Trying to lose weight? Other than joining a gym and eating more salads, you might want to consider cleaning your kitchen. According to NPR, a new study published in the journal Environment and Behavior indicates that we stress-eat when we’re surrounded by clutter.
To test how our living environments influence our eating habits, researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab recruited 101 female undergraduates and put half of them in a neat kitchen, and the other half in a messy one filled with mail, newspapers, and unwashed dishes. Adding to the surface chaos, the messy kitchens were also filled with noisy distractions including a ringing phone and an intrusive professor.
After telling participants in both kitchens that they’d be examined for correlations between personality and taste preference, researchers gave them a writing assignment. Participants were instructed to write about a time where they felt out of control or in control. In the meantime, they were provided with an all-you-can-eat snack supply with choices ranging from healthy (carrots) to mildly healthy (crackers) to unhealthy (cookies).
Study organizers found that women in the messy kitchen who wrote about being out of control ate nearly twice as many calories from cookies—an average of 103 calories—than women who wrote about being out of control in the clean kitchen (61 calories in cookies). As for carrots and crackers, kitchen cleanliness didn’t greatly affect whether women ate more or less of them.
The study is limited in that researchers didn't assess how the writing assignments, the kitchens themselves, or the noises in the messy kitchen affected participants' emotions. However, the results suggest that spending time in a disorderly environment with a stressed mindset can trigger us to overeat indulgent foods.
“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 the study’s lead author, Lenny Vartanian, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “I suspect the same would hold with males.”
Bottom line? If you’re trying to stick to a diet, try tidying up. “It’s easier to spend five minutes cleaning up your kitchen than 24 hours trying to resist snacks,” senior study author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design, told Reuters.