Is Your Messy Kitchen Making You Overeat?

February 17, 2016

As a young ballerina, I remember poring over famous New York City Ballet dancer Allegra Kent’s “The Dancer’s Body Book”. It was full of tips and tricks (ranging from reasonable to borderline unhealthy) for how to stay slim. The most jaw-dropping? The recommendation to padlock your fridge shut to keep you from snacking.

OK, there are a lot of factors that go into making healthy food choices, but taking such extreme action isn’t really necessary. And according to science, avoiding unhealthy snacking can actually be as easy as decluttering your kitchen.

A Cornell University study  examined the link between chaos, stress, and eating behaviors. One hundred female participants were asked to spend time in either a chaotic, messy kitchen or a clean, organized kitchen—both of which had cookies, crackers, and carrots out for the women to snack on, if they wanted. Then they were asked “to recall and write about a time when they felt particularly in control or particularly out of control.”

Researchers noticed that when women wrote about a time they felt out of control, they ate 37 percent more cookies when surrounded by the chaotic atmosphere than they did when they wrote about the same stressful events in  the clean kitchen.

Interestingly enough, increased stress levels due to environment didn’t have any effect on the participants snacking patterns when it came to the “healthier” foods—no matter the situation, the amount of carrots and crackers eaten didn’t waiver.

The conclusion? A chaotic environment might make it harder to resist unhealthy foods, especially when people already feel out of control. So if you’re eating lunch at a desk piled with papers and sticky notes and dinner at a kitchen table that’s cluttered with unfinished art projects, you could be unwittingly consuming more calories.

While you can’t really control the level of stress in your life, you do have some control over your environment. Keep your space from becoming chaotic and your healthy habits on point—try these tricks for a cleaner and more organized kitchen.

Start with a cleaner fridge

Refrigerators have crisper drawers at the bottom and egg holders in the door for a reason—there is a “best” way to stock and organize your fridge for energy-saving purposes. And the way you organize your goods can impact your health: The more visible you make those Brussels sprouts you snagged at the farmers market, the more likely you are to eat them instead of reaching for a frozen pizza.

Items that need to stay super cold, like meat and dairy, belong in the bottom back corner of the fridge. Cheese, butter, condiments, and eggs can live in the door, where it’s a little warmer. And of course, fruits and veggies belong in their respective crisper drawers, which have different humidity levels to maintain peak freshness.

Think like a chef when you cook

Ever watched a culinary star on Food Network toss pre-measured ingredients together with ease and thought, “I could make that”? You can thank mise en place for your boosted confidence. This organized system that involves thoroughly prepping every ingredient before you start cooking is standard in the food industry, as it ensures every aspect of the recipe is accounted for. Though it takes a little more time upfront, it makes cooking a breeze. It also makes post-meal cleanup even faster, keeping your kitchen tidier.

Give yourself time and space to eat

Studies show that those who take their lunch breaks at their desk—while perusing email, Facebook, and spreadsheets, no doubt—are more likely to be obese. And if your workspace is extra messy, your willpower drops … and you definitely won’t be able to say no to the candy jar on your coworker’s desk. Step away from your work, and your desk, to really enjoy that midday meal. The same idea applies for meals at home (so put the phone down!). The bottom line? Your environment impacts the choices you make and how you eat.

Practice mindfulness when you’re stressed

If you can’t seem to escape the chaos—whether in the form of a untidy home or a screaming kid—take a deep breath. Reconnect to your most grounded state with this quick guided meditation.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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