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A Relaxed Environment During Meals May Help You Eat Less

Relaxed Environment During Meals

Our modern culture is all about multi-tasking – fitting in as much as possible into the least amount of time. But, unfortunately, the dizzying pace we put ourselves through leads to poor health habits, such as eating high-fat fast food, sleeping less and stressing more.

Taking time out during meals to set a relaxing atmosphere to fully enjoy the food you are about to eat can actually help you to eat less and thus lose a few extra pounds.

Dr. Brian Wansink PhD, a professor of marketing and consumer behavior at Cornell University, is a well-known expert in “mindless eating” – consuming food without really paying attention to how much you eat which leads to unnecessary weight gain. For example, eating meals while watching TV causes us to eat about 40% more than when we eat sitting at the dinner table.

“We’re a nation of mindless eaters,” Dr. Wansink once said. “We do so many things during the day that when it comes to food we can just nibble and nibble and nibble, and eat and eat and eat.”

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Dr. Wansink’s latest research finds that making a few tweaks to our eating environment can help us eat less. Wansink and Dr. Koert Van Ittersum of the Georgia Insitute of Technology converted a portion of a fast-food restaurant into a fine-dining area with soft light, mellow music, plants, tablecloths and paintings on the wall. Participants were randomly selected to eat either there or in the regular section with bright lights and sound-reflecting surfaces. The study subjects were unobtrusively monitored as they ate their food and were asked to rate their food before they left.

Both study groups ordered the same kinds of foods, but those in the relaxed environment ate less and therefore consumed about 18% fewer calories. They were also more likely to rate their food as more enjoyable.

"Spending that extra time eating a little more slowly at a more relaxed pace made a world of difference, not just to how much they ate but how much they liked it," said Dr. Wansink. "If softer music and softer lighting seem to get people to eat less in a fast food situation, why not try the same thing at home?"

Considering that the average calorie reduction of that one meal was about 175 calories – even just adopting this plan one day a week could result in a weight loss of almost three pounds over the course of a year.

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BRIAN WANSINK and KOERT van ITTERSUM (2012) FAST FOOD RESTAURANT LIGHTING AND MUSIC CAN REDUCE CALORIE INTAKE AND INCREASE SATISFACTION. Psychological Reports: Volume 111, Issue , pp. 228-232. doi: 10.2466/01.PR0.111.4.228-232