Spring Clean Your Life, Lose Weight

While there haven’t been any studies I know of linking clutter to obesity, I do know that being disorganized doesn’t help. Think about the factors that facilitate weight loss: increased physical activity, eating healthier foods, good sleeping habits and a balanced emotional life – all related to an organized, clutter-free life.

The fact is that most failed dieters complain that maintaining a diet is just too much work. The amount of information and control required can be extremely difficult to sustain. This becomes especially important when your control systems are weakened – like when you’re disorganized or stressed. When distractions compete for your attention, the mental workload can be overwhelming. That alone could be the reason you fall off your diet. Therefore, you need to arrange your personal environment to maximize your chances of controlling your weight and minimize your chances of slipping up.

One of the leading barriers to increasing your physical activity is time. If your home and office are disorganized and filled with clutter, you’re probably spending a lot of time simply looking for things you need. When you get rid of the clutter, you can make room for a small exercise area and have easy access to your gym clothing so you can get to the gym. Think about it: If you spend 10 fewer minutes a day looking for things, you can spend 10 more minutes exercising.

Keep in mind, while you’re cleaning and organizing you’re also burning 210 calories per hour – not bad.

Here are a few key strategies to help you get organized and declutter:

1. Organize Your Pantry and Have Healthy Spices Available and Easy to Use

If you believe you can easily prepare healthy foods with a disorganized pantry, you’re mistaken.

  • Take everything off the shelves.
  • Get rid of expired items and foods that have unhealthy ingredients (e.g., partially hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup). “Trigger foods” also must go. These are your go-to foods that can lead to binges.
  • Clean the shelves and, if possible, paint your pantry white, or some bright color so you can see the foods you have.
  • When restocking the shelves, group like foods together and try to make healthy foods easily accessible so that you reach for them first. Several companies make storage containers and tools to help you get organized. (www.spacesavers.com, www.containerstore.com/shop/kitchen)
  • Create an easy-to-use spice section. Spices make bland foods taste great, and should be used as part of your cooking process.
  • Make sure you have the following: fat-free cooking sprays; fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth; rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar to add a lot of zing; canned beans; whole-wheat bread crumbs and flour; soups and other healthy canned foods.
  • Go through your utensils do you really need everything you have? Put things you don’t often use on a top shelf where they won’t get in your way.
  • Make sure your countertops are clean and free of unopened mail, old newspapers and magazines; they’re supposed to be for food prep.

2. Give Your Refrigerator a Makeover

Take the Fridge Quiz at www.dietdetective.com/column/refrigerator-quiz.aspx. Would you shop in a dirty, poorly laid out grocery store? Keep your fridge clean and organized into sections, just like a supermarket. Soda and juice are high in calories; try to keep water or unsweetened iced tea in the front so you grab them first. Better yet, toss the cola.

Fruits and veggies should be front and center and at eye level so you see them. Keep all the high-cal foods in the fruit and veggie drawer or in the back.

3. Be Fitness Prepared

Have a gym bag packed and ready to go. Buy a crate to store all your fitness items, including sneakers, bands, pedometer, gym clothes, fitness DVDs, jump-rope, etc. Make everything easily accessible and ready to use.

4. Organize Your Closets and Garage

Get all the areas of your life organized, including your closets and garage. Using storage bins is great, as long as they don’t serve as another place to hide stuff you don’t need. If you haven’t used something in the last two years, chances are you will not use it at all. If you do end up storing things, make sure to label and make detailed lists of what’s in each container.

And if you can’t do it yourself, find someone to do it for you. The National Association of Professional Organizers has about 4,200 members – visit their Web site at www.napo.net. You can also take a “help wanted” ad for an organizer or have an organizing party with your friends. (There are always a few friends who would love to get their hands on organizing your house.)

Charles Stuart Platkin, Ph.D., M.P.H. is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.