October 20, 2018
Diets Beware: Messy Rooms, Heavy Waiters

Diets Beware: Messy Rooms, Heavy Waiters

by Berkeley Wellness  

Cornell University’s Food & Brand Lab delivers quirky yet relevant research that makes us aware of how our food environment affects when, what, and how much we eat, often to our surprise—and detriment. Here’s a look at two recent studies, published in Environment and Behavior.

Cluttered room effect. Does a “chaotic” environment make you eat more? Perhaps, especially if you’re already feeling stressed. In this study of 98 young women, half were assigned to a simulated kitchen that was organized, quiet, and without distractions. The other half were seated in an “extremely disorganized” kitchen (dishes strewn around, piles of papers, etc.), with noise (from the experimenter bang­ing pots and moving tables) and outside inter­ruptions. In each kitchen, participants wrote about a time when they felt either very in control or out of control. Then they were encouraged to eat as much as they wanted from large snack bowls (cookies, crackers, carrots).

Those in the chaotic room who had been “primed” to be in a more “out-of-control” mind-set by the writing task ate more cookies than those in the same room who were primed to feel in control, and more than those in the quiet kitchen. “Although a chaotic environ­ment may be a risk factor for making unhealthy choices, one’s mind-set in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that risk factor,” the researchers explained.

What to do: Keep distractions to a minimum when eating—and change your state of mind: Taking a moment to reflect upon a time of self-control may shore up your ability to make healthier choices and resist overeating.

Waiter’s weight effect. Does the size of your waiter influence what you order? Yes, according to this study of 497 people at 60 full-service restaurants. Diners ordered more food—particularly dessert—and more alco­hol when they had a waiter who was overweight (com­pared with a thin waiter), regardless of their own body weight. The presence of a heavy person “sets a social norm,” the paper noted, giving din­ers a kind of “licensing effect” to indulge.

What to do: You can’t control the appear­ance of your waiter, but you can control what you choose to order and eat. To lessen the effect of environmental and social cues, have in place a “predetermination strategy,” such as deciding in advance what you will order (pre­view the menu online beforehand) or using a rule of thumb, such as “no dessert at lunch”—and commit to the plan at the restaurant.

Also see How Restaurant Menus Manipulate You and Think More, Eat Less.