Studies have shown that the proximity of food to an individual, rather than their personal preferences, has the greatest impact on what they eat. In a study in 2014, two scientists tested this theory on 56 participants. Despite having tempting buttered popcorn only 2m away from them whilst they sat on the sofa, all 56 decided to opt for the closer option of apple slices which were within easy reach. When the bowls were switched, all 56 chose the closer buttered popcorn option. The results highlighted that whatever food was closest to them was their preferred choice. Therefore, keeping low calorie food closer to you will reduce your total energy intake. Think having a bowl of sugar snap peas beside you as you watch TV, rather than crisps.
In another study, the same scientists tested whether visibility would make a difference on what we snack on by using bowls of carrot cuts and apple slices. The main differences were the shape and colour of the bowl, and where they were placed in the room. One of them was opaque and covered, while the other was open and clear. Participants were seated one at a time at the kitchen table at which time the researcher went to the fridge, served 10 apple slices (Variation 1) or 10 carrot cuts (Variation 2) in a bowl and placed them in one of four locations in the kitchen. Once the participant was seated, the researcher gave the following cover story: “I will be right back with some questionnaires. By the way, there are [apples/carrots] in the bowl if you would like something to eat.” Participants consumed more apple slices when they were made more proximate and visible, that is, in an open clear bowl within arm’s reach of the participant. For vegetables, however, participants consumed more carrot cuts only when they were made more proximate (within arm’s reach of the participant). For vegetables, then, the hypothesis tested here was only partly supported in that no effect of visibility was observed. In conclusion, people tend to eat what is right in front of them, so if there’s a packet of crisps laying on the worktable or some apples in the fridge, people will more likely go to the crisps as they are proximite and visible.
There have been so many studies on convenience food it’s hard to pick one, but practically all demonstrate that consumption convenience is a real thing. Humans are inherently lazy and reaching for something that’s ready made is almost always the more popular option. Access to readily available food on average makes up to 48% of impulsively consumed calories. If you’re looking to fine tune your nutrition plan, making as much food as possible from scratch is the way forward. This also means that you have control over what exactly you’re eating, as many foods that are marketed as healthy actually contain lots of salt or sugar.
Cover Photo by Siora Photography