During those lockdown months, with so much time on my hands, I turned my house inside out. Literally: I threw out, cleaned up, organized, rearranged, recycled, gifted, donated — you name it.
There is something very therapeutic about getting rid of stuff that takes up space and that you no longer need. I felt physically lighter, as if I had been carrying the extra weight of all that clutter. I now know where everything is: it’s not only visually appealing, but more importantly, I feel in control of my household.
My “coaching mind” kicked in and it made me think about eating habits and how to implement the same mentality and order in connection with nutrition, weight loss, and feeling in control of your body.
I began researching and came across some studies that proved what I had suspected. Research at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute shows that the way a room is organized can have an impact on your ability to process information. Scientists found that a cluttered room led to an unfocused and scattered mind. It stands to reason that a well-organized fridge would make it easier to keep a healthy diet.
What we accumulate and how we store food both in our refrigerator and our pantry is key to being able to control what we consume in terms of quantity, portioning, and, most importantly, quality.
Through experience, I know that when hunger and cravings strike, preliminary planning, visual engagement, and strategic shelving can make or break you, dietarily speaking. Of course, like most things in life, willpower and motivation are the most important ingredients.
Healthy eating is all about preempting, buying the right whole foods, preparing ahead, researching healthy menus, but most importantly, having the right foods handy when hunger strikes. The onset of hunger can originate either from emotional issues such as stress and anxiety, sudden sugar cravings, or just the need for a snack at some point of the day that will satisfy you without ruining your health goals.
So let’s discuss the process. These are the things you will need:
- Time: A few hours, depending on how thorough you want to be.
- Cleaning products: A clean cloth and kitchen towels, an appropriate non-toxic cleaning product to wipe glass shelves, drawers and compartments, and rubber gloves to protect your hands.
- Space: A clear area to empty all that is inside your fridge.
- Trash: A sturdy trash bag or bin.
- Glasses: Your spectacles, if you need them, as reading food labels will be part of this process.
- Tunes: Some background music will make this task even more fun.
Step 1: Remove and sort. Start by removing everything inside your fridge, one shelf at a time. Once you have done this, carefully evaluate each item, deciding which ones can sabotage your weight-loss program and health goals.
As tedious as you may think it is to read food labels, being informed of what you are putting inside your body is vital to controlling your weight and general health. The FDA and local governments have tight regulations to make sure manufacturers keep their consumers informed. It is to your advantage to be aware, so carefully scrutinize the nutrition labels of all the products you find.
You are mainly looking at high percentages of sugar, added sugars, trans-fats, saturated fats, food dye, carrageenan, and sodium nitrate, to mention a few. Throw out anything with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) written on it.
Remember that if you are looking at a jar of peanut butter, for example, the main ingredient listed at the top should be “peanuts”—it should not be halfway down a list of 25 other components. This applies to every packaged or bottled food. Watch out for long, unpronounceable names, difficult-to-decipher wording, and chemical jargon. These are all cues for you not to consume these products.
The stored chocolate fondant cake from two days ago, leftovers from last week and expired food items need to go. Other items to consider removing are sodas and sweetened teas, commercially made salad dressings, processed jams and jellies, processed meat products, margarine and spreads that contain trans-fats, barbecue sauces, bottled juices, mayonnaise, and ketchup-based dips.
Once the entire fridge is empty and you have decided what foods will sabotage your health targets, get rid of them. The goal of this exercise is to make space for whole, unprocessed, healthy foods.
Step 2: Deep-clean every nook and cranny. Wipe down all surfaces. Use hot water and a few drops of Clorox to wash and disinfect all that is removable: drawers, shelves, egg holders, everything. Don’t forget to wipe the interior walls.
Having a clean and organized refrigerator, with properly displayed produce, will make fresh food more appealing when you are looking for a healthy snack or nutrient-dense food to satisfy your appetite.
Step 3: Rearrange. There are many ways to compartmentalize your food depending on your lifestyle and habits. Every appliance is built differently but there is a system to follow that will help you put things in the proper order.
Center shelves. Studies show that we are more likely to eat the first thing we see when we open the fridge door, so keep your healthy choices in the front part of the middle shelves. This is the most important space and it’s where you need to place the healthiest food choices so you will spot them right away when you open the door. It’s all about visuals. Store healthy choices at eye level and pair them together.
Some suggested foods include precut cucumbers, carrots, celery sticks and high-protein dips such as hummus, Taramasalata and fresh guacamole; fruits with low sugar content such as apples, kiwis, melon or berries to be eaten with raw almonds, walnuts or cashews; hard cheeses like Comté or Gruyère with dried apricots or figs; plain Greek yogurt, which should always be in your fridge — add fresh blueberries or sprinkle with cinnamon for extra taste.
Organize stackable containers with chickpeas, edamame, carrots, quinoa, prewashed spinach, and shredded chicken breast for a quick salad; use olive oil and lemon rather than a commercially made salad dressing.
Put your healthy drinks in the side refrigerator doors, like reusable chilled water bottles, fresh-brewed sugarless green or herbal teas, and fresh buko from the actual coconut and not from a bottle.
Forget fresh fruit juices; eat the fruit instead. Juices have all the sugar but none of the fiber and very little filling power. An eight-ounce glass of orange juice contains as much as 24 grams of sugar — that’s six teaspoons of sugar for one glass of juice!
Brew and bottle your own freshly brewed teas. If you decide to buy commercially made tea, look for options that are unsweetened from brands like Pure Leaf or Ito En.
Other healthy drinks include almond, coconut, or oat milk, and sparkling or plain chilled water with lemon slices or mint leaves for extra flavor.
Use your low refrigerator shelves for drinks that you want to consume less often, like wine or beer. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Use the bottom refrigerator drawers for fresh produce and meats—they will keep food at the right temperature.
Step 4: Maintain. Now that the big job is over, plan your shopping and meals so as not to overflow the spaces and order that you’ve carefully created.
Keep a list of foods on the fridge door and purchase items to avoid wastage and food spoilage.
Take ten minutes every week to reorganize and assess what needs to be consumed, replenished, or disposed of. This same process can be done with your pantry, where you can allow your imagination and creativity to kick in and find new ways to store and display. Here again, your awareness of nutrition labels will come in very handy for all packaged foods such as cookies, chips, cereals, etc.
If you want to indulge in “junk food,” make it at home. Use an air fryer to make your own crisps and store them in airtight containers: try kamote, potatoes, zucchini, kale, beets, or apples. Pop your corn the old-fashioned way, not in a microwave. All this takes longer than ripping open a bag of Cheetos, but you will know exactly what’s been used to prepare them and avoid all the preservatives used for long shelf life.
The bottom line is to be aware of what you are consuming by using common sense, food-labeling information, and quantity control. A whole-food, higher-density snack will keep you satisfied longer.
Remember that you are fueling your body every time you eat something. Think of your body as a high-performance trophy sports car. You want to keep the engine clean, oiled, and running smoothly, avoiding visits to the mechanic or being towed away after a breakdown. Nourish it with the best fuel you can find.
Perhaps the notion of human happiness and prosperity based on a healthy lifestyle was introduced over 2,000 years ago by the Roman poet Virgil when he wrote: “The greatest wealth is health.” He was right. Living a longer and healthier life is indeed worth every penny of your investment.