In the Northern Hemisphere, diet season is here again. It’s gotten warm enough north of the equator so that those of us who live here have started to wear lighter weight clothing and have ditched our heavy coats and sweaters. And nothing seems to fit as well as last year. So, dieting seems in order.

Research in the cognitive sciences reveals ways that we can use the environments around us to make dieting a little easier. Nothing beats eating fewer calories and getting some exercise for loosing weight, but design can certainly support the weight loss process.

Scientists have found that we eat more when we can see into the area where food is prepared and food is on view while we dine. If you own an open kitchen or dining area, putting in walls isn’t a cost effective options, but adding some view blocking screens can be. 

Researchers have also learned that we’re likely to eat more unhealthy food in spaces that are cluttered and disorganized. Being in a cluttered space is generally stressful for humans, so straightening up has multiple benefits. Picking up pots/pans/spices/etc. after using them, washing the dishes, and placing all but a few objects in cabinets or storage containers that have opaque sides is good for both our tummies and our brains. A space that’s too stark is a stressful place for us to be, so the trick is to leave a few objects on view—say one item on each smallish tabletop and one or two on a coffee table with a single piece of art on each wall. The exact number of items to leave out depends on the sizes of spaces and horizontal surfaces. A rule of thumb that works for many:  prune until you feel uncomfortable being in a space and then add a couple of small items back into the room.

Design can help us get healthier in other ways. We tend to eat less unhealthy food when we can see ourselves in a mirror as we dine. When we’re looking at sculptures of very thin people, such as those done by Giacometti we tend to make healthier food selections. Humans are also more likely to make healthy food selections in relatively brighter, as opposed to dimmer, lighting.

If you exercise at home, try getting out your paintbrushes. Adding saturated not very bright colors such as emerald greens to your exercise space will up your energy level, which may translate to more working out. Seeing red gives us a burst of strength, so reds are good choices for walls you’ll look at while lifting weights.

Designing for a healthier lifestyle can make losing weight just a little bit easier for some—and putting on a bathing suit less stressful when dieting season draws to a close.

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