The Countertop Diet for Weight Loss?

Many people with diabetes — both Type 1 and Type 2 — struggle to follow a diet that won’t leave them with spikes in their blood glucose level, or with one that might help them lose weight. Both of these goals often require avoiding certain foods, particularly snack foods that are high in carbohydrate and calories, as well as sugary beverages. While some people have no problems cutting these foods out of their diet, others struggle with the process and may find that avoiding snacks leaves them hungry and groggy.

A new study hints at a strategy that may help some people eat fewer unhealthy foods and possibly lose weight. Published in the journal Health Education and Behavior, the study looked at the relationship between what foods people leave on their kitchen counters and how much they weigh. According to a CBS News article on the study, researchers from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University took photographs of 210 kitchens in the homes of women in Syracuse, New York. They measured each woman’s body weight, then analyzed the photographs to see if they could draw any conclusions between participants’ weight and what was visible in the kitchen.

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This analysis yielded some striking results. In kitchens where breakfast cereal was on the kitchen counter, women weighed about 20 pounds more than in kitchens without cereal sitting out. Having soft drinks — regular or diet — sitting out had an even greater effect, with women weighing 24 to 26 pounds more in these kitchens. Having cookies sitting out had a lesser effect, with women weighing about 8 pounds more in these kitchens. Perhaps not surprisingly, women in kitchens with fruit on the counter tended to weigh about 13 pounds less than in kitchens without any fruit visible. Having a designated snack drawer, rather than having snacks sit out, was also associated with a lower body weight.

As we’ve noted in the past here at DiabetesSelfManagement.com, this study belongs to a long line of research on “mindful eating” by the Cornell lab’s director, Brian Wansink. Past studies have shown that people are likely to eat whatever is in front of them, regardless of what they crave and how hungry they are, and that gimmicks like plate size and bowls of soup that are automatically, secretly refilled can have a huge impact on how much people eat. Furthermore, people tend to report a similar level of satisfaction after a meal if they think they’ve eaten enough, regardless of how much they’ve actually eaten. So even though a piece of fruit may contain far fewer calories than a bowl of chips, the act of eating it in response to a craving for a snack may leave a person just as satisfied afterward.

What’s your take on this study — are you surprised that leaving certain foods out was so strongly associated with body weight? Do you think the effect of leaving foods out may be more limited than the study suggests, which is to say that people who eat unhealthy foods tend to leave them out, rather than the reverse effect? Do you think that what’s sitting on your kitchen counter influences what you choose to eat, or are you more deliberate and less impulsive about your food choices? Will you reach for an unhealthy snack — or a healthy piece of fruit — even if it’s not in plain sight? Leave a comment below!

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