Chaos equals cookies: Cluttered kitchens lead to indulgent snacking

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Cut calories by cleaning your kitchen, says new study.

The folks at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab are always up to interesting studies. Director Brian Wansink and his team of university researchers toss psychology, food science, nutrition, marketing and a bunch of other disciplines into the pot and stir it all together in fun studies that are as surprising as they are relevant.

The Lab’s latest foray, "Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption
The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments,
" tackles two hot topics in one project: Clutter and cookies! Who would have imagined that one leads to the other? But indeed, the team found that cluttered and chaotic environments can cause stress … and how do people in kitchens best attempt to snuff out stress? Open mouth, insert snack.

The study began with 101 female students who were asked to write about a time in their lives when they felt either in control or out of control. Then the participants were asked to wait in a kitchen for another person to arrive – the kitchens were either clean or messy. Think newspapers on the table, a sink full of dishes and a ringing telephone. (Why does just imagining that make me want to eat a cookie?) There were snacks in both kitchens.

As you can likely guess, the women with out-of-control mindsets in the cluttered kitchens grabbed for the snacks – and in fact, they consumed twice as many cookies as the in-control women ate. (And funny us, the mess had no impact on consumption of crackers or carrots – proving once and for all that cookies really are comfort food.) In total they ate 65 more calories more in 10 minutes ... which may not seem that significant, but most of us spend more than just 10 minutes in our messy kitchens.

“Being in a chaotic environment and feeling out of control is bad for diets. It seems to lead people to think, ‘Everything else is out of control, so why shouldn’t I be?’” says lead author Lenny Vartanian, PhD., “I suspect the same would hold with males,” he adds.

In the end I'm not sure which played the heavier role, the mindset or the mess, but as the authors point out: a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, one’s mind-set in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that vulnerability.

“Although meditation, as a way of feeling in control, might be one way to resist kitchen snacking for some," says Wansink, "it’s probably easier just to keep our kitchens picked up and cleaned up."

Chaos equals cookies: Cluttered kitchens lead to indulgent snacking
Cut calories by cleaning your kitchen, says new study.

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