After multiple lockdowns followed by a summer of freedom, healthy eating is something that many of us have let slide. This is coupled with the fact that we’ve been at home more often, where it is all too tempting to pop to the fridge for a mid-morning snack.
But studies show that simply by tweaking the layouts and organisations of our homes, we can nudge ourselves into healthy eating habits subconsciously.
Jade Leighton, wellbeing consultant at Ekkist, an architectural practice concerned with building healthier homes, says: “There are a number of ways in which the design of our home environments has an impact on our healthy choices.” Here’s how…
1. Set the scene
The pictures on your walls can make a difference to how much you eat. A study by the University of Bern found that when a poster depicting a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, with humans of exaggeratedly thin proportions, was placed near a snack vending machine, consumers were more likely to choose healthy over unhealthy snacks.
Meanwhile, your background beats can have an impact on the kinds of foods you pick. A new study published in the academic journal Food Quality and Preference found that on average, people preferred sweet foods when they listened to classical music compared with jazz, hip-hop or rock. Not one for the keto-fanatics.
2. Clear the counters
This enables more space for food prep, which can encourage you to make meals from scratch. “Cooking whole foods from scratch is the healthiest way of nourishing the body and avoiding things like preservatives, refined foods and inflammatory vegetable oils,” says Leighton, who is also a registered nutritional therapist at The Holistic Health Method. “Evidence suggests time spent on cooking at home is associated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables, and a lower consumption of calories and sugar.”
The only thing you should leave out on show? The fruit bowl, according to a study published in the journal Environment and Behavior that found that having fruit at arms’ length increased the amount it was eaten.
3. Create a ‘fermentation station’
The latest nutritional research shows us that healthy eating starts with increasing our gut diversity. Alana Macfarlane, co-founder of The Gut Stuff, a campaigning information website and Instagram account, has what she calls a “fermentation station” in her Hertfordshire home, where she makes kimchi, kombucha and sourdough starters once a week to help keep her gut healthy. “The more time we spend at home means more time to try things like fermenting,” Macfarlane says.
4. Deep freeze
“If your freezer is only just about big enough to store an ice tray and a bag of peas, you are not going to be able to do a lot of batch cooking,” Leighton says. “This kind of bulk meal prep is exactly the kind of thing I often recommend to my nutritional therapy clients to enable them to regain some control over their diet while also being economical and limiting food waste.”
5. Always eat at the table
Having a dedicated dining table – rather than eating on the sofa – encourages more mindful eating. “There is a large body of evidence connecting high caloric intake (particularly in children) with screen consumption during a meal. This is largely attributed to the distraction caused by a television programme or mobile phone app that leads to mindless eating,” Leighton says.
She adds that positioning your dining room table next to a window overlooking a garden can improve mindful eating. “Physiologically, we need to be in a relaxed parasympathetic state to digest and absorb nutrients effectively, this can be achieved by facing views of nature while dining, so designing your home so that your dining area is next to a window is an important consideration.”
6. Pull up a chair
Having space around your table to invite guests over is important, too. “Evidence suggests that social contact with those who are not family members is associated with making healthier food choices,” Leighton says. A 2014 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine showed that reduced social contact was associated with reduced variety of fruits and vegetables.
“Research has identified mental and physical health benefits of social eating by way of connecting people. Eating with friends, peers or loved ones has been seen to increase feelings of wellbeing while encouraging people to eat more mindfully,” adds Leighton.
7. Filter your air
Air pollution can do terrible things for your body – and also your appetite. Berkeley researchers found that exposure to air pollution could lead to a 13.6 per cent increase in body mass index (BMI) over time. The answer? Filter the air around you – either with a specific machine or by adding more houseplants to the mix.