Makeovers For a Healthier Home

That color on your walls, the comfy couch, your favorite plates--they all can be diet-busters. Here's how to make your home healthier.

By Dorothy Foltz-Gray


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woman on couch reaching for chips
Daniel Grill/Getty
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Ditch Those Diet Busters!

    Your house could be sabotaging your efforts to get (or stay) healthy. So before you move to bread and water rations, check out your home first: It could be keeping you seated and feasting in sneaky, surprising ways. Use this list of diet busters to help you ID the culprits and then try our simple ways to fix them.

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The Culprit: Your Comfy Seating

    Sure, having a kitchen stool is handy for the kids—and who doesn't like an armchair that can double as a bed? But too much sitting adds pounds.

    The fixes: You don't have to go for the Spartan look or spring for uncomfortable furniture. But consider moving the kitchen stool aside so you can stand up as you prep food or talk on the phone, says Edward Abramson, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University and author of Body Intelligence. And if you can't give up your double-wide armchair, just make sure to limit your time there. A 2005 Mayo Clinic study monitored the movements of 10 mildly obese people and 10 lean people for 10 days and found that the obese group sat at least 150 minutes more each day than did the lean. By standing, walking, and moving more, the slender men and women in the study burned approximately 350 more calories more per day than their heftier counterparts.

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The Culprit: You're Too Good at Multitasking

    It makes sense to park whatever needs to go upstairs on the bottom step so you can haul it up when you're headed that way. But you're missing an opportunity to make your stairs work for you.

    The fix: Skip the energy-saving measures and carry up just one thing at a time, says Abramson. You'll make more trips and the calorie burn will add up: Five minutes of stair climbing—about six trips—burns 35 calories that would otherwise head right for your midriff.

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The Culprit: A Yen for Red

    You may think red satin sheets are dreamy, but they could be encouraging you to eat in bed, says Jeorge Anne Samet, an interior designer/psychologist and owner of Interiors by Jeorge Anne in Boca Raton, Florida: "It doesn't matter if you eat off a red tablecloth, are surrounded by red walls, or eat cherry ice cream, red makes you eat more." Color theorists like Carlton Wagner, director of the Wagner Institute for Color Research in Chicago, think it's because red stimulates the nervous system, increasing appetite.

    The fix: Get blue sheets instead. In fact, think blue throughout the house. "Most people don't find blue food appetizing," Samet says. Serve dinner on blue plates, paint the dining room blue, or try Samet's favorite: "Put a blue light bulb in the fridge!"

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The Culprit: Keeping It Cool

    That ceiling fan over the dining room table; that cool breeze from the open window? Uh-oh: You're more apt to overindulge (third piece of pizza, anyone?) when you're cool, says Nanette Stroebele, PhD, a neuropsychologist researcher at the University of Colorado-Denver's Center for Human Nutrition: "People don't usually crave a steak with mashed potatoes when they're sitting in their backyard in 90-degree heat and humidity."

    The fix: "Keep the air conditioning off—or the temp as high as you can bear," says Stroebele. "It will diminish your cravings for heavy, fatty foods. A cold salad or light risotto might sound more appealing."

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The Culprit: Your Favorite TV Shows

    Maybe it feels like you're burning calories when you watch Mad Men, but you'd be better off reading the latest bestseller.

    The fix: According to a 2009 study, when 36 overweight adults at Stanford University School of Medicine cut their five-hour average daily viewing in half, they burned 120 more calories a day, about the equivalent of walking a mile. TV is the worst, says Abramson. "Basal metabolism goes down when you watch it. You're better off staring at a wall."

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The Culprit: Your Kitchen Hangout

    Do you spend all your time in the kitchen? Or is it the first thing you see when you enter your home? "Then you may tend to overeat," says feng shui and organizing expert Janet L. Hall, founder and owner of Overhall Consulting in Port Republic, Maryland.

    The fixes: Hall suggests entering the house by another door, or creating an eye-catching view in the other direction so that the kitchen isn't always the focal point in your home. "Add saloon doors or Japanese-style cloth entry hangings to obscure your view of your kitchen." If you're not heading to the kitchen (or thinking about it) constantly, the theory is you'll eat less.

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The Culprit: Eye Candy

    That cake or candy bowl you left on the counter? The snacks your kids can eyeball through the glass cupboard doors? For most of us, it's monkey see, monkey eat! "Obviously, if you have a bowl out with chips or candies, that's going to precipitate more eating than if the food is not in view," says Abramson.

    The fixes: Stash treats on high pantry shelves toward the back. "Put a bowl of fruit on the table and keep all fruits and veggies in sight on the fridge shelves," says dietician Shara Aaron, MS, RD, and co-author of the The Baby Fat Diet. "You are most likely to eat what you see first."

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The Culprit: Your Super-Size Servings

    The bigger the plate, the bigger the portions. That's true for bowls and glasses, and even silverware. In a 2006 study, Brian Wansink and researchers at Cornell University gave nutritionists larger serving spoons to dish out ice cream. No surprise: they gave themselves 14.5 percent more than they had when doling out servings with a smaller spoon.

    The fixes: Downsize your dinnerware. Try serving dinner on salad plates—or square ones, which hold less than round plates, "and use smaller silverware to slow your eating pace, giving you more time to feel full," says feng shui and organizing expert Janet L. Hall.

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