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The Convenience Factor

In a classic food psychology book harshly titled Obese Humans and Rats, researchers Stanley Schachter and his team determined that the more hassle to obtain food, the less we eat.

If white rats in cages have to press a little food lever 10 times before they are awarded with food pellets, they eat often. If they have to press it 100 times, they make do with less.

(Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating)

And while we’d like to believe we’re not like furry little rodents, in this regard, we are the same. If we have to work hard to get our food, we’re less likely to eat as much.

Another study by Schachter’s team involved inviting people into their office while the researchers left the subjects alone for close to 15 minutes. Before leaving, the researchers invited the study members to help themselves to almonds that were left on the desk. Half of the time, the almonds were shelled; the other half they were unshelled.

When the researcher left, people of normal weight would generally eat one or two almonds whether or not they were shelled. This was not the case with obese people. They tended to eat the almonds only if they were already shelled and didn’t involve any work. If the almonds were still in the shell, the obese people tended to leave them alone.

(Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating)

Convenience counts. We all know the sensation of a candy dish being a little too close to you, tantalizing and reminding you of its chocolatey goodness. Often instinctively, we’ll push the dish farther away from us in an attempt to break the hypnotic effect and regain composure. Sometimes a little distance is just what it takes to break an impulse and allow you a moment to think twice about your choice.

Chopsticks are another way to make you work a little harder for your food and another reason some believe that Asians have a better handle on overeating. That little bit of extra effort often gives you some extra time to digest your food and feel genuinely sated, without a sense of depriving yourself.