Raise your hand if you’ve ever set a goal to eat better. 🙋♀️
Raise your hand if after 3 days of making this goal you slammed what was left of the girl scout cookies sitting in your pantry. 🙋♀️ (#thosecarameldelitestho)
Ah yes — a personal favorite of mine: the aspirational “I probably won’t meet this, but why not at least try” goal. These are the types of goals that require a ton of willpower, so if/when we achieve them we’re super impressed with ourselves. Now, I don’t know about you, but my track record with these goals is 1-50 (with the 1 time being me killin’ it for 3 weeks, then totally losing any morsel of discipline I had and returning to my Netflix binge while eating popcorn, Ritz crackers, and whatever else I could scavenge for dinner because absolutely 0% of me felt like cooking). Ah, yes. Those goals.
So it is safe to assume that any goal requiring willpower or discipline isn’t going to work out for me.
But as I slowly became a BBQ potato chip connoisseur I realized I really needed to change my go-to snack. The only problem is that chips are so convenient and so satisfying, and all other substitutes doesn’t really meet both of those criteria.
Basically, convenience + deliciousness = I want it.
If you know me, you know I like to make yearly food resolutions. Some are pure fun (2016 was the year of perfecting the cheesecake) and some are related to health (2018 is the year of eating more grains I can’t pronounce). So I had grains on the brain and a “back away from the bbq” mantra.
I also looked at our pantry and 👏 could. 👏 not.👏 deal.
So I threw the chips out (which was really just crumbs at the bottom of the bag if we’re being honest here) and got to work on improving our pantry organization. I took inventory of what we had and made a list of all the healthy foods I wanted to start eating that I didn’t currently have — things like freekeh and buckwheat (“wtf is amaranth?“) Then I went to the Container Store, decided I couldn’t afford it, and went to Hobby Lobby instead to get every glass canister they had (on sale for 50% off heyyyyooo).
Now, our pantry organization is as follows:
- Things I want to eat more of:
- Make them visible, at eye-level, and easily accessible | I put all the healthy foods (and generally under-consumed) in glass canisters, labeled them, and loaded them at the very front of the middle shelves with nothing blocking their view. If it was in a box, I removed it from the box and got rid of any packaging so there were absolutely zero obstacles to physically accessing the food. I did this with grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
- Things I want to eat less of:
- Block their view and make it hard to get to them | Girl scout lemon cookies went on the very top shelf where I have to get a stool to access them. Chips now belong at the back of the bottom drawer, so I have to pull it out to see them and move about 10 bottles of oil and vinegars to get them. All canned goods and boxed crackers are behind the glass jars, and since the jars are so tall and fit snugly in our pantry, I have to pull at least 3 out (I can’t just shove them around) before I can get the box of crackers; you’d actually be surprised at how truly annoying this is.
This strategy is effective because it directly alters the convenience of foods. For example, if I hide the BBQ chips on the top shelf behind a bunch of stacked cans and I have to pull a chair over that I have to step on to get to them, they’re inherently less desirable because I’ve decreased their convenience (AKA I’m lazy and don’t feel like doing all that to get a chip, no matter how delicious).
After 6 months with this method of pantry organization, I’ve come to realize that while this was initially set up mostly as a way to reduce clutter, my food habits have changed dramatically. I seriously have made more smoothies in the past 5 months than I have in my entire life just because it’s so easy to pour nuts and seeds and oats and powders into a blender with frozen fruit, especially when they’re the first thing you see and you don’t have any packaging to deal with. Also as a result our new and improved pantry organization, Zach now eats either pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews or almonds every single day when he gets home from work just because he can grab them directly from the jar and they’re the first snack he sees.
All of this made me realize that the functional design of your home is absolutely critical to achieving your goals.
I’ve read so many self-help books it’s honestly kind of embarrassing and every single one argues that willpower will never be enough to achieve your goals; goals are established through habits. The problem I’ve found with this theory is that establishing these habits still require willpower — ie. choosing the less desirable option pretty much all the time, which brings us to the other problem: that isn’t going to happen; if what I want is in front of me, imma take it.
Thus, the solution is design, and more specifically, design for wellness.
Ultimately, in order for healthy eating to be sustainable it cannot be a decision; it has to be obvious and take zero brain power. It has to be as convenient as BBQ chips– there needs to be no downtime between seeing the food and reaching for it; otherwise, your brain will start second-guessing the decision and any obstacle at all will become a deterrent to eating that food, (but you can use that to your advantage on foods you want to avoid). All of this means that pantry organization is the natural place to start when thinking critically about our food choices.
Yesterday, as we were unloading groceries, Zach was trying to put some crackers away behind the glass canisters and he commented on how annoying the pantry organization was because some of the items were so cumbersome to get to. He did this all while snacking away on nuts though, not chips.
Instances like this have me fully convinced that home wellness is a thing. The home isn’t a thing to “keep” and it shouldn’t stress you out. Instead, your home should exist as a tool to help you live better and achieve the things you want to achieve.
But if you ever want to chat this out over a smoothie, I’ve got you covered.