We’ve all heard the maxim “you are what you eat.”
But as research shows, you are not only what you eat, but you eat what you see. Here is what you need to know about using this research in order to build better eating habits.
In a study done in 2002 researchers set out to see if the convenience and visibility of food determined the dietary choices we make. A group of sixteen office workers were given a container of 30 Hershey chocolate kisses.
The group rotated having the chocolates placed in three different locations:
- On their desk, within arm’s reach, where it was supremely convenient to get at them.
- Inside a desk drawer, where it was somewhat convenient still but not visible.
- On a shelf where the chocolates were visible, but would require getting up and walking over to get them.
And the results?
Visibility and convenience of where the candies were placed significantly increased the likelihood of consumption:
Further, participants overestimated how many candies they ate when they were on the desk, and also underestimated how many they’d eaten when it was least convenient.
Which, if you have strict goals with your diet, just goes to show how bad we are at recalling and biased we are when it comes evaluating how much we are eating, and is simply another reason you should absolutely be keeping a nutrition journal.
How to (Better) Eat What You See
Here are some ideas for how you can use this research to improve your own dietary habits:
Put out the foods that you want to be eating more of. Not eating enough veggies? Fed up with your veggies getting buried in the bottom drawers of your fridge only to never be consumed? Bring them out from the depths of your refrigerator and put them front and center when you open the door. Fruit bowls aren’t just for aesthetics; the more fruit you have out in plain view the more of them you are going to eat.
Hide the stuff you want to be eating less of. There are some items that have no place in your fridge or cupboard. Throwing them out is the easy option for these things. But for those that you need to keep in the house make them less visible. Bury them in the drawers of the fridge. On the top shelf of the cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind.
Make it super inconvenient. If there are things you have to keep in the house, and hiding them isn’t enough, make it as inconvenient as possible for you to get at them. Put those salty snacks deep in the basement. Or in the trunk of the car. When out of sight isn’t enough, make it nearly out of reach. (I’m not judging you if you have to go to these extremes. As a sleep-eater in my own battle to get in shape I have crafted some particularly horrific snacks in the middle of the night because of sheer convenience.)
Extend This to Your Workouts
Okay, so we now how effective this can be in terms of boosting or restricting specific types of food. If you are having a hard time staying consistent in the gym, it can very well be due to not having an environment that supports your workout habits.
So why not extend this simple mental trickery into helping us better achieve the goals we have for ourselves with our workouts?
- If your gym gear is laid out beside you, are you more or less likely to put it on and go to the gym?
- If your running shoes are right beside your bed when you wake up, are you more or less likely to put them and go for a run?
Putting it all together
Achieving big things with our diet (and in the gym) is hard stuff. When we grease our environment in favor of our goals we are able to make it a little bit easier.
Give a couple of the above tactics a go, and let me know how it goes on Twitter.
Want more help getting your nutrition in gear?
Here are some articles that you will find useful:
- How to Meal Prep Like a Boss. The easiest way to take charge of your meal choices is to plan and prep them. This allows you to be proactive with your nutrition instead of always playing to your cravings and last-second hunger. We cover the full range of benefits of meal prepping, as well as some tips to make the most of the process.
- Hacking the Food Journal: How to (Finally) Take Control of Your Nutrition. Low-tech in approach, but mega high yield in results, the food journal is the ticket to more self-awareness in the kitchen. Learn how this old-school tactic can superpower your diet almost instantly.