlessly eat less.”
Get the latest from TODAY
It’s that mindless eating that both fascinates and frustrates Wansink, who says most people think they make just 30 or so decisions about food every day, when the number is actually closer to 200.
And because people are unaware of most their decisions, it’s very easy to let themselves be influenced by the things around them, like the distance of the food from their hands or the size of their bowl.
Here are eight changes to make in your kitchen that could lead you to eat less. Wansink believes making just one change and sticking with it for 25 days could help you lose about 2 pounds a month.
1. De-clutter your kitchen
When participants in one experiment saw snack foods sitting on the counters of a kitchen that was very cluttered and disorganized, they ate about 44 percent more than people who saw the same snacks in a very neat kitchen.
“It’s almost like if your environment is cluttered and out of control, why do I need to be in control myself?” Wansink said.
2. Avoid leaving food out on your counters
People who had chips or cookies visible on their kitchen counter weighed about 10 pounds more than people with bare counters, according to one study, Wansink said.
Those who openly displayed breakfast cereal weighed about 21 pounds more and those who had soft drinks — even if they were diet sodas — on the counter weighed 25 pounds more.
“Simply the presence of food ends up being a really powerful cue,” Wansink noted. Every time you pass by a cookie jar or a can of soda, you have to ask yourself the question: Do I want one? The answer might be “no” 20 times in a row, but then “no’s” soon start becoming “maybe’s” and the 30th time you look at the snack, the answer will be “yes,” he added.
3. Make the kitchen a less appealing hangout
The more time people spend in the kitchen, the more they tend to eat, Wansink said. So instead of making your kitchen the destination spot in the house, make it a little less “lounge-able”: Get rid of the TV set, have less comfortable chairs and make any other changes to send people on their way instead of inviting them to stay.
4. Put out a fruit bowl
Behold the power of fruit: The average person who has a fruit bowl in their house weighs 8 pounds less than their neighbor next door who doesn’t have one, Wansink said.
“Most of us don’t think on a daily basis, ‘Oh I better get a piece of fruit.’ But if you see it seven times during the day, (you may think), ‘Oh, an apple sounds pretty good,’” he noted.
The presence of a fruit bowl doesn’t seem to make a difference at first, but people do start taking fruit from it after two weeks or so, he added. For it to really be effective, it needs to be within two feet of a place where people sleep or walk, so a high-traffic area like the kitchen is ideal.
5. Wrap tempting leftovers in the fridge in aluminum foil
“We’re very unlikely to unwrap things that are in aluminum foil, we’re kind of lazy,” Wansink noted. So hide anything fattening underneath aluminum, but keep covering healthy food in plastic wrap so you can actually see it and be more likely to reach for it.
6. Downsize your plates, glasses and utensils
It's hard to figure out the right amount of food to serve yourself, so you often end up using cues around you, like the size of your plate. But while 4 ounces of pasta on a 9-inch plate looks like a lot, the same amount on a 12-inch plate looks like an appetizer, so you might just add more pasta.
Simply downsizing your plates or bowls makes a difference: If you switch from a 12-inch to 10-inch plate, you’ll serve about 22 percent less, Wansink said.
If you use a table spoon rather than a “big honking serving spoon,” you’ll serve about 14 percent less, he added.
7. Hide junk food and other tempting snacks
Stash high-calorie snacks in an inconveniently placed cupboard — one that’s way down low or way up high. So instead of having the snacks spread throughout the kitchen, where there are chips or cookies staring at you every time you open a cabinet door, reserve one semi off-limits place that holds the tempting foods.
8. Serve dinner off the stove or counter, instead of having serving dishes on the table
This is a particularly strong tip for men, who tend to be fast eaters, Wansink said. They’ll often finish their dinner and see the rest of the family still eating, so they’ll have seconds from the serving plates on the table — not because they’re hungry, but just to pass the time while everyone is still finishing their meal.
Having serving plates on a back stove or on a counter in the kitchen instead of right in front of diners helps because simply having food at least six feet away makes a typical person eat almost 20 percent less, Wansink noted. They can still have seconds or thirds if they want to, but they’re just a little less likely to get up again and again.
This story was originally published in September 2014.