Your environment matters when it comes to fostering good eating habits.

Your environment matters when it comes to fostering good eating habits.

Long gone are the days when all our meals were consumed at the kitchen table. Now we are noshing all over the place, be it the office desk or idling at a traffic stoplight. And research shows that if you don’t take certain measures to foster better eating habits in different environments, it’s less likely you’ll maintain your race weight. It’s not only what you eat, it’s how you eat that counts. Here are some steps you can take to hack your eating situations to remain on good terms with the scale and stay in tip-top shape.

Kitchen

Scale down
Studies show that we tend to eat everything on our plates, even if we are no longer hungry. So if you’re in need of trimming some calories during the impending winter off-season, stock your kitchen with smaller plates and bowls. If you start out with smaller-sized serveware, there’s only so much you can pile on, so you’ll end up consuming fewer calories overall.

Clean up
Research in the journal Environment and Behavior found that being in a kitchen that looks like a clutter bomb went off can lead to eating more snack-style foods such as chips. A messy kitchen may lead to feelings of stress that can cause you to let your dietary guard down. Wash the grimy dishes in the sink and throw away those spent energy bar wrappers on the countertop.

Front and center
A study in the journal Health Education and Behavior Journal found that people who keep fresh fruit on the kitchen counter weighed about 13 pounds less than those whose kitchens are fruit bowl-free. By keeping healthy items like fruit highly visible, it’s more likely you’ll eat these instead of reaching your hand into the cereal box or cookie jar.

Restaurants

Out of the dark
When dining out, it’s a good idea to seek out establishments that don’t dim the lights. A study from Cornell University Food and Brain Lab found that patrons who eat in a well-lit dining room often select healthier menu choices. The researchers surmise that we are more alert when the lights are turned up, and that can lead to more healthful ordering decisions.

In plain sight
When entering a restaurant, make a beeline for the table by the window. Cornell University research discovered that people sitting by windows or at high tables ordered healthier meals and were more likely to skip dessert compared to those hiding in booths. Being more visible and/or sitting in a more upright, alert position may make you more aware of the importance of opting for the salmon salad instead of the fish and chips.

Order ahead
Walking into a restaurant and ordering lunch on a whim might not be the best way to prevent the meal from having waistline repercussions. An investigation published in the journal Appetite found that when people are able to preorder their lunch meal online, they ended up selecting meals with 115 fewer calories and 5.4 fewer grams of fat, on average, than when lunches are purchased in person. Deciding on what to order online instead of at the request of a server reduces temptations like sensory cues (oh, that smell of freshly baked pizza) or the chances of being upsold unhealthy sides or desserts.

Office

Mindful eating
Lunching “al desko” while punching away at the computer could set you up for winter weight gain. British researchers determined that those who eat their lunch while working on the computer end up eating more cookies 30 minutes later than those who eat their lunch minus the distraction. Your electronics keep you distracted, so you’re less apt to be aware of your body’s satiety cues and how much food you eat. So make your lunch break also a break from your gadgets.

At arm’s length
Researchers at Cornell University found that people eat nearly 50 percent more candy when it is on their desk than when it is several feet away. Visibility and convenience makes it easy to forget about portion control. Keep vice foods in the break room and populate your desk instead with healthier fare like sliced vegetables and roasted chickpeas.

Grocery stores

Bring cash
A Journal of Consumer Research study found that shoppers are more prone to making impulse purchases of less nutritious foods when they pay with plastic instead of paper. You’re less likely to think twice about dropping that bag of chips into your cart if you don’t have to suffer wallet pain by parting with the set amount of cash you have on hand.

Munch then shop
Nibble on a healthy snack before spinning your wheels at the supermarket. Shoppers who crunch their way through an apple shortly before purchasing their groceries end up selecting 25 percent more fruits and vegetables, according to researchers at Cornell University. And if your stomach is not growling, you aren’t as likely to fall prey to the chocolate bars looming over the conveyor belt.

Read the fine print
A number of studies show that we can easily fall prey to packaging claims such as “natural,” “fitness” and “organic,” which can lead us to overeat foods that are wrongly sold as saintly. See past the marketing hype and front-of-label claims and read what matters most—the nutrition numbers and ingredients—so what goes in your grocery cart really is the best option.

Car

Plan ahead
If a harried schedule necessitates the need to munch while driving, don’t go from container to mouth. It’s difficult to gauge how much you’re actually eating when you’re reaching into a seemingly bottomless pit of trail mix or crackers. A better strategy is to portion out individual servings beforehand so you’re less apt to go back for “just one more handful.”

Living room

Turn it down
If you’re eating with your tush planted on the couch, be sure that the television isn’t blaring. Research from Brigham Young University shows you may overeat when loud noise drowns out the sound of your chewing. The sound of crunching on your grub can make you more aware of how much you’re eating, which helps you feel full and eat less.

Fast forward
Researchers have found a clear link between food advertising and food consumption. Exposure to ads, which are rarely for nutritious foods, can ramp up cravings that can lead to poor dietary choices. So consider DVRing your favorite shows, which lets you buzz past any commercials to help halt temptation.