Tuesday, June 19

Chaos and Clutter Contribute to Overeating

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One of my oldest friends has, to put it mildly, a problem with online shopping. If she sees it, she probably will order it — heck, she’ll order two just to be sure there’s enough.

It’s not unusual for the FedEx delivery truck to drop off several packages at her home every day…yes, EVERY day.

What this means is that her home is chock full of stuff. Every flat surface is covered with something (or several somethings).

The chaos can get overwhelming. Once when I was there, we opened a box that had fallen on the floor and out came at least 60 — possibly more — reading glasses. There is no way in the world she could ever use that many reading glasses, but there they were.

My friend has another problem: A vicious battle with her weight that she has been fighting for years.

I’ve always felt the two are connected and now there’s a bit of science to back me up.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales, BNY Mellon, and Cornell University recently completed a study that shows that clutter and chaos contributes to over-consumption of food.

It seems the stress of a chaotic environment — say one where there’s no room left in your house due to the daily deluge of new purchases — impacts certain behaviors, including eating.

The researchers wanted to investigate how a chaotic environment impacts eating behavior, since environmental chaos is a source of stress for many individuals. They also studied the mindset of individuals in the chaotic environment, and sought to assess how differences in feeling in or out-of-control impacts eating behavior.

A clean, organized kitchen can help keep your eating under control. (Photo courtesy FreeImages.com/ Ekaterina Boym-Medler)

To do this, they recruited 101 female students. Some were placed in a standard kitchen that was clean, while others were placed in the same kitchen when it was “chaotic,” which means it was disorganized and noisy.

The women were then assigned to one of three writing tasks. One had participants write about a time when they felt out of control, another asked participants to write about a time they felt in control, and the third had participants write about the last lecture they attended.

The writing tasks were meant to manipulate the mindset of the participants, the researchers explained.

After completing the writing assignment, the women were asked to taste and rate cookies, crackers, and carrots.

The researchers then measured the differences in how much the women ate depending on what kitchen they were placed in, as well as what writing task they were assigned.

What the researchers discovered is that the women in the chaotic kitchen ate the most cookies when they wrote about being out of control, and the least when they wrote about being in control.

The writing tasks did not impact cookie consumption in the standard kitchen condition, the researchers reported.

The results of the study show that environment, as well as people’s mind-set, influence how much they eat.

The researchers suggest that if people can maintain an in-control, organized mindset in chaotic environments, they may prevent overeating, particularly indulgent foods.

For my friend — and others like her — it may be that tackling her chaotic environment will bring the extra benefit of finally getting her weight down to a healthy level. That seems like a win-win scenario to me.

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