Saturday, March 19, 2016

Free to choose

"Here's your reward" I told the student as I handed her a chocolate bar.

"Do you always have stuff like this in your office?" she asked.

"Yes.  Snacks. Candies.  My office is not for books" I chuckled at my own joke.

I rarely ever do not have chocolate at just an arm's length away.  In my office and at home.  But, even though the sweet brown thing (no, not me--I am referring to the chocolate!) is right there, it does not mean that I compulsively devour it out of some Pavlovian response to the sight.

Chocolate is but an example. Even now, I have ice cream in the freezer.  For that matter, even the tasty jack halva!  Tasty potato chips in the pantry.  A salty/spicy snack that I picked up from the Indian store awaits my attention.  But, I don't even hear any call from the sirens..

I am eternally thankful for this ability to just say no, and to eat them in moderation when I do get to them.  I suspect it is all a part of the regimented lifestyle that perhaps came from listening to the instructions that grandmothers and parents always had (even if they did not always practice them.)

It is all a structured daily existence.  From waking up during the cow-milking time to eating the same lunch on most work days to ... and, of course, a clean and uncluttered kitchen that is on the healthy side of an obsessive compulsive approach.  Research agrees:
And a study published this month in the journal Environment and Behavior points to another factor that can nudge us to eat: clutter.
"The notion that places — such as cluttered offices or disorganized homes — can be modified to help us control our food intake is becoming an important solution in helping us become more slim by design," report Brian Wansink of Cornell University and his colleagues in their write-up of the study.
"It's important to know whether a food environment can actually cause you to, unknowingly, overeat," Wansink told us.
That is not news to me by any means.  It is so intuitive.  But, of course, a scientific understanding means that we do not rely on intuition but we look for evidence that others cannot refute.

A different study also suggested a similar bottom-line:
"The results confirmed the prediction that an orderly environment leads to more desirable, normatively good behaviors," she and her co-authors write in their study published in Psychological Science.
It makes sense, if we think about it.  When a place is litter-free, we don't feel like tossing out the banana peel or the candy wrapper.  But, if we see that the street or the beach has all kinds of crap already, then we too contribute to the mess.  The inverse works--provide a clean, regimented structure, which is different from a sterile environment--and we can motivate healthy behavior.  Chocolate bars that sit in the bowls and desk drawers for days, while apples and oranges and bananas are being consumed.

This swami deserves a chocolate-break now ;)

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