Yes, you need to consume more calories when there is a bun in the oven. (About 300 daily in the second and third trimesters, in fact.) But eating can quickly spiral out of control if what you’re shoveling into your mouth is closer to Apple Jacks than real apples. While everyone knows spending too much time in drive-thru lanes ordering combo No. 3 will lead to nutritional and weight gain-related repercussions, there’s often a sneakier culprit behind poor eating habits: a toxic kitchen environment.
Yes, everything from lighting to serving habits can have a huge impact on your diet. In short, what’s happening in your own home could be derailing your healthy eating intentions without you even realizing it. The good news is that research shows just a few subtle alterations to how you set up this living space are all that’s needed to keep your pregnancy diet on track.
We get it: You’ve got places to be and things to tick off your to-do list, but research suggests that getting in and out of the kitchen in short order by scarfing down your food could lead to overeating. Case in point: A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found people who ate their lunch in a blazing nine minutes consumed an average of 88 more calories—and felt less full an hour afterward—than those who enjoyed their meal at a more leisurely 22-minute pace.
Eating your grub at a slower speed makes you more mindful of just how much you’re ingesting and gives your brain a better chance of sensing fullness, so you’re less likely to stuff too much in. Extra chewing might also trigger the release of hunger-quelling hormones.
Try implementing mealtime strategies that force you to eat more like a sloth. Ideas include avoiding distractions (like your Instagram feed), embracing sit-down family meals, placing utensils down after each bite and thoroughly chewing your food, and fumbling with chopsticks, which will surely keep you from fast and furious eating. You can also try playing some mellow beats when chowing down—human behavior tends to mimic the type of music playing. Just keep the volume low: a recent study found that people ate more when they couldn’t hear themselves chewing, and louder music can lessen the sensory experience of eating.
If you’re prone to pregnancy snack attacks, make sure to keep your vice foods out of plain sight.
In a recent study performed by researchers at Cornell University, people who often left snack-style foods (like boxed cereal and cookies) out in the open on their kitchen countertops were more likely to pack on unwanted pounds than those who stashed these items away. In separate research, volunteers who had to walk 6 feet to get their hands on some candy ate about half as much as those who placed it within arm’s reach.
On the flipside, people who kept a bowl of fruit visible in the kitchen weighed on average 13 pounds less than those who didn’t. It’s easy to build up an appetite for things we can see or obtain with minimal effort. We’re more inclined to eat the food on display rather than foraging in our cupboards looking for something to munch on.
It all comes down to eating what is easiest to get at when the hunger monster strikes, so sequester junk foods in your cupboards and the back of the refrigerator, which helps reduce temptation. Replace these with less damaging nibbles like a bowl of grapes on the countertop or bag of baby carrots placed front-and-center in the fridge. You’ll trim calories while netting more vital nutrients for mom and baby.
A kitchen that looks like a clutter bomb went off could lead to diet meltdown. A separate 2016 Cornell study found that people who were forced to wait in a chaotic kitchen scarfed down twice as many cookies from a bowl than those who spent time in a spick-and-span kitchen. A messy kitchen can lead to feelings of stress and being out of control, which may then stimulate hunger and excessive eating.
To help put the kibosh on unhealthy snacking, work at keeping your kitchen tidy instead of in disarray. That means saying sayonara to random bills and a sink full of grimy dishes, and bonjour to a greater sense of self-control and better resistance to temptation for nutritional landmines. After all, housework is like exercise, right?
Downsize your dinnerware
According to the results published in the International Journal of Obesity, adults consistently eat 92 percent of the food placed in front of them, even if it is more than they need to satisfy hunger. And because portions have ballooned in recent decades, being a member of what the researchers call “the clean your plate club” could bring about unwanted weight gain.
To that point: A Dutch study found that when participants were given a large sized bowl, they served themselves 77 percent more pasta than when they were provided with a bowl nearly half the size.
It seems we eat more with our eyes than our stomachs, so consider outfitting your kitchen with smaller sized dinnerware. This could mean replacing those lofty 12-inch dinner plates that are the norm with more diminutive 8- or 10-inch salad plates. Because you are still eating a plateful of food, you’ll trick your brain into thinking it’s just as satisfied with less.
And consider making those plates red. A study published in the journal Appetite discovered that people consumed less when food was placed on a red plate than when served on a blue or white one. The study authors speculated that because we have learned to associate red with danger and stop, it could act as a cue for consumption control. Adorning your dining area with red placements and napkins may also work to curtail calorie intake.
Power off gadgets
In this digital age, too often our smartphones are part of the table setting. But you should know that distracted driving isn’t the only hazard to your health. Research from Northwestern University in Chicago found that being exposed to blue-enriched light like that emitted by digital sources before and during meals can increase hunger and may spiral into overeating. Staring at a screen when you should be looking at what’s on your plate may stimulate brain regions that regulate appetite and mess with internal hunger cues.
In a separate British study, people who ate lunch while distracted by a task on a computer felt less full and consumed about double the calories than those who noshed undistracted. Anytime your brain is elsewhere when eating, you’re munching mindlessly—a hazard to not registering how much you have eaten.
Think of electronic gadgets like your elbows, and keep them off the dining table. Instead, focusing on the sensory aspects of your meals and snacks, such as the taste and texture, can help your body better register fullness. The latest “The Birth Hour” podcast can wait.
Keep your distance
At your next meal, try this suggestion from Cornell University: Keep extra food away from the dining table. The scientists found that when subjects kept serving dishes that included pasta and pudding off of the table, meaning they had to serve themselves from dishes on the kitchen counter or on the stove, they ate an average of 20 percent fewer calories. The less effort it takes to eat, the easier it is to shovel it in. But if food isn’t on the table, you’re more likely to pause and ask, Do I really need a second helping of meatloaf?
Dole out a portion of food onto a plate or into a bowl, and then place the rest away from the table. The visual cue of a clean plate will help signal that you may have had enough to eat. This also applies to snack foods like nuts where it’s best to portion out a reasonable amount and then put the rest away.
Eat on the bright side
Mood lighting might be romantic, but it’s not great for maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight.
A study in the journal Appetite discovered that people who unknowingly received super-sized portions while dining in a dark room took in 36 percent more food than their counterparts who were provided smaller portion sizes. Despite the differences in calorie intake, appetite for dessert and level of satiety were unaffected by how much they had consumed. Eating in a dark kitchen can make you less aware of the amount of food you’re taking in, which can fool your fullness cues. Dimmer lighting may also loosen your inhibitions about eating too much.
Because brighter lights make it easier to see how much you’re eating (and feel a little more red-faced when gorging or succumbing to temptation), turn up the lights instead of setting the mood with candlelight.