Kindly step in front of the mirror. A little bit closer, please. A few small steps more. Okay, that’s good. Now, what do you see? If it’s roly-poly, then “Welcome to the world’s most popular club!”
Don’t feel bad. Nearly everyone is getting fatter. According to a 2008 study by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, nearly 1.5 billion Earthlings (about one-third of the planet) are seriously overweight or obese. And given that the rate of obesity doubled from 1980 to 2008, those numbers have already inched higher.
Much has been made of the blubber epidemic. Some explanations include: increasingly urbanized lives spent sitting and gazing at computer terminals, instead of drawing water and hewing wood; greater wealth that allows more people to purchase fast food and fattening snacks; more women working outside the home leading to less nutritious eating; ‘food deserts’ in some low socioeconomic areas making it is difficult to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables; and the ‘supersizing’ of portions.
However, one factor has been overlooked: Kitchen size.
As Neil Izenberg, pediatrician and founder of KidsHealth.org, pointed out recently in The New York Times, as home kitchen size has increased, so has our proximity to food and eating cues. This near constant contact with food makes it hard to resist impulsive snacking leading to weight gain.
Over time, family kitchens have gone from being purely utilitarian spaces, often located in the basement or back of the house, to domestic centerpieces. Today, they are part of the home entertainment complex, says Izenberg. The kitchen is the hub and has merged with the living, dining, family and TV rooms, creating one great room. Many modern kitchens are decked out with restaurant-worthy appliances: dual ovens for cooking, baking and warming, grills, stand-alone freezers, wine fridges, pasta makers, pizza ovens, deep-fryers, espresso machines, ice-cream makers, bread makers and on and on…
As our surroundings have become more food-oriented, gluttony is the logical outcome. It takes a strong will to resist the persistent lure of immediate gratification. You can pass that bag of organic cheese pops on the kitchen counter only so many times before you have to rip it open like a crazed she-wolf and devour it by the handful.
There’s often a gap between our intention to lose weight and our actions which lead us to gain it. To close this gap, Weight Watchers has developed an app that encourages members with cheerleading messages and also gives tips for changing our environments. This includes putting ‘goodies’ away from plain view or making them hard to access, such as placing a bag of cookies on a top shelf. (Retailers charge manufacturers a premium to place their products in the easy-to-reach spots on their store shelves because shoppers usually select those first.)
Humans are highly susceptible to environmental cues. So aren’t we done yet with the supersizing of home kitchens? All that glorious space could be reallocated to activities that feed us in other ways. A home library, for example, would awfully nice. Or how about a wellness room for exercise or meditation. Maybe a gift wrapping room or art studio? Want to trim your bod? Then trim your kitchen reno too.