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Is your house making you fat?

February 15, 2012

I was perusing Yahoo news the other morning, and ran across an article that made me laugh: “Is your house making you fat?” Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but my house isn’t a sentient being, nor am I eating my house (I’m not fond of steel siding, wood, shingles, vinyl windows/doors, carpeting, or curtains for meals, ya know?). But the reasons they give for a house making one fat are just as spurious as if zie was actually eating hir house.#1: Your plates are too big

“The size of your plate influences how much you serve yourself,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. “By switching from a 10-inch plate to a 12-inch plate, people will serve themselves 22 percent more.” Think you’ll notice if you accidentally over-serve yourself? Think again. According to Dr. Wansink, on average, people eat 92 percent of the food they serve themselves, so it’s worth it to downsize your dishes.

Oh, and don’t use the bigger two-tablespoon version of serving spoon to dish out portions, use a regular teaspoon — you’ll put less on your plate. I’m still laughing over that one. Most people I know would just put more spoonfuls on their plate to get the serving they wanted.

#2: Your drinking glasses are the wrong shape

If your go-to glass is short and squat, it may be responsible for your similarly shaped figure. Dr. Wansink’s research has shown that we end up pouring an average of 25 to 30 percent more liquid into short, wide 16-oz glasses versus tall, thin 16-oz glasses because, he says, our brains tend to over-focus on the height of objects at the expense of their width. That means when people pour drinks into tall glasses, they assume that they’ve reached their drink quota sooner, since they overestimate how much a tall glass can hold. So while your stumpy glasses may be perfect for guzzling down more water throughout the day, serve the sugary stuff in something else.

Well, that explains my figure then — all of our glasses are tall and fat (and interestingly enough, they’re thinner at the base and thicker at the top, just like me, foot to shoulders). Who woulda thunk it. Are we done laughing over that one? I have more.

#3: It’s too easy to eat in front of the TV

When your dining room table becomes a drop-off spot for mail, backpacks and other non-food-related items, it can be tempting to gather around the television for dinner or scarf down breakfast while checking your email. Avoid it, urges Dr. Mintle. “I always tell people to sit down at the table to eat their meals; it will slow them down. You eat more in front of a screen because you’re multitasking and not concentrating on the feeling of fullness or enjoying the meal.” Mike Moreno, MD, author of The 17 Day Diet, suggests making your television less visible. “The TV needs to be looked at as something that’s an effort, as opposed to something that’s in your face. Turning it on almost has to be a chore.” So place it inside a media cabinet with doors or move it away from your comfiest couch so you aren’t tempted to plop down and start snacking — especially since Dr. Mintle found that food commercials often prompt people to head for the kitchen.

This assumes that everyone has a dining room (we don’t), and uses their dining table as a drop-off for everything but meals (we don’t). As for making your television less visible, yeah, tell that to the man who has a 52″ flat screen TV in his living room. I have yet to see a media cabinet that will contain one of those babies (I haven’t seen a media cabinet that will hide our 42″ flat screen TV, and I have no idea where we would put a piece of furniture that large in our small living room). And talk about stereotyping: “move it away from your comfiest couch so you aren’t tempted to plop down and start snacking.” Sorry, I don’t sit on our couch to watch TV, I sit in my La-Z-Boy rocker/recliner when I’m watching TV, and I don’t snack when I’m watching TV.

#4: Your bedroom isn’t conducive to sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to keeping your weight in check. When you’re tired, levels of leptin, which controls appetite, decrease, while levels of ghrelin, an appetite stimulator, increase. Dr. Mintle recommends working on your “sleep hygiene” to ensure you get enough zzz’s. Swap your regular curtains for blackout shades, which will keep your room darker, or invest in a noise machine to cancel out distracting sounds. Even a too-soft or too-stuffed mattress can impede a restful night’s sleep.

But let’s ignore things like sleep apnea, acid reflux, having kids, working a second or third shift, stress, and all the other reasons you may not get a good night’s sleep. None of those things influence your sleep nearly as much as your bedroom not being set up properly.

#5: Your snack foods are always within reach

When you’re hungry, you’re going to grab what’s closest, so if you take time to strategically arrange the food in your pantry, you can count on keeping off some of that excess weight. “You’re three times more likely to eat the first thing you see than you are the fifth thing you see,” says Dr. Wansink. Bury the unhealthy snacks in the back of the cabinet and place good-for-you foods front and center so they catch your attention first. And if you’re in the habit of stockpiling family favorites from warehouse clubs, be sure to relegate the extras to the basement or garage.

No, actually, I’m not. When I want a snack, I usually know what I want and that’s what I get off the shelf. If he’s really all that gung-ho on people keeping excess weight off, why isn’t he telling people they shouldn’t be buying “unhealthy” snacks at all, instead of burying them in the back of the cabinet and putting the “healthy” ones in front so you’ll eat them first? I’m sorry, but all snacks have expiration dates, and if you delay eating those “unhealthy” ones, you run the risk of having their use-by dates expire, and then you’ve wasted your money. Not something which I’m fond of doing.

And by all means, stockpile those extra boxes of cereal in the basement or garage, I’m sure the mice will love you for it, unless you can afford to buy plastic containers or metal cabinets in which to store them until you get around to using them. Does this man live in the real world, or some alternate universe where everyone has adequate means to follow all his directions?

#6: The music you play while you eat is too fast

You know how fitness experts recommend listening to up-tempo music while you work out so you’ll increase intensity? The same logic applies to eating, but not in a good way. “The faster and more upbeat the music that’s playing, the more you’re going to eat,” says Dr. Mintle. “It’s an unconscious cue to pick up the pace at meals — think about fast-food joints that play these types of songs.” On the other hand, she notes that nicer restaurants play slower music, which encourages you to linger and enjoy your meal. “If you eat slowly and enjoy every bite, your brain and stomach have time to talk and figure out that you’re full before you overeat.” So play some slow-tempo tunes to dial down your pace at the dinner table.

All righty then, I must be unusual in that I hate listening to music while I’m eating. It interferes with conversation. Even when it isn’t very loud, I find myself trying to listen to the music, figure out what’s playing, who’s playing it, who recorded it, when it came out, etc. I prefer to focus my attention on the food and the company around me, the conversation we have about our day and our lives, what’s been going on, etc. About the only time I listen to music anymore is in the car, and I’m not eating when I’m in the car (unless we’re on a trip and time is short).

You know, I really thought this article was going to be about how our houses make us fat by making our lives too easy — we have dishwashers, washers and dryers, vacuum cleaners, wall-to-wall carpet, etc, and don’t have to work nearly as hard today to take care of a house/home as we did 150 years ago. Can you imagine having to sweep floors with a broom every day; hang carpets on a line and beat them every week; boil water and fill wash tubs to scrub your clothes by hand, rinse them in a tub, wring them out by hand, and hang them to dry on a clothesline; split the wood and cook on a wood stove; boil the water to wash the dishes, pump and carry the water to do the dishes, etc?

And you know, even with all of that, there were still fat women — women who worked hard every day of their lives, didn’t have television or computers or junk food, and in spite of all that hard work, never managed to be anything other than fat. But I suppose there has to be a reason we’re fat, and blaming our houses is as good as any, amirite?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2012 10:47 am

    youarerite! (I don’t have a dining room table either) His article is also very classist. The article clearly describes a very specific socio-economic class of people. People who can afford dining rooms, and furniture to go into the dining rooms,and noise machines, and have enough pantry space to stock pile food, and money to spend on stock piling food and the square footage to have a choice as to where to put the television. And oh yes, let’s all go out and buy new stemware and dishes and just toss our old ones into the Good Will Bin so other people can buy them at ten cents a plate and let them get fat! But your final point is so accurate. My grandma lived in a tiny living space, cleaned constantly, did everything by hand, and was still fat. Imagine how huge she would have been if she had moved into a larger house?

  2. Mulberry permalink
    February 15, 2012 2:48 pm

    “You’re three times more likely to eat the first thing you see than you are the fifth thing you see,”

    The mind boggles at the precision of the research needed to establish this no-doubt very important fact.

    Dear Dr. Wansink,
    My guests keep complaining when I serve them a steak on a drink saucer, especially when there’s a tall thin glass in the middle of said saucer. They also complain they can’t reach the snack food, even though I’ve shown them it’s in bowls right behind the sugar-free candies on the top cabinet shelf.
    However, I will tell them I have the healthiest house on the block – that is, if I ever see them again.

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