Good Ambiance Induces Good Eating Habits, Study Shows

In Savor, Thich Nhat Hanh and I advise that people eat more mindfully in order to control their weight, (and achieve other health benefits). When we eat mindfully, we become more aware of our feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, and what’s going on around us. We notice how our surroundings affect the way we eat and move.

Research over the past few years indicates that when people eat mindfully, they tend to chew more, eat slower, consume fewer calories and lose weight. A recent study by Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University explored how businesses can promote mindful eating among their clientele by altering the environment.

Researchers converted half of a Hardee’s restaurant into a fine dining room. They insulated the area to reduce sound reverberation, dimmed the lights, played jazz music, lit candles and covered the tables in linens. Patrons were waited on and even frequently asked if they’d like to order more food.

Compared to their counterparts in the normal Hardee’s dining room, characterized by bright lights, colors and sounds, these unknowing participants consumed 175 fewer calories.

“They ordered a similar amount of food, but they ate more slowly and left more on their plates… Loud music and bright lights accelerated one’s food consumption, and soft music and soft lights decelerated consumption. Even when people stayed longer, they ate less,” said Dr. Wansink.

Why might a relaxed environment stave off over eating? This study found patrons eating slower, which likely increased their enjoyment of the food and allowed their brains to catch up to their stomachs. When we eat quickly, the signal for “stop I’m full" doesn’t reach our brain in time for us to act accordingly. 

“Debriefings indicated that because they were taking more time as they ate, their food tended to lose its appeal, so they stopped eating—indicating they might have been more responsive to internal cues than external ones… However, after they finished their meal, they rated the food as tasting better than did those in the loud, colorful, main dining room,” Dr. Wansink added.

One of my favorite perks of mindful eating: enjoying each bite. Diners who ate in a relaxed environment were more satisfied because they took the time to savor their meal. When we are present with our food, our senses awaken to the flavors, textures and aesthetic beauty of each morsel.

I challenge you this week, to bring this finding into your home or office. Allow yourself a relaxing meal in a comfortable environment void of excess stimulus, bright lights and noise. Surround yourself with soft lighting, music and colors. Notice how you feel physically and mentally after eating and share with us whether you had a similar experience as the patrons in Wansink’s study.

Since we eat a few times a day, mindful eating allows us to deepen our mindfulness practice so that we can enjoy life more deeply and stick to our intention of living healthier. Far more enjoyable and sustainable than any diet, mindful eating can be your permanent weight loss buddy. It will help you to appreciate and honor the food you eat while savoring every bite.

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