Slim By Design: How to Change Your Environment (and your waistline)

Slim By Design

Is your house making your fat? It's possible that the urge to reach for a cookie instead of an apple or to dig into second and third helpings really isn't our fault. According to food psychologist Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, our environment is the biggest predictor of whether or not we have healthy eating habits. He's identified what he calls the "five zones" where most of our eating and food choices occur — home, favorite restaurants, workplace, grocery stores and our kids' schools. In his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (William Morrow), he explains how each affects us and how we can take more control.

How is this book different from a typical diet book?

Most diets purport that the only way to get slimmer is by using willpower. They tell you that you need to follow a specific food plan, cut this out, count calories. And if you actually have the willpower to do all that, you probably will lose weight. But for the other 90 percent of us, it's not going to work. Instead, we need to rearrange our lives and our environments so that the things that cause us to overeat are modified or removed.

Why is our environment such a powerful influence?

We think we're smarter than the things around us — and that the size of our plates or location of fruit in the kitchen will have nothing to do with how we eat. But environment is a major force. And that's actually a great thing, because it's something we can change. If eating better was all about willpower, most of us would be in big trouble.

Changing our environments actually sounds like a pretty daunting task. Can we really make enough of a difference to affect our eating habits?

There are several really simple changes you can make to your surroundings that can have a huge impact. For example, in our research, we found that people who had a fruit bowl on their kitchen counters weighed an average of eight pounds less than neighbors without one, that dividing your grocery cart in half leads to buying 23 percent more fruits and vegetables, and that workers who kept a candy dish two meters away instead of on their desk ate 48 percent less.

But what about environmental forces we can't control — like what’s served in our kids' school cafeteria or how large a portion you get at a restaurant?

The bigger idea of the book is empowering people to get others to change. We want this to become a movement that reaches well beyond the book. That's why we’ve included sample letters that you can send to restaurants, schools and grocery stores, to encourage these places to help you be "slim by design." We also have sample tweets and other ways to reach out to help you affect change.

Where's the best place to start trying to make your environment 'slimmer?'

Start at home. You can download a 10-point scorecard to rate whether your home is making you fat or slim by design. If you only score a 3 out of 10, there are 7 things you can do right away to change it. For example, start plating food in the kitchen instead of bringing serving bowls to the table, turn off the TV during dinner, and organize your kitchen counters.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

Next Up

One Small Change: Eat Healthier All Year Long by Changing Your Food Environment

Have you kept your new year's resolution? Find out how small changes to your environment can have a big impact on your health.

Diet 101: Slim Fast

Meal replacement diets like Slim Fast were all the rage in the 1990s. You might remember friends and coworkers whipping out cans of the liquid shakes during lunch breaks. So are liquid meal replacements a thing of the past or can they be a healthy way to lose weight?

Gina Neely's Slim-Down

Gina Neely shed 20 pounds in 12 days; find out about the simple lifestyle changes she made.

Breakfast Changes Lives

We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but a new study show just how important breakfast is for kids.

Design a Spread

Hot Tips From Food Network Kitchens' Katherine Alford: Combine a soft cheese with chopped nuts, seeds or dried fruit to make a quick sandwich spread.

6 Healthy Pasta Salads to Save Your Waistline

These better-for-you recipes prove that, with a few easy modifications, you can take a scoop of classic potato salad without derailing your healthy lifestyle.

Ask the Experts: Change a Habit, Change Your Health, Part 1

Get nutrition experts' opinion on easy changes that will make a major, healthy impact on your life.

Ask the Experts: Change a Habit, Change Your Health, Part 2

Get nutrition experts' opinion on easy changes that will make a major, healthy impact on your life.

7 Vegan Recipes That Change Everything

No meat, no cheese -- no problem!

Related Pages