Is it possible to change your health behavior simply by changing your environment?
The brainy scientists say “YES!”
There’s been a lot of research into using behavioral economic principles in health and results show that if you subtly change your environment, say your kitchen, it’s easier to stick to healthy habits. It’s called nudge theory, whereby we’re basically sub-consciously nudging ourselves to healthier lifestyles.
Nudge theory, developed by Professor Thaler in 2008, is based on the theory that 80% of our behavior is automatic or mindless, and that can be used to our advantage to change our decision-making around food and eating, without making anything forbidden.
The idea is just to make the healthy option the easier option. And let’s face it, we have enough to deal with in our busy lives, so where we can, we’ll always take the easier option. It’s the path of least resistance.
Here’s how you can use nudging to make your kitchen a healthier haven:
1. USE SMALLER PLATES AND GLASSES
Our plates and glasses have become SO much bigger over the years.
Don’t believe me?
Next time you’re at a restaurant, have a look at the size of your wine glass…they’re mini fishbowls, able to hold half a bottle of wine nowadays. Dinner plates have also expanded over the years. In the 1970s the average dinner plate was 7-9 inches in diameter, today the average dinner plate is a bloated 11-13 inches in diameter.
The problem is that we are visual creatures and our brains will automatically want to fill an empty plate, no matter if that plate is small or large.
So why not use a smaller plate and make it look full (and satisfying), than a larger plate and either over-fill it or have the right amount and the plate looks sparse and unfulfilling.
Also, you’re likely to crave less if you see less. Smaller plates will help you with your portion control — an especially good strategy for those all-you-can-eat buffets.
This is a great way to eat the right amount of food to feel satisfied but not stuffed, especially if you suffer from ‘Clean-Your-Plate’ syndrome. Remember, you can always go back for a second helping if you’re still genuinely hungry; no deprivation here!
The shape of your crockery can play an important role in how much you consume too. Short wide glasses make us over-pour compared with tall slim glasses.
Researchers at Cornell University undertook an experiment to prove just this by asking professional bartenders to estimate their pouring into both long and short glasses. The result was that the majority poured up to 30% more into a short-wide glass.
This shows that we make pouring decisions based on the height of the liquid in the glass, and the short-wide glass gives the illusion of containing less liquid so we overpour in it. Something to bear in mind when you’re filling your glass of alcohol or juice or soda. Pick a tall glass for everything other than water.
2. CLEAR THE COUNTERS EXCEPT FOR FRUIT AND WATER
Keeping your kitchen counters free from clutter and tempting snacks…hello cookie jar…has that ‘outta sight, outta mind’ MO to it. That’s not to say you can’t have the cookie, but as I said, we are visual creatures and our appetite gets stimulated by what we see, whether we’re hungry or not. Also, when you’re in a rush and just want to grab something quickly, having it out on the counter is the easiest route, so why not make it a healthy option with an inviting and colorful bowl of fruit or jar of nuts?
Another tip is to have a pretty pitcher of water on the counter too, especially if you don’t drink enough water. It’s common, but when you’re dehydrated, your body can sometimes mistake this for hunger, so it’s important to drink enough water throughout the day. A pitcher on the counter is an easy go-to solution.
3. LIGHT IT UP
Colors and lighting can also affect the way you eat. Soft lighting provides too much of a comfortable environment, where you’ll want to linger longer for an extra helping, spontaneous dessert or another drink. That’s why restaurants provide this cozy vibe, so you stay awhile and consume more. So, in your kitchen, bring up the lights.
When it comes to the wall color, neutral is nutritional. Light colors such as white, beige and light grays can make a small space seem larger and less cluttered, which in turn evokes a feeling of calm. Great for mindful eating! According to feng shui principles, a neutral kitchen brings stability and harmony to your cooking space.
4. USE FROSTED JARS
Jennifer Kurkoski, Head of People Analytics at Google, helped overhaul their employee eating habits by using a carrot instead of a stick to do this. Using one of the principles of behavioral economics, they continued to offer Googlers free snacks such as M&Ms, but they moved them from clear jars to opaque jars, while keeping the healthy snacks in clear jars. With the candy still available, but now “hidden”, Googlers had to go searching for them, meaning more effort. This resulted in a staggering 3 million fewer calories from candy in less than 2 months in their New York location alone. Remember, we’re not only visual creatures but we choose the path of least resistance.
Simple. Effective and still no diet deprivation involved!
5. EYE-LEVEL HEALTHY FOODS
Aim to keep your fresh produce, such as vegetables, dairy, lean meats and healthy snacks at eye level in your pantry and fridge. It’s the first thing you see, and that’s usually what you end up going for.
Food manufacturers know this all too well. Walk down the cereal eye and see how many sugary kids’ cereals are lower down…at your kids’ eye level and within an easy reach of young hands.
Keep unhealthier foods such as candy, chocolate, cookies, sodas on higher shelves in your fridge and pantry so it takes a bit of effort to see and reach for them.
When it comes to healthy choices, think “location, location, location!”