Want to know how to lose weight steadily? It really comes down to being mindful about your daily habits.
At any one time, there are two things influencing our behaviour: the things we do consciously and the things we do automatically, according to Dr Laura McGowan, a psychologist who specialises in adult food choices and dietary behaviour.
Many of our eating habits fall into the automatic category, she explains. But, just as a supermarket is laid out to engineer certain food purchases by customers, you, too, can make subtle changes to your home so you make better eating choices.
Believe it or not, the average person makes a staggering 200 food decisions a day, according to research at Cornell University in the US.
“Most people are unaware of the food decisions they’re making,” says Dr Brian Wansink, who led the research, and authored the book, Slim By Design (William Morrow), about turning your home into a healthy haven.
“As a result, it’s easy for our environment to influence us without us knowing it. We can make subtle changes to our homes to make this work in our favour and encourage healthier habits.”
Here are some of the simple changes you can make to your home to help you lose weight.
How to lose weight in the kitchen
“The more visible a food is, the more attractive it is,” says Dr Wansink. “So if it’s unhealthy, store it in containers you can’t see through; and if it’s chopped vegetables and other healthy fare, use a transparent container.” Cover healthy leftovers in clingwrap and Sunday’s chocolate cake remainders in foil. “If you can’t see it, you’re less likely to eat it.”
Make the healthy option easier, says Dr McGowan. “We get bombarded with ‘buy one, get one free’ or bulk-buy options that are more economical in these straightened times,” she says. “If you decant something into smaller containers or individual portion sizes, you’re less likely to overeat it because having to open a second portion acts as a break switch. Plus, research shows people are usually just as satisfied with less!”
Put it away
If you cook a big dinner for four people, but have made enough for eight, store half of it away in a container before you sit down to eat. “You’re more likely to go back for seconds if you know there’s more still sitting in the pot,” says Dr McGowan.
See it, eat it
“If we can transform our environments to help us make more consciously healthy food choices more often, over time they become habitual and, before you know it, you’ve replaced a bad eating habit with a healthy one,” says Dr McGowan.
Inside the fridge, the same rules apply as in the kitchen – hide the bad stuff! We all stand at the fridge door looking for tempting snacks, so, if your weakness is cheese, for example, make it hard to get at – store it in a plastic container at the back of the shelf. And leave the celery right at the front. By reorganising your fridge, you give yourself fast access to healthy choices. Instead of buying a packet of carrots that need to be chopped and peeled, buy them prepared or opt for ready-to-rinse-and-eat vegetables.
Online grocery services may deliver more than convenience. A pilot study from the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity found that people who do their grocery shopping online make smarter, healthier choices. “Buying online means people often buy less high-fat food and are more likely to plan out their meals, which is a crucial element of a healthy lifestyle,” says Miriam Mullard, a dietician and nutrition consultant who specialises in treating adult obesity.
How to lose weight relaxing in the lounge
Lose the side tables
“Move your side tables in the lounge so that they are more than an arm’s length away from where you sit,” says Dr Wansink. Dr McGowan suggests making the lounge a food-free zone – if that’s not practical, simply set food further away.
“If you do take food in there, make it inconvenient to get to, and you’ll eat less of it,” says Dr Wansink. In one study involving office workers, Wansink’s researchers moved the sweet bowls on their desks to two metres away from them, and this small difference meant they went from eating nine sweets a day to only four.
Switch off the TV
You may have heard this a hundred of times, but here’s why it works. “If we watch television when we eat, we eat to the pace of the show, and this can mean tense and fast with a thrilling drama, making weight gain more likely,” says Dr Wansink. “We also lose track of how much we eat because we’re paying attention to the TV, and it creates ‘eating scripts’, where you turn on the TV, start a movie, then go to get a bowl of ice cream. The more often you do this, the more of a habit it becomes and, before you know it, you’re associating any movie that you watch with ice cream.”
Make sure food is less convenient (see above), or dish it into a small ramekin or cup to make you less likely to overeat it.
How to lose weight in the bedroom
Get your trainers ready
If you’ve promised yourself you’ll exercise in the mornings, put your kit by the bed so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. “This primes you to think about the exercise and the goal you have set, acting as a visual reminder,” says Dr McGowan.
“Secondly, it makes it easier, and ease is the key to making healthier habits.” If you have to hunt for your kit, you’re adding another step to the process, and you’re more likely to opt out. If you’re a lunchtime or evening exerciser, use this trick in the same way by keeping a prepped gym kit in the car or an extra one at work, McGowan suggests.
Get a good scale
We’re often told not to do it, but research from the US National Weight Control Registry found people who lost weight and kept it off weighed themselves regularly. “Self-monitoring is one of the most important ways to lose weight and maintain the loss. The two best ways to do this are keeping a food diary and weighing yourself – ideally once a day, in the morning, just after you’ve been to the loo and no less than once a week,” says Dr McGowan. But don’t forget about your hip to waist ratio too…
How to lose weight at the table
We’re often told to eat off smaller plates so that we serve ourselves less food, but Dr Wansink’s team found they can be too small. “People eating off smaller plates (with a diameter of about 16 to 18cm) ate around 22% less than those who ate from larger plates,” he explains. “But when we gave them much smaller plates, they went back for seconds!” To eat less, you should also choose plates that contrast with the colour of the food you’re eating, he advises.
“Serving rice on a white plate led to people eating 20% more, so rice and other white foods on darker plates and darker foods on lighter plates could help you eat less,” says Dr Wansink.
Choose tall glasses
Pouring a drink? Make it tall and long. “People drinking out of a tall, narrow glass tend to drink less than those who drink from short, wide tumblers,” says Dr McGowan. “It’s a clever visual trick in which having a tall glass makes people think that it’s bigger, but they actually end up putting less liquid in.”
Set the scene
In one of Dr Wansink’s experiments, people in a fast-food restaurant listening to soft jazz by Miles Davis ate 18% less food than those listening to classic ’70s rock ‘n’ roll. “The louder and faster the music is, the more and faster you eat,” says Dr Wansink. “Bright fluorescent lights or lighting that was too dark both made people eat more, too,” he says.
“The only place where silverware makes a difference is in smaller serving spoons,” says. Dr Wansink. “If you reduce the size of an ice cream scoop, people served up to 14% less ice cream.” Also, once you’ve served the portion, put the rest of the food out of sight or move to a room where you can’t see it, says Dr McGowan. “People can eat up to 75% more food because they can see more of it available to them.”