Is Your Home Layout Hurting Your Waistline?

By Samantha Linden, RDN, NLC

As a nutritionist, I have always encouraged clients to have a “closed kitchen” after dinner. This is because, for many people, nighttime can be an opportunity for mindless or emotional eating. Lots of my clients manage to make the healthiest choices all day but then the wheels might start to come off after dinner. They stop listening to their bodies at night and start eating for reasons other than hunger, most of which are emotional triggers.  One reason this happens is that many of us have been programmed early in childhood to believe that dessert is part of our routine: dessert is something you have after dinner, much like brushing your teeth is something after you wake up. In addition, clients often admit to using nighttime snacks to help them cope with the stress from the day. Some even say they can’t watch TV unless they have something to nosh on. Since nighttime snacking is associated with weight gain, closing the kitchen door and turning off the lights is a good way to signal to yourself that you have nourished yourself for the day and that you don’t need anything else to eat until the morning.

Since I have become Nutritious Life Certified, I have started to take a more holistic view with my clients and taken a deeper look at not only their eating habits, but their daily lifestyles as well. Because of this, I have started to realize that part of the reason nighttime eating is such a problem for many of them is the open layout of their homes, specifically the clients with open kitchens. Open kitchens have become a popular trend in home design over the last few decades because the kitchen is often a central gathering point for families and friends. This means the kitchen is no longer just for mealtime, but is also the main entertainment area of the home. With this type of layout, how do you close your kitchen after mealtime? How do you turn off the lights if your kids all do their homework or watch TV on the couch near the kitchen? How is this architectural trend affecting our waistlines?

My interest in this topic led me to find research done by Dr. Brian Wansink, a leading researcher in the field of eating behavior and the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. His study supports the idea that the proximity and visibility of food can consistently increase consumption of it. His research also suggests that the more convenient it is to eat a food, the more likely you are to forget you ate it. {Tweet this}. So basically, if you are hanging out in the kitchen/family room most of the day and night and are constantly being exposed to food, you are setting yourself up for a cycle of mindless overeating, possibly causing you to gain weight and preventing you from living your most Nutritious Life.

Of course, if you have an open kitchen, I am not telling you to go put your house on the market! Houses with this layout are beautiful and can be the setting for a lot of great memories. I am just highlighting this idea to make you aware of how your environment might be preventing you from losing weight or might even be causing you to gain weight.

Here are some tips to “close off” the open kitchen (these work for all kitchen layouts too):

  • Improve the view. If you can’t escape the view of the kitchen appliances, at least put the food out of plain sight. Don’t keep snacks on the counters, and only use open shelving to store non-food items. Even healthy foods like a fruit bowl might trigger us to think we are hungry even if we aren’t.
  • Switch TV time to “Tea V” time.  Create a nightly ritual that does not involve eating food, and try making a cup of tea instead. Tea is a great choice  not only because of its nutritional benefits but also because a hot cup of tea warms your insides, which makes you feel good and helps relax you at the same time.
  • Unplug and go old school. Instead of lounging in the kitchen watching television or playing on the computer, shut off your electronics, brush your teeth and curl up in bed with a good book. Your mind and your waistline will thank you!

About Samantha: Samantha Linden, RDN, NLC is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition In Balance, a nutrition consulting and counseling practice in Southeastern Michigan. In her practice, Samantha works with both individuals and families that need guidance on many nutrition related issues, from weight loss to nutritional management of chronic diseases. Samantha writes frequently on nutrition topics and is also a regular nutrition educator for many local corporations and organizations. She graduated from the University of Michigan and received her post bachelor’s certificate in nutrition from Wayne State. Samantha is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as the Nutrition Entrepreneurs in Private Practice and the Michigan Dietetics Association. She also recently completed her Nutritious Life Certification and is very excited to help Keri and her team spread the Nutritious Life message.

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