How we choose
Written by on Thursday 5 March 2015
Your a sweet tooth with a candy bowl on your desk?You’ll eat six more candies a day than when they are in the drawer. What's your food trap?
Food Inspiration talked to Adam Brumberg, Research Specialist at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and Deputy Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.
The Food and Brand Lab is a department of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY that is made up of an interdisciplinary group of scientists from the fields of psychology, economy, food science, marketing, human nutrition and history. The goal of the researchers is to provide the tools for people and businesses alike to make better choices when it comes to health and business management, and to make them aware of so called food traps.
What determines our choice of food?
‘We all like to think that we use the rational actor model for making decisions; but most of our decisions, particularly those to do with food, are made based on a combination of habit and convenience. The average person makes about two hundred food related choices a day, both consciously and subconsciously. We are surrounded by food; nobody wants to consciously make two hundred decisions a day, so we just go on autopilot. Our environment, then, is a very big driver for what we do. For example, if you have a sweet tooth and have a candy bowl on your desk, you’ll eat six more candies a day than when they are in the drawer.’
Isn’t it better to ban something entirely?
‘Most of us aren’t really good at zero rules. We’re just like kids. The minute we’re told we can’t do something, that’s all we want to do. We published some research showing that, over the course of time, people who were a little more indulgent over the weekend had better long term weight loss overall, because they didn’t beat themselves up all the time and, generally, felt better about themselves.’
Are food choices difficult?
Brumberg says most decisions surrounding food don’t require much involvement. ‘You don’t think about it much, because you can make a new, better decision in a few hours. You can always start a new diet tomorrow. Part of the reason something like buying a car requires more involvement’ is you don’t do it all the time. Most people aren’t going to buy a car once every five years. They’re expensive. Long term food planning, on the other hand, just doesn’t happen. It’s a little hard for most people to make a link between “today I’m having bran flakes” and “I wonder what their effect will be my overall health in five years.” There’s a disconnection, which is why we push the notion of setting up your environment to help you instead of relying on your cognitive ability. If the healthy choice is easier, then it quickly becomes the default choice.’
Do you want to read the whole interview? Or do you want to know more about food & psychology? Read the Food Inspiration Magazine.