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Messy Kitchens Lead to Over-Snacking

A cluttered, messy kitchen may lead to over-snacking, according to a 2016 study by Cornell University scientists. In the study, researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab concluded that a combination of stress and a chaotic environment leads to less healthy food choices and more snacking.

For the study, researchers analyzed the behavior or 101 female undergraduate students. Subjects were asked to wait in a standard clean kitchen or a “chaotic kitchen” staged with dirty dishes, newspapers on the table and a ringing telephone.

At the beginning of the study, participants were asked to write about a time when they felt exceptionally in control or exceptionally out of control. They were then given cookies, crackers and carrots to taste and rate. After rating the food, subjects were told they could eat as much as they wanted while they waited in the kitchen.

“We found the more cluttered and confusing an environment was, the more people ate,” says co-author Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab. “It made them anxious, and when they got anxious, they ended up eating more cookies.”

The women in the chaotic kitchen who wrote about being out of control ate twice as many cookies (65 calories more) as the women who waited in a quiet, organized kitchen. However, the women in the chaotic kitchen who wrote about being in control ate about 50 percent less than the ones who wrote about being stressed. The chaotic environment did not have an impact on how many carrots or crackers the women ate.

The results show that while the chaotic environment triggered feelings of stress, the desire to overeat could be offset by a relaxed, in-control mindset.

“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?’” said lead author Lenny Vartanian, associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Researchers believe, however, that taking the time to recall a less stressful time in one’s life can help resist the urge to overeat caused by chaotic environments and situations.

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

Featured Image: Gareth Saunders, Flickr Creative Commons

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