Cool news! It's possible to eat healthier at home without even thinking about it all that much.
The key is to set up your kitchen so healthy eating is basically built into your lifestyle automatically — meaning you eat better without even realizing it.
BuzzFeed Health reached out to two leading experts in food psychology and eating behavior who've spent years and years studying how your environment affects the way you eat: Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab; and Charles Spence, PhD, author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining and gastrophysicist at Oxford University.
They're both advocates of the let-your-kitchen-do-the-work-for-you way of healthy eating, and they have plenty of scientific research to back it up. Here are their tips for becoming a healthier eater by default.
1. Keep your counters clean and uncluttered.
A messy counter can actually lead you to eat more, according to a 2016 study in the journal Environment & Behavior. The study authors, one of whom was Wansink, found that people snacked more when they were in a cluttered kitchen, especially if their mindset was also chaotic.
"If your environment is out of control, it primes you to ask yourself why you need to be in control," says Wansink. "You start to think, The rest of the world is out of control anyway, so why should I be any different?" And under that logic, you may throw your mindfulness under the bus. To make sure your counters stay clean, buy a beautiful basket, and shove all your random bills and things in it as soon as you get in the door. And, of course, try to do the dishes right after you eat so your dishes don't pile up.
2. Except fruit! Always have a fruit bowl on your counter.
In another study, this one published in 2015 in the journal Health Education Behavior, Wansink found that people who kept fruit on their counters weighed less than their neighbors who didn’t. And while these findings are correlational, keeping a bowl of fruit on the counter is a great way to get your servings in for the day no matter what — even if you're not trying to lose weight.
It all comes down to accessibility, he says: The easier something is to get to, the more likely you are to go for it instead of actually opening the cupboard to forage for snacks. Any kind of bowl will do, says Wansink, though he recommends a really pretty bowl, because it makes the fruit more appealing.
3. And water, too! Keep a watercooler/dispenser in plain view, if possible.
4. And keep everything else — sweets, cereals, etc. — in a junk-food drawer or cabinet.
In that same kitchen study from 2015, Wansink and his team found that women who had cereal on their counters weighed about 20 more pounds, on average, than those who stored it away, and women who had soft drinks out weighed about 24 to 26 pounds more. While this is obviously just an observational finding, it makes sense that something in plain sight would be harder to resist.
Wansink recommends storing all of your junk food in one place. Most kitchens in America have four to five cabinets, on average, according to his research. "And that means that, if you keep food in most of them, you have to ask yourself, 'Am I hungry? Do I want to eat?' at least four out of five times you open a cabinet. Whereas if you keep it all in the same place, you don't have to do that as often," he says. That, in turn, lowers the likelihood of mindlessly eating whatever just because you saw it — not because you need it.
5. As for your fridge, organize it so the whole foods are in the front, and the processed stuff is in the back (or wrapped up in tin foil or something opaque).
6. Invest in a few different colors of plates and bowls.
According to more of Wansink's research, this time a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people serve themselves 18% less food in one meal if the color of their meal contrasts the color of the plate. "When you're serving food that's the same color as your plate, you don't realize how much you're serving, because it all blends together — so you end up over-serving yourself. But if there's a stark contrast, you're more accurate in knowing how much you've served, and when to stop," he explains.
7. Buy some smaller plates, too.
Eating from a smaller plate, around 10 inches in diameter, rather than the typical dinner plate (which can run up to 12 inches these days) also helps you manage your portions better, according to that same 2012 Wansink study. That's because the same portion of food will seem bigger on a smaller plate, which is particularly useful if you tend to fill up your whole plate and then finish it just because it's there. That, in turn, may prevent you from eating more food than you actually meant to.
8. Save those family-style serving bowls for really special occasions.
Wansink has also found that people eat 18 to 20% less food when they serve themselves and keep the serving bowl at a distance, as opposed to keeping the bowl of food in front of them during their meal.
"If the food isn't on the table, you have to pause and ask yourself, 'How much do I really want that food?' People often conclude that it's too much work and they're not going to get up to get it," he says. So, on regular nights, just serve yourself one plate right from the pan — and leave the pan on the stove.
9. Don't eat in front of your laptop or TV, or while you're on your phone.
10. Instead, eat at an actual table, if possible.
11. And set up a music station near your table.
And play slower-tempo songs when you're eating. Multiple studies show that human behavior actually mimics the music you're listening to — meaning if you're listening to fast music, you'll likely eat faster, and vice versa, says Spence.
But don't turn it up too loud: A new study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, found that people ate more when they couldn't hear themselves eating, than they did when they were eating in a quieter atmosphere. It all comes down to — wait for it — mindfulness, as the loud music takes away from the full sensory experience.