What's within arm's reach when you open your refrigerator: fruit or processed foods? What's front-and-center inside the kitchen cabinets? Where is the TV in relationship to the dining table?
If your New Year's resolutions involved losing weight and mindful eating, your kitchen design might be working against you instead of reinforcing those good intentions. That's one premise of Brian Wansink's newest book, "Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life" (HarperCollins, $26.99), which covers how the design of restaurants, school lunchrooms and homes can affect everyday eating habits.
Wansink, credited with being the founder of the "small-plate movement," is a professor of consumer behavior and nutritional science at Cornell University, where he is also director of Cornell's Food and Brand Lab. In "Slim by Design," he proposes the easiest and most natural way to prevent weight gain is to work with human nature, thereby making it simple for folks to make healthier choices -- a solution so obvious, it seems too easy.
"Backed by 25 years of research and buoyed by its simplicity and no-cost implementation, Wansink's book may well be the healthy lifestyle Holy Grail for which many are searching," claims a Publishers Weekly review.
Some of Wansink's solutions fly in the face of current kitchen design trends, others reinforce what companies such as Weight Watchers have been preaching for years. Here are six of his tips, followed by the opinions of two local professionals. Becky Worley is owner of Classic Cabinetry, a kitchen and bath design company, and Joy Miller is Weight Watchers leader at the Gunbarrel Road location.
* Paint your kitchen anything but white.
Wansink says white and bright spaces tend to stimulate eating. Conversely, dark rooms with low lighting tend to make people linger an average of nine minutes longer over a meal. "The longer you stick around, the more likely you are to have another serving," says the author.
While Worley acknowledges that surveys have proven red, yellow and orange stimulate the appetite -- think about colors at fast-food chains -- she disagrees that white follows suit.
"If that was the case, our weight would be going up because white kitchens are huge," she says. "I read an article on trends for 2015, and the article said 70 percent of kitchens done in 2014 were white, and it was expected that trend would continue this year. Since we've been doing white kitchens a lot for the last five years, I'd think we should all be ballooning if that were true."
Miller says she has never heard of white as a food stimulant, but she does believe mood is affected by colors.
"I actually read something that said paint your kitchen blue because that was the color considered least likely to make you want to eat," she says. "Paint a bath red to get people in and out faster."
* Clear counters. Take all food off the counter, unless it's fruit.
In one study, Wansink and a research team visited 240 homes, measuring and photographing, to document whether there were TVs in the kitchen, spice racks, magazines, etc. After eight months of study, he documented that food on the counter was counter-productive. Women who had a box of cereal visible anywhere weighed, on average, 21 pounds more than a neighbor who didn't.
"Absolutely!" Miller exclaims. "If you see it, you eat it. We try to encourage people to keep a fruit bowl out on the counter. It encourages snacking in a healthier way."
* Keep a spotless, organized kitchen by getting rid of clutter.
Wansink found that in cluttered environments -- stacks of papers, clothes tossed over furniture, gadgets laying on countertops -- people ate 44 percent more snacks than those in clutter-free rooms.
"When people have the emotional urge to eat -- which we have all been subject to -- this can help control that feeling," Miller says. "Making the kitchen clutter-free helps you gain some of that control you are looking for, feel like you are back in charge of your kitchen, your life and therefore your food."
* Plan a kitchen design that makes it easier to cook.
Wansink says this tip is based on trends he and his team observed and from what people said they do. For example, make sure the refrigerator door swings directly open to the sink, making it easy to prep food, especially vegetables. Include amenities such as bright halogen lights and lots of prep space, which will entice people to cook fresh at home more often.
"Yes, we do this all the time," Worley says. "We constantly look at door swings, adequate lighting, prep space. That has been, and will continue to be, an important aspect of kitchen design. And it's not just about the food, but the things you use to prep with, keeping those items in the forefront."
* Make your kitchen less "lounge-friendly."
"The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more you'll eat," explains Wansink in his book. "When people removed TVs, iPads and comfortable chairs, they reported they spent 18 fewer minutes in the kitchen each day. That's less munching on chips, cereal and cookies."
"I see the exact opposite," Worley says. "We plan around televisions now almost as much as refrigerators. The kitchen is like the living room of the home -- it is where everybody hangs out. It's where a lot of the family's living takes place. In kitchen designs now, we plan for the homework, the WiFi, the mail/organization center. So the kitchen is about more than just food -- and that's a trend that's huge and I see as getting bigger."
* Rearrange your food.
Wansink's studies showed that people are three times more likely to eat the first food they see in the cabinet or fridge -- so put the healthier foods in the front row and toss the junk to the back. People who did this reported eating three times as many fruits and veggies. The author called it "unrealistic" to totally clear out or quit buying tempting foods when you have growing children who "constantly forage and bring friends over to eat."
"Put water bottles and fruit in the front row of the refrigerator, instead of soda," Miller says. "It does make a difference.
"And it's not only where the junk food is in the cabinet, front or back, but also if it's on eye level or whether you have to stoop over or climb up to get to it. Anything I don't want to be tempted to eat, I put on a higher shelf in the back. That's a way of making the layout work for you.
"All these little decisions you make can really start to add up. We're not talking about a diet, we're talking about a life change. Instead of taking your New Year's resolution as a complete overhaul, think of these as baby steps instead," Miller says.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.