I recently read Brian Wansink’s Slim by Design. Wansink wrote Mindless Eating a few years ago, based on his research finding people will eat giant vats of stale popcorn if they’re not paying attention. Subtly changing the layouts of kitchens and cafeterias can greatly increase the chances that people take healthy fare rather than the less healthy fare we often gravitate toward.
Slim by Design is the follow-up, offering suggestions on how to make over the places we buy food and eat. I appreciate his general approach. Many public health types seem to believe that institutions should make changes because they are the right thing to do. That’s fine, but Wansink notes that restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores all exist to make money. The magic happens when the changes that would make us healthier actually make them more money too. One obvious example: the all-you-can-eat buffet. The restaurant wants you to feel like you got a good deal, but if you eat less, that’s money straight to the bottom line. Subtle changes, like putting the plates around the back so people can scout out the buffet before eating, increase the chances that people take what they really want, and not what they don’t, just because they saw it first.
I’ve been considering his suggestions in light of my situation. I work from home. My office is perilously close to the kitchen. This is a situation that can lend itself to incessant snacking. After reading Slim by Design, I realize I’m doing a few things right:
*We have fruit on the counter: apples, oranges, bananas. All of these are great snack options. Wansink has found that people with fruit bowls weigh several pounds less than those who don’t have fruit readily available.
*I move some fruit out of the crisper onto the fridge shelves. When you open the fridge door, you want the first thing you see to be healthy stuff. My Greek yogurt is there, and if I’ve cut up melons or some such, I’ll put them on the shelves, rather than bury them.
*I have no soda handy. None is cold in the fridge. I don’t find soda to be a temptation, really, but this turns out to be a Very Healthy Habit that I’ve somewhat effortlessly adopted. We do usually have beer that’s cold in the fridge, but I tend not to consider this an option pre-5 p.m.
*I don’t have a TV in the kitchen.
*I put the candy out of sight. The bowl of leftover Halloween candy is in the pantry on a high shelf. I have to make a conscious choice to pull it down if I want a piece. When my husband brought home shortbread cookies from the UK recently, I moved them into the wine storage area, rather than leaving them on the kitchen counter.
*Perhaps most importantly: going out for lunch is a pain in the butt if you work from home. So I’m generally eating leftovers or Lean Cuisine type frozen meals. All of these are going to have fewer calories than the fast casual fare many people eat for lunch.
Of course, there are some things I could do better.
*I do have some snacky fare out and available: granola, pretzels, nuts. While these are likely better options than Halloween candy, I probably don’t need to have them on the counter.
*I sometimes eat in front of my computer. And yep, I pay zippo attention to my meals and snacks when I do.
*Working from home means you don’t get a lot of exercise unless you consciously choose to do so. Most days I run, but I’m writing this on a drizzly day. It’s 2 p.m. and my Fitbit says I’ve barely walked more than 0.6 miles. Come winter, it is very easy to hibernate.
*Even though the candy is hidden, it’s there, and I know it. A naturally slim person would have dumped it on November 1st. I’ve been known to eat 5-6 snack sized chocolate bars if it’s been that sort of day.
If you work from home, or in an office where there are free snacks lying about, how do you keep your snacking from getting out of hand?
Photo: Candy bin on high shelf — but I know it’s there.