Why You Eat What You Eat
3 ways your environment impacts your food choices
While wellness-minded people make smart eating choices such as prepping meals in advance and avoiding added sugars, food decisions can be swayed by external factors. Here, three ways that your surroundings could influence how and what you consume.
A new study from Northwestern University hypothesizes that when people are in darker rooms, they don’t feel that others are judging them for food picks. This reasoning might lead to justifying options they would otherwise forgo, like an extra serving of pasta or dessert.
On the other hand, one study found that people in well-lit rooms chose spicier sauces than those who were in dimly lit ones. Researchers think that the higher intensity light might increase a desire for thrill-seeking behavior, thus resulting in the decision to amp up the spice level. This is a good thing, as seasonings like curry powder contain several antioxidants.
Research has shown that listening to louder, fast tempo music (which can be distracting) during meals tends to cause more overeating compared to softer, slower tempo tunes. Loud music places the emphasis on hearing and dulls other senses such as taste, notes Charles Spence, Ph.D., psychology professor at Oxford University, and author of Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating. Moreover, it can speed up the movement of fork-to-mouth without diners realizing it, he says. Experts recommend minimizing distractions—whether that’s TV or music—when eating, so that you can be mindful and recognize when your body is satiated.
How a restaurant displays its food offerings can be an effective choice architecture tool to lead customers to make smarter decisions. For example, a study in the UK showed that when the origin of the food and nutritional value were labeled next to the price, it positively influenced diners’ menu selections; people opted for more local and healthier fare. “If you’re not sure where an item is sourced from, it’s always a good idea to ask the waiter,” says Katzie Guy-Hamilton, director of food and beverage at Equinox.
What’s more, the eye is drawn towards items in boxes or where there’s a lot of surrounding negative space, says Orlando-based restaurant consultant Aaron Allen. Make sure to keep this in mind when selecting your entree.