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 ;)


Anne in Salem said...

Moderation is divine, if taken in moderation, especially when chocolate is involved.

Though I respect Wansink tremendously and am impressed by his work, I am not clear on the relationship between clutter and overeating. I'd read an article about that study earlier and puzzled over it just as much as today. Seems a simpler solution to tidying the kitchen may be simply not to work (other than cooking) in the kitchen.

I find clutter stressful for another reason. Clutter means I have unfinished business - laundry to do, dishes to clean, mail to sort, bills to pay, detritus to clear, whatever. I find clear counters far more calming than clutter. If only I could convince the kids of the same.

Sriram Khé said...

A clean and organized kitchen *after* work has been done there is different from a clean and organized kitchen that has not been used at all. One of my favorite jokes is that some of the tasty foods I have eaten are at homes with old kitchen stuff, whereas all the upgraded latest gizmo kitchens are rarely used and if used don't have the tastiest foods either. The key, I think, is in not outsourcing the daily activities that contribute to health and well-being: cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

Stress, including that from clutter, makes people eat much. Particularly eating the wrong kinds of things at the worst times.

All these are why I remain all the more convinced that it is not the calories and fat and everything else ... instead, it is the overall approach to life, and to develop a structured life. Once the structure is there, the rest fill in. It is like what I tell students--once they understand, the grades automatically kick in, but a focus on the letter-grade won't always lead to a greater understanding ;)

Mike Hoth said...

What? You give out chocolate to students?! I never heard of this. Is it only to the cute girls?

I do find that I eat a lot better when I have a clean kitchen with room, partly because I feel like I have less work to get done if I want to cook. If there's a pile of dishes in the way or laundry to do, or job hunting has been particularly tiring, I'm more likely to toss something in the microwave.

Ramesh said...

Yes Mike. Its only for cute girls. Especially if they are called Mallika :):):)

What is a kitchern ? Ha Ha Ha

Sriram Khé said...

Mike and Anne might not know about this "Mallika" theme in the blog ...
So, here is one from the past:

Anne in Salem said...

Mallika? I thought it was red-heads . . .

Sriram Khé said...

Mallika, redheads ...
when it is about men, it is Clooney, bearded Cooper (Bradley, not Gary), ... but then nobody seems to care when I comment about awesome looking men

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