One joke that I’ve heard over and over is, “I’m on the see-food diet; if I see-food, I eat it.” Unfortunately, this is the case for many of us, even myself.
One morning as I dropped off my lunch in the fridge, I noticed that there were a couple dozen donuts in the break room. I’ll admit, they looked very enticing, but I had already had breakfast that morning and knew better than to eat something when I wasn’t hungry. As the morning went on, I began to feel hungry again and thought, “Gee, one of those donuts sounds really good right now.” I even found myself trying to bargain with the idea, with thoughts like, “I deserve it. It’s been so long since I’ve had a donut. I worked out every day this week. It’s almost the weekend.” However, planning ahead helped save me. I pulled my bag of almonds out of my purse and satisfied my mid-morning snack craving.
Every time I passed the breakroom that day, the thought of donuts crossed my mind. Fortunately, my co-workers rescued me and consumed all the donuts by the end of the day. The unique thing about this story is that I hardly ever have a craving for donuts. The mere sight of the donuts caused my thoughts to be plagued by these sugary-sweet, empty calorie desserts all day long!
In his book, Mindless Eating, Dr. Brian Wansink does a wonderful job illustrating this concept. He found that when 30 Hershey Kisses were placed on the desk of secretaries, the candies placed in a clear jar were consumed 46% quicker than those placed in opaque jars. It has also been found that increased effort decreases consumption. In another study involving candy dishes and secretaries, results showed the closer in proximity the candy was to the secretary, the more they consumed. More candy was eaten if the bowl was sitting directly on the secretary’s desk or within arm’s distance than if the candy dish was placed further away, or even out of sight in the filing cabinet. Other studies in support of the theory that increased effort decreases consumption includes a cafeteria experiment that showed more ice cream was consumed when the ice cream cooler lid was left open versus when it was shut. In summary, the easier it is to obtain food, the more likely we are to consume it. Check out more detailed reports of these studies and other intriguing food psychology research.
What do we do with this information? Simple. Use it to your advantage.
If you keep unhealthy food in the house, you are going to be more likely to consume it, especially if it is left out in the open. Even if you have a good stock of healthy items to choose from, you still are left with the big decision of choosing this or that. Let’s be honest; most of the time, we do not opt for the healthier item. This is also true for our kids. Yes, our kids may like healthy fruits, vegetables and yogurt, but, when I was kid, I would always choose Dunkaroos, Gushers or Doritos any day over a banana or apple to snack on.
The reason why? It was easily accessible. Keeping healthy food easily available and in sight can help lead to increased consumption of these items. Often, our fruit and vegetables go bad in our fridge because we forget to eat them. One of the reasons why this occurs is because they are hidden in the fruit/vegetable drawers out of our immediate vision line. Keeping these types of food more visual may help. I use this trick for drinking water. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I used to be a very poor water drinker. Hydrating myself usually only occurred at mealtimes or when I was thirsty, leaving my total consumption way under my need for the day. Now, I keep a colorful water bottle with me wherever I go. It’s visually appealing, so the thought crosses my mind more often, “hey, I should take a sip of water.” Using this “see-food” trick has helped me consume adequate amounts of water each and every day.
Is your environment sabotaging your healthy eating habits or do you use these tips to work to your advantage? Understanding our environment can help lead us to making healthier eating choices on a more consistent basis.