It’s the damn wrappers that always get me. As if on cue. Pun intended, hang with me for a moment.
In a study set to be published in the November issue of Appetite, authors Prinsen, et. al. craft three simple yet beautifully applicable experiments on cueing people to eat. They manipulated the environment just a wee bit with interesting results.
In their first study they placed a bowl of individually wrapped chocolates (think Hershey Kisses) in the entryway of a lunchroom for a bakery. (Who knew bakeries had lunchrooms). On one occasion they chocolates were there for the taking. On the other occasion there was a second bowl with 20 of the wrappers already placed in it sitting next to the chocolates. What happened? When the bowl with the wrappers was present individual were more than 2 times as likely to take a chocolate on their way into the lunchroom. The wrappers got them.
In study #2 the researchers recreated this experiment in a lab setting. College students were brought into a lab under false pretenses and told to sit for 10 minutes prior to completing a cognitive task. The chocolate bowl from the bakery was in the room as well. 72% of the students took chocolates when the wrappers were hanging around while on 45% did in their absence. Wrappers are mean. In statistical terms, students were more than 3 times as likely to take the chocolate when the wrappers told them to.
In the final study, students were again brought into the lab under false pretenses and told to sit and relax for ten minutes prior to the study. Magazines were there for their perusal as were healthy and unhealthy snacks. The students were told to eat something as the study was investigating blood sugar. What and how much they ate was up to them. In the trash bin next to them were placed wrappers from either the healthy or unhealthy snacks. You can see where this is going. One more twist, the magazines were either cooking and food magazines or fitness and health magazines .
Students who read the fitness and health magazines had higher intentions to eat more healthily than did those reading the cooking magazines. More interestingly when empty wrappers of the healthy snack were in the trash bin 49% of students took the healthy snack while only 27% did when the unhealthy wrappers were present. When wrappers of the unhealthy snack were in the bin, 73% of students opted for the unhealthy snack. Damn wrappers.
So what does this mean and what can we do about it? Other people influence our food choices, even when they are not around. I feel this acutely when I walk around our kitchen on the hunt for satisfaction. Even though my partner is not around her influence is. There are no cookies, no chocolates, no snacks. As frustrating as this can be in a moment of need, I consider myself lucky. This is the key to the above studies, people and their choices influence our food choices even in their absence. Just the mere presence of wrappers cues us to make a choice as we, in a subtle way, consider what those who came before chose. By leaving the wrapper of a Snicker bar laying around I am cueing the next person to search for the same.
This leads me to Leave No Trace. Try as she might my partner has not yet made me into an avid outdoorsman, but one thing I have learned is that when camping leave the campsite better off than you found it. Thus, employ the principles of the Leave No Trace movement. LNT for those in the know. The seven principles of the LNT are as follows:
1. Plan ahead and prepare.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
4. Leave what you find.
5. Minimize campfire impacts.
6. Respect wildlife.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.
One can easily see how these principles can influence us and our behavior when out in the wild backwoods of Minnesota and beyond. However, I think they can be just as readily applied to eating and applied to the study mentioned above. Let’s try:
1. Plan ahead and prepare. Be ready when you walk into that kitchen. Mean wrappers are lurking everyone. Promise yourself to ignore them.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Ok, this one is hard. Ha ha. Plates do influence our consumption, so eat on small, durable one. No paper plates, they’re almost as bad as wrappers.
3. Dispose of waste properly. Yes! Properly is the key. If you are going to eat unhealthily, for gosh sake hid the wrappers. Bury them in the bottom of the trash bin. Make a special trip to the garbage outside. Tuck them under the car seat. You know the tricks. By doing so you won’t cue the next person to eat bad stuff. Take that wrappers.
4. Leave what you find. Good point. If you find bad food, leave it there.
5. Minimize campfire impacts. Another hard one, but make the decision dispose properly of those wrappers so as not to cause a wildfire when your partner comes home.
6. Respect wildlife. i.e., those that follow. Wildlife might be a very appropriate term for me when I am on the hunt in the kitchen. Respect me and throw away the wrappers. Don’t cue me, I don’t need the encouragement.
7. Be considerate of other visitors. Please! I am a victim of my environment. Please, please, please be kind and don’t let me know there are Hershey Kisses in the house. If I see the wrapper I will spend the next 20 minutes looking for where the little morsels are hidden.
Ultimately LNT attempts to encourage us to minimize our impact on the environment and others. Hopefully my LNT Kitchen Version will do the same.