Can a Cluttered Kitchen Lead to Poor Food Choices?


Cluttered & Messy Kitchen

A recent study conducted at Cornell University concluded that adults tend to eat foods that are more indulgent in a cluttered kitchen. The University's Food & Brand Lab is highly respected for its research on how emotional and cognitive mechanisms influence people's food intake. Although it is well known that people reach for "comfort foods" and often overeat when they are sad, upset or feel the need to celebrate; only a few studies have addressed how disorganized and cluttered environments effect how people choose the foods they eat.

Two Groups — Two Kitchens — Two Tasks

Prior to entering the lab's kitchen area, some participants were asked to write about one of two situations: "A time in their life when they felt in control" or "A time in their life when they felt out of control". In order to examine how clutter and chaos might influence what people eat and how much, researchers had set up two very different kitchens. The first kitchen was clean, neat and tidy. The second kitchen was a mess with a sink full of dirty dishes, papers strewn from one end to the other, and a ringing phone.

With 98 female participants divided into two control groups, the women were led into a kitchen environment one at a time. Each kitchen contained the same snacks including cookies, crackers and carrots. Participants were told: "We have tons of food, so feel free to eat as much as you like." Results from the study were published in the Environment and Behavior journal with interesting results including:

  • Women in the chaotic kitchen ate twice as many cookies (53 more calories) in 10 minutes time as compared to women in the kitchen that was organized and quiet.
  • Women who were asked to write about an out-of-control situation consumed an additional 100 calories compared to those who felt in control before entering.  
  • Women who wrote about a time when they felt in control consumed fewer calories from cookies (38 calories) than did the out of control group.

Results of the University's study confirmed the prediction that an orderly environment would leads to more desirable, normatively good behaviors. Additionally, an individual's mindset seems to moderate food intake, especially for sweet foods. The difference in environments did not significantly impact the consumption of carrots or crackers.

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