Do You Struggle with a "See the Food, Eat the Food" Diet?

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

A new study suggests that the food we leave out on our countertop is probably a strong indicator of our body mass index or BMI, especially for women.

In part one of the study, 500 households in Syracuse, New York, were asked to take an inventory of their kitchen food items and also provide their height and weight for BMI determination.

Part two of the study examined 210 kitchens in Syracuse, New York, and observed that in kitchens where fruit was the primary countertop food item displayed, women tended to be closer to a healthy, normal weight, compared to women who had soda, snacks and boxed cereal on the counter (available for grazing), who tended to be heavier.

The lead researcher, Dr. Brian Wansink from Cornell University suggests that cereal, with its health halo, can lure you into thinking that handfuls a day are a healthy habit, when, in fact, you are basically losing control and usually grazing all day on unhealthy cereal options. Having this kind of food visually available, lures you to keep snacking, lose control over your caloric intake, and gain weight.

He concludes that if your “visible foods” are energy-rich (high calorie) foods, your BMI will likely skew high.

Do like the skinny do

People who tend to be lean and not invested in food, tend to keep food behind cupboard doors. This means there’s less temptation when you’re bored, emotionally upset or anxious, or when you feel like you deserve a food reward. It’s much harder to access willpower to overcome a craving if food is tempting and available. Food on the counter that is high calorie or enticing puts you on the “see it and eat it” diet.

Dr. Wansink also observed that women with normal BMIs tended to keep designated pantry areas where snack items are stored, and were less likely to buy family or large size food packages, compared to individuals who are obese. These findings are not very surprising but clearly showcase that mindfully deciding to swap out unhealthy habits and cues with healthier strategies can have a direct impact on your BMI. Obviously these healthier habits need to permeate your home, workplace and even cafeterias and school lunch halls where food cues can instigate unhealthy and excess eating.

It’s also common to grab food on-the-go, so if you’re going to have food out on the counter, use a small bowl and choose from items like fresh fruit or single nut packs or other healthy portion-controlled food items.

We are bombarded with an abundance of food, easily available, in large portions, and most of us have no clue as to how much we eat in a given day. Treats have become a daily component of our diet, and entire meals we consume are actually treats because of their fat, sugar, and salt content. We eat to treat stress and we have become very sedentary. To avoid weight gain you need to eat mindfully and minimize your food exposures. Choose to keep food out of sight!!

Quick tips:

  • Keep tempting food out of sight completely

  • Buy tempting food in limited quantities and only have a few choices in portion-controlled packages

  • Keep a fruit bowl or single pack nuts out for quick grab snacks on-the-go

  • Do not depend only on willpower. Create a lean food environment.

Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity, doi.10.1177/1090198115610571

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”