When it comes to instilling healthy eating habits, we generally tend to focus on the foods we eat and how they're prepared. However, healthy eating doesn't stop there, as there are a number of environmental factors that can influence how we eat. Paying attention to our environment's effect on our appetite can help us form better eating habits and encourage ourselves to make healthier choices daily.
"Our appetite can be influenced by outside factors," says Stacy Roberts-Davis, RD, LDN over email. "Walking around a mall and having all the smells surround you can get you in the mood for those items even if you are not hungry. Even driving and seeing a sign for a fast food chain and smelling the fries can make you want to stop."
With so many different triggers around us, it's helpful to know what we should pay attention to so we can set ourselves up for eating foods that make us feel our best and most energized. Just as we try choose the foods for ourselves that make us feel our best, we can also choose to immerse ourselves in a healthy environment — even if it means we have to cultivate it ourselves. If you want to take your healthy habits up a notch, consider these 11 surprising ways that the environment can affect your appetite.
1. Being Alone
Ever felt so bored, you turned to food as a choice of activity? A study published in Hormones and Behavior found that women who are lonely feel more hungry after eating a meal than women with strong social connections.
2. The Order Of Your Food Choices
If you're trying to eat healthier foods, you should make sure you se them first before you even think about dessert. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that when people see — or eat — healthy food first, they are less likely to consume unhealthier foods later on. If you're at a restaurant, look at the healthy menu before checking the regular menu, and if you're at home, keep your fruit and vegetables towards the front of the fridge.
3. Your Social Media Feed
"When you scroll through Pinterest or Instagram, those food photos make you drool," says nutrition coach Michelle Pfennighaus over email. Many studies show that just looking at food can increase your desire to consume more, even in the absence of hunger. And although it helps to look at pictures of salads rather than cheeseburgers, research shows that looking at pictures of high-fat foods motivates behavior more so than looking at pictures of low-fat foods.
4. What's Available Around You
"We are most likely to eat the food that is easily available," says Pfennighaus. "Proximity and ease often determine what we end up eating." Science supports this notion: A study from Cornell University found that people who left fruit on their countertop were healthier than those who kept cereal or soda out in their kitchen. If you can't see it, you'll definitely be less tempted to eat it.
5. The Color Of Your Plates
Here's a tip: Don't match the color of your plate to the food you're serving. Research out of Cornell University found that people serve themselves more food when their plate matches the color of their food, but when their plates are a contrasting color, they end up eating less.
6. Who You're Eating With
"Eating with friends and family can trigger good or bad habits," says Roberts-Davis. Research published in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that people tend to order similar food to their friends when eating out together. If your friends are ordering healthy food, you're more likely to as well, but the reverse can be true as well. "Sometimes if we see a friend eating something that isn't the best choice, we feel at times, its ok to order something unhealthy," says Roberts-Davis. "Even how fast the other person eats can trigger us to eat faster."
7. Eating In Front Of The TV
Think there's no harm eating on the couch instead of the table? Think again. A study from the journal Appetite found that people who ate lunch in front of their TV or phone were more likely to end up snacking more later. "When we slow down and are enjoying the experience, we tend to feel more satisfied," says Pfennighaus.
8. Eating In A Loud Restaurant
The ambiance of your surroundings can play a role in how much food you consume. Softer lighting and quieter music can influence you to eat less, while bright lights and loud music can make you eat more, according to research from Cornell University. A more gentle ambiance can help you relax, which may be responsible for slowing you down when you eat your food.
9. Paying With Credit Card
Cash or card — it shouldn't matter, right? Wrong. Yet another study from Cornell University found that people who bought groceries with their credit cards were more likely to purchase junk food than those who paid with cash. Using a credit card encourages more impulse buys, while using cash generally requires more planning ahead.
10. A Cold Climate
There's a reason we crave a big bowl of cheesy chili in the winter. Research shows that caloric intake increases during the colder months, and experts say it's because our ancestors were used to stockpiling for the winter ahead, according to NPR.
11. Food Labels
We've all seen those products with the words "all-natural," "organic," and "healthy" splashed across the packaging, but these foods usually aren't the healthiest options. In fact, the simpler labels are, the more likely you are to make the right healthy choice, according to studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Nutritional labels can be hard to read, so it's no surprise that simplifying them makes it easier for you to make a healthy choice.
Paying attention to your surroundings can help you make better choices when it comes to food, and it can also be helpful to be aware of your own personal triggers.
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