Whether you gave up on New Year resolutions in the first week or you’re still sticking to those ‘eat less sugar’ or ‘exercise more’ items on your list, our multisensory diet tips for eating well might offer the helping hand or motivation-boost you’ve been waiting for.
Many of us may have started the new year keen to get in shape, increase our intake of nutritious foods and/or eliminate those post-dinner sugar binges. Many of us also probably know how difficult it to stick to these healthy habits when the days are dark and evenings are cold. Indulgent, energy-dense hot meals and sugary treats never seemed so tempting!
However, did you know you can manipulate your environment, the containers you eat from and way you consume your food to nudge you down a healthier, more satisfying foodie path? Introducing the multisensory diet…
Using scientific research as a framework – a practice behind all of the work done here at Condiment Junkie – we’ve developed a handful of multisensory tips for eating well, feeling fuller, enjoying smaller portions and battling those urges to order unhealthy dishes when you go out to eat.
Brighten up your environment
We’ll start our multisensory tips for eating well in the home…
Research shows that bright lighting enhances mental alertness and cognitive performance compared to dim lighting. With enhanced cognitive processing comes a general preference for healthier food options over unhealthy ones.
When restaurant patrons ordered their food in a brightly lit room, they were much more likely to pick healthy dishes and report higher mental alertness compared to consumers who ordered in a darker room (Biswas et al., 2017)
Try brightening up your kitchen with some floor lamps and strong bulbs to encourage healthier meal choices at home. Also, opt for the nicely lit restaurant over the dim one next time you’re deciding where to eat on the high street and see whether your preference for healthier dishes changes.
Eat from heavier containers
Did you know that the weight of your cereal bowl or dining plate could influence how full you expect to feel after eating from it?
A study by Piqueras-Fiszman and Spence (2012) found that consumers expected yoghurt from a bowl with a hidden 75g weight attached would make them feel significantly more satiated than yoghurt from a visually identical but lighter bowl.
Consumers also thought yoghurt from the heavier bowl tasted denser, suggesting that container weight could also affect how the actual food is perceived.
Follow this multisensory diet tip next time you’re making a bowl of porridge or plating up some pasta by opting for a heavier dish and you might find yourself feeling fuller quicker.
Smaller containers help prevent overeating
You’ve probably heard it before – the bigger the container of food, the more you’re likely to eat – and research has shown this isn’t just for things that taste good.
In 2005, Wansink and Kim found that consumers still ate more stale, unpalatable popcorn from a large container than a smaller one, despite not really liking the taste.
As expected, participants also ate around 45% more fresh, tasty popcorn from a larger box than a medium-sized one.
Next time you’re at the cinema or pouring a bowl of sweets to enjoy in front of the TV, opt for a smaller container to avoid overeating.
Alternatively, rope your whole family into the multisensory diet by having the kids serve themselves healthy fruits and veg from larger dishes when you’re sat down for a family meal. You might find they eat more than usual!
Experiment with some multisensory imagination
Our multisensory tips for eating well aren't just reserved for food containers and lighting – get creative and refine your imagination skills with this next trick.
Researchers have demonstrated that simply envisioning what it would be like to consume delicious unhealthy food leads people to pick smaller portions over larger ones.
Participants who focused on the sensory enjoyment involved in eating a dessert – for example, the smell of it, the sound it makes when they bite into it, the texture of it in their mouth – led them to choose smaller portions of chocolate cake (Cornil & Chandon, 2016). This was in comparison to people who simply viewed images of desserts (the control group).
The researchers also found that consumers who engaged in this ‘multisensory imagery’ exercise expected as much enjoyment from the smaller portions as the control group did with larger portions.
So, when you’re feeling tempted by that gooey slice of cake sitting on the counter, take a moment to imagine the multisensory pleasure you’ll get from eating it. You might find you feel satisfied with a smaller portion as a result.
Food packaging – transparent or opaque?
Transparent food packaging does two things – it helps make the contents inside more salient (i.e. we pay more attention to it) and also helps us monitor how much we’ve eaten.
Research shows that transparent packaging can have different effects on different types of food. When food is visually appealing and small, like Fruit Loop cereals or M&M chocolate candies, eating them out of a transparent bag actually encourages consumption (Deng & Srinivasan, 2013).
Because they’re small, they don’t pose much of a threat to our self-control; it’s hard to overeat, so we give in to the temptation. The clear packaging attracts our attention to the pretty-coloured small snacks inside and leads us to continue eating them under the pretext of “just one more”.
Conversely, when eating large, visually appealing foods out of transparent packages, we’re able to monitor our consumption more easily. These large foods pose a threat to our self-control because just one or two could lead us to overeat.
The aforementioned study found that participants who were given large, attractive foods in transparent bags ate 28% less than those who were given the foods in opaque bags.
During your next trip to the supermarket for snacks, keep our multisensory tips for eating well in mind and be conscious about the type of packaging food comes in. Depending on the type, consider whether transparent or opaque bags will help deter one of those “oops, I’ve eaten the whole pack!” moments.
Multisensory tips for eating well - a summary
Hopefully we’ve managed to demonstrate how adopting these multisensory diet tips could help you feel fuller, eat less and favour healthy options over unhealthy ones.
Focus on the sensory pleasure involved in consuming your favourite treats before you start nibbling and you might find you’re satisfied with a smaller amount.
Whether you’re settling down with some sugary snacks in front of the TV or enjoying some popcorn at the cinema, stick to smaller containers to prevent the risk of overeating.
If you insist on eating straight from the packet, take note of its design – if the food is small and attractive, opt for an opaque package. If it’s big and appealing, like a gooey chocolate cookie, make sure the package is transparent so you can monitor how much you eat more easily.
Finally, to promote healthier choices at home, keep your kitchen and dining area well-lit and serve healthy foods out of bigger bowls to encourage consumption.