You might be surprised to know one of the best ways to help yourself eat healthier has nothing to do with food. Or, at least, only indirectly relates to food. Giving your refrigerator a makeover is about more than just getting it clean and organized; it’s a mental weight loss strategy to help you make better choices about your food. In four easy steps, you can help yourself lose weight without adding another “to-do” to your diet and exercise routine:
Step One: Clean the Thing!
This will serve two purposes. First, you’ll clean part of your kitchen that probably doesn’t get touched very often. Most people only deep-clean their fridge once or twice a year1. It’s easy to overlook – until you start getting a funky smell, which is a sure sign it’s been way too long. While it doesn’t always seem like the fridge needs a good clean, the reality is the average salad drawer has “750 times more bacteria than the amount considered to be ‘clean.’” You won’t always end up sick from this bacteria, but it still poses a real possibility you could pick up something as serious as E. coli.
The second purpose cleaning your fridge serves is that you’ll be forced to come face-to-face with what’s in your fridge currently. In the shuffle of life, leftover containers and half-finished condiments have a weird way of finding corners to live in while they turn into something nasty. As you take things out of the fridge, group like items together to make Step 2 easier.
Step Two: Purge Food from Your Shelves
Some parts of this will be pretty easy: Tupperware with fuzz inside? Obviously destined for the garbage! But there’s more to it than that. Be aggressive in ridding your fridge of foods that will only become a stumbling block to you, tripping you up in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Go through this checklist and hold everything in your fridge against these standards:
- Is it expired, outdated, or old?
- How much sugar is in this food?
- How much sodium is in this food?
- How processed is this food?
- How much trans fat is in this food?
Going by this list, you’ll probably have to ditch most of your condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, salad dressings). Processed cheeses and most sandwich meats [potential link to not-yet-published 310 article about processed meats] won’t pass the test, either. And if you haven’t already cut soda out of your diet, now is the perfect time to do so!
Step 3: Reorganize the Shelves
Once you’ve eliminated the junk food in your fridge, it’s time to put everything back – but in a different place. There’s some definite strategy in where you put what foods, and how you store them, that will make good choices easier for you. Here are some recommendations about what to put in each zone of your fridge:
- Drawers: Use these to “hide” foods you’re trying to limit, if you still have some around. It’s OK to keep splurge foods available for the occasional treat, but keeping them inaccessible will make it easier for you to limit how often you reach for them. You could even get an opaque bin to keep them in: one study2 showed that snacks kept in an opaque container made people 70% less likely to eat them.
- Doors: Utilize this space to store water bottles or healthy drinks to go, and possibly even healthy cold cuts. Use the bottom shelf to put cheese, milk, and dairy to keep you from using those ingredients too often.
- Center shelves: The heart of the fridge. This is where you want to put the foods you’re trying to eat more of, right within reach. Your fruits, veggies, and meats should go here, where you can easily access them.
Step 4: Restock Your Fridge
Depending on what your fridge looked like before, it might be pretty empty now that you’ve thrown away the junk. Take a trip to the store, and focus on buying fresh, multi-tasking superfoods [potential link to not-yet-published 310 superfoods article]. Aside from that, let these bonus tips inspire you:
- Pre-prep food, especially fruits and veggies, into snack-sized portions. You’re more likely to actually eat your carrots it they’re already cut and ready to go.
- Create a “snack center” in the fridge: a bin that specifically contains pre-portioned snacks. This is a great way to help kids make good choices, too!
- If you enjoy a protein shake for breakfast, you can freeze the fresh fruit and veggie ingredients for individual smoothies in freezer bags ahead of time to make it easier to get out the door in the morning.
- It’s OK to have a few splurge items in your fridge, just don’t keep too many. And consider trading out your old treats for new, healthier alternatives. (Find out more about how to cheat right here)
- Don’t let your budget limit you! Here are five awesome tips on how to eat healthy on a tight budget.
This simple “think-thin” strategy is sure to help. What do you have to lose? At worst, you’ll get a clean fridge! At best, you’ll be setting yourself up for success to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle.