It might sound impossible but your home environment could actually be making you pile on the pounds. Don’t believe us? “Research shows that we make more than 200 food related decisions every day – and even more surprisingly, we are often making these decisions without even being fully aware of the fact that we are doing so,” explains Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh, behaviour change psychologist and mindfulness expert (dr-aria.com). “The way that our homes are set up can subconsciously influence our behaviour, which can work in one of two ways – either driving us towards our health goals or contributing to us putting on weight.” Before you panic, there are lots of easy tweaks and improvements you can make around your home that will help you to eat better and slim down without even trying.
The bedroom is a room that you might not necessarily relate to weight loss but it could be key to helping you meet your goals. “Just one night’s poor sleep can decrease the amount of calories you burn the next day by up to 20 percent!” exclaims Filip Koidis, nutritionist at Doctify (doctify. co.uk). “A good night’s rest is an imperative priority when it comes to weight management – a factor which is often overlooked. A lack of sleep is associated with unhealthy food choices that are often higher in calories and fat than normal, which can all contribute to weight gain. A good night’s sleep ensures that your hormones will be working at an optimal level the next day and, therefore, your craving and satiety sensors will do so too. Scientific studies have shown that sleep deprived people tend to go for high calorie and high sugar meals, indicating that their craving receptors are not functioning well. Studies suggest that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a six year period as people who sleep seven to eight hours per night.” This all means that it’s vital to ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Try to have a screen ban – keep the room dark and check the temperature is suitable for sleep. Also, while you may be tempted, don’t snack in this room. “Eating in your bedroom can contribute to the number of environmental cues you have in your house which may drive you to over consume,” says nutritionist Jenna Hope (jennahopenutrition.com). “As an aside, eating late at night in your bed may have a detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of your slumber. Try limiting your eating spaces to your kitchen and dining room, and only have water on your bedside table.”
The living room
Eating dinner while watching TV has become commonplace. In fact, a recent study has revealed that just 49 percent of families sit down for meals together. This could be detrimental to your health. “Research has shown that those who eat dinner in front of the TV are more likely to consume more food to obtain the same level of satiety compared to those who aren’t watching TV,” explains Jenna. “When your brain is less engaged in the eating process, it takes longer for it to realise that you’re full. Try to eat at a table away from distractions.” Your coffee table may also be helping you to pile on the pounds, as Dr Claudia tells us: “Don’t keep any food in the living room or near the TV,” she says. “If you feel the need for something crunchy when watching a film, prepare something healthy in the kitchen, such as edamame beans or blueberries with chia seeds and lemon, and bring those back to the sofa with you.” As with the kitchen, try not to keep anything on show. “Forget the tray with chocolates or a glass cake container,” says Dr Claudia Gravaghi, nutritionist at Doctify. “My advice would be not to buy these foods at all but, if you really have to do it for your family or guests, don’t make them even more attractive by having them on display.” Dr Aria agrees, adding that research found that people ate 60-80 percent more chocolates when they were in a clear bowl rather than an opaque one. It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Often the heart of the home, the kitchen is also a hotspot for unhealthy food choices. A good tip is to keep unhealthy foods out of sight. “Scientists have found that exposure to images of highly palatable foods – typically those of the high fat and sugar variety – stimulate the brain’s reward signals,” says Jenna. “This means that being able to see foods such as biscuits, cakes and chocolate can increase your desire to consume them. Try keeping these foods in opaque containers in the cupboard to make them less accessible. The same goes for open packets of food – leaving them unsealed can increase the chance of you snacking on foods which you might not have otherwise consumed. As they’re open, it’s easy for you to slide your hand in and mindlessly consume an extra snack or two without processing your actions. Try sealing all food packets with tape or a clip.” Keep healthy options visible in the kitchen: “Try placing beautifully chopped fruit and veg within easy reach, on the counter or in the fridge,” says Dr Claudia. Are you trying to cut down your sugar intake? “Breaking a habit can be challenging but, in order to do so, we need to change our environmental cues,” says Jenna. “Removing the sugar canister from next to the kettle can help to reduce the chances of you adding the sweet stuff to hot drinks. Even if you’re only drinking two cups of tea or coffee a day and adding two spoonfuls of sugar to each cup, that equates to 16g a day – this is over half your daily allowance!”
The dining room
“There is contradicting evidence as to which dining room conditions are ideal for weight management with regards to the lighting (bright or dimmed) and the presence or absence of music,” Filip tells us. “As focusing on your food and practising mindful eating is a proven technique for good weight control, I would recommend you use any lighting and music that allows you to stay focused on your meal.” Dishing up your food also comes with its own set of problems: “The average plate size has increased by around two inches over the past 30 years,” says Jenna. “This encourages us to significantly increase our portion sizes without even realising it. Rather than loading your dinner plate, try using a starter size plate instead.” Dr Aria also suggests using a small container when preparing food for work: “Simple strategies like this could reduce your daily intake by 228 calories,” he says.