Designing for Right Eating

Applying environmental design research can help you make better food choices.

Posted Jun 06, 2018

The design of our physical environment influences what we eat. That seems pretty important in June, north of the Equator. It's right about now that many of us who live in North America, Europe, etc., start to shed our winter coats and wrestle ourselves into the clothes that fit so well last summer—and realize we need to better manage what we eat.

Neuroscientists have found that there are clear ways that we can use the environments around us to make eating right a little easier. Nothing beats eating fewer calories and getting some exercise for losing weight, but environmental design can definitely support your good intentions to improve your diet.

Research has shown that warm colored spaces boost our appetite. So, a lovely peach shade may be a great choice for your dining room or kitchen eating nook if your kids seem to have the willpower to resist eating absolutely everything you serve them, but it’s not as good an option if you are trying to keep your calorie intake in check.

Scientists have also found that we eat more when we have a view of the areas where food has been prepared and the food is visible as we dine. If you eat in an open kitchen or dining area, view-blocking screens may be a cost-effective way to eat a little less. 

Clutter and disorganization is stressful for our minds and bad for our waistlines. Researchers have learned that we’re likely to eat more unhealthy food in spaces that are cluttered and disorganized. Picking up pots/pans/spices/etc. after using them, washing the dishes, and placing all but a few objects in cabinets or storage containers that have sides we can’t see through is good for both our tummies and our brains. A space that’s too stark is a stressful place for us to be, so the trick is to leave a few objects in view. The exact number of items to leave out depends on the sizes of spaces and horizontal surfaces. A rule of thumb that works for many:  prune until you feel uncomfortable being in a space and then add a couple of small items back into the room.

More design-related “good eating” tips:  

  • We generally eat less unhealthy food when we can see ourselves in a mirror as we dine. 
  • When we’re looking at sculptures of very thin people, such as those done by Giacometti, we also tend to make healthier food selections. 
  • Humans are also more likely to make healthy food selections in relatively brighter, as opposed to dimmer, lighting.

Applying the insights scientists have derived into how the design of the world around us influences what we eat can make putting on shorts or your bathing suit a little easier when it is too warm for mukluks and scarves.