As the host of TLC's "Freaky Eaters," JJ Virgin is known for helping people overcome bizarre eating habits — consuming only cheesy fries, for instance, or putting tartar sauce on everything from cupcakes to Jell-O.
A nutrition and fitness expert, Virgin also works with private clients to fine-tune their lives and get healthy. She recently spoke to us about one of her favorite weight loss tricks that doesn't involve dieting or exercise: reorganizing the fridge.
What is the biggest mistake people make in organizing their fridge?
One of the biggest mistakes people make in general is assuming they have willpower. We make good food too hard to get at and bad food too easy, and it's the things that are easy to get at that we're likely to go overboard on eating. If you have cookies out, you're going to eat them.
I have a teenage boy, and I've found that it's really easy to guide his behavior by what's sitting in the fridge. So I'll have cooked chicken, veggies, nuts and fruit already done and easily available. You can even buy cut-up vegetables and platters, you've got the hummus done now in the packages — it's easier that way to make good choices.
How do you make healthful food visually appealing?
How you package things makes a massive difference. Let's say you took turkey and rolled it around a veggie and put it in hummus, and put them on a cute little plate in the fridge — you're way more likely to grab that. Or you could take Greek-style yogurt, mix it with berries and put some nuts over the top.
Another mom technique is to put these things at kids' eye level. If I put something in the basket that they can't see, it will rot in there.
Another thing to think about is how much water you're drinking. I like to fill up big drinking bottles and count them. I love also water with cucumber in it — I'm always so happy when I go to a spa and they have it, but I've been making a point at home to have water with cucumber in the fridge and pour it. There's something about that that feels like such a treat.
What kinds of things can we do mentally to eat in a more healthful way?
There are things you can mindfully go do that will help keep you from mindlessly eating. I had a client who could not understand why she was not losing weight. I remember watching her prepare dinner, and she was eating the entire time — cereal or another snack, or nibbling what she was cooking. She was so totally unaware of it.
So really think about what you put in your mouth. Start using skinnier plates and smaller chopsticks, covering foods you shouldn't touch in the fridge, and you can really start to impact behavior big time.
What about swapping healthier food out for your favorite unhealthful foods?
I call that doing a lateral shift, and for a lot of people, when they make lateral shifts in what they eat, they wind up liking the new food even better. So, for instance, let's say someone is having ketchup; salsa is an easy lateral shift. For a person who eats a lot of creamy dressing, a hummus dressing is an easy lateral shift. For a mayonnaise spread, use guacamole or hummus instead. As far as drinks, trade soda for sparkling water with a little Emergen-C.
How can people find the motivation to start doing this?
Here's where they have to start: It will not work unless they have a really big reason why they want it to work. I call it the "inspired why." Let's say you want to drop 10, or even 20 or 30 pounds, you have to know that it's because you want to be able to go to that party on the Fourth of July and wear a swimsuit and not feel self-conscious, or you have to give a speech and you want to look OK. That way, at night when your evil twin is out and they go, "Just have the ice cream!" you can combat it.
You have to remind yourself of why you're deciding to make a change. I think for any change of any sort in your life, you have to have that in there. If you have a big reason, an inspired why, a goal, you can put these things in place. It really makes it easier.