Have you ever been to a restaurant where the lighting is so dim that you can hardly read the menu?
Then there are those restaurants that are so poorly lit that they even have to provide reading lights along with their menus. So annoying!
Now new research reports that we are 16 to 24% more likely to order healthy foods when in a well-lit room, compared to when in a dimly lit room. Oh goodness, could romantic dinners actually be impacting your health?
The research points to evidence that the level of lighting affects our level of mental alertness, and therefore the choices we make. The brighter the room, the more alert we are, and the less likely we are to trade-off between the short-term benefits of taste/pleasure and the longer-term benefits of health/wellbeing.
This is biochemistry at work.
Overall, ambient light influences physiological reactions in terms of melatonin production, core body temperature, heart rate, and cortisol production, all of which are correlated with alertness levels.
What’s more, sales records show that those in dimly lit rooms ordered 39% more calories! (Not that we are into counting calories per se).
On the flip side, however, a more dimly lit ambience lends itself to our relaxing more, eating more slowly, even eating less and enjoying the food more. So what gives?
Here’s the rub. The research also stated that choosing between healthy and unhealthy options essentially force us to choose between options that appeal to the head (healthy options) and those that appeal to the heart (unhealthy options). Those of us who have walked that well-worn path of dieting are only too familiar with this – the battle between head and heart, the battle between willpower and desire.
You’ll most likely have already heard or read some tips on how to handle eating out – tips like, take a look at the menu for the restaurant you’ll be visiting beforehand and decide what you’re going to order, so that you’ll be less likely to end up eating something less healthy instead. Or, eat before you head out, so you’re not going to feel as hungry.
But these tips don’t help you to sort out the root cause and to align head and heart. Instead, they mostly satisfy your head and not your heart, and then the chances are that you’ll come away feeling less than satisfied and end up eating something else that’s even more unhealthy to plug that gap of dissatisfaction.
If you’re a chronic dieter, then you know exactly what I mean.
We need to appease both head and heart, not cause a conflict.
The good news is that there is a way to align both head and heart. You don’t have to have an argument with yourself each time you’re faced with food. You can have peace of mind and you can actually have your piece of cake and eat it – literally.
And it starts way before you ever set foot in a restaurant, romantic lighting or not.
Food means many things to each of us. It can mean a whole range of emotions – guilt, happiness, celebration, judgment, punishment, reward, family, friends, comfort – and it can even speak to your identity – I’m the one with the sweet tooth, I’m the one who always has desserts, I’m the one who loves crisps/chips. It’s also our way of pleasing others – I have to finish what’s on my plate so I don’t hurt my mom’s/grandma’s/aunty’s/friend’s feelings, and so on.
Then, there’s the physiological perspective too – is your body under stress because it’s not been getting the nourishment it needs to get you healthy and keep you there? This is your body’s prime prerogative and anything that pulls your body away from that creates stress.
Stress is that tension that exists between the point of happy equilibrium and where you’re at. And studies confirm what we already know – that stress can lead us firmly down the path of overeating.
So how do you reduce that tension or stress and align heart and head?
Long before your trip to any restaurant and as a matter of course…
- Nourish yourself with food that’s rich in nutrients, by eating whole food as much as possible. This allows your body to relax, because chronic dieting puts it into starvation mode, and eating nutrient-dense food consistently and regularly helps your body to realize that it’s now getting the nutrients it needs to repair and to build.
- Next, nourish yourself emotionally by learning to let in positive self-acknowledgment. Here’s one way to do this – start receiving compliments with grace. When someone says something nice about you, simply say, “Thank you,” and let it into every pore of your being. Don’t qualify – “Oh, thank you but….”. Don’t be dismissive. And graciously allow them the honour of having made and observation and voicing it to you. Don’t make them wrong with a, “Thank you, but…”
Then on the day of eating out:
- Go ahead and look at the menu beforehand. Let yourself run through what your head thinks you should have, and what your heart says it’d like to have. Then pause, and ask your body what it would like to have too.
- At the restaurant, order what will bring you the greatest balance of peace of mind. In fact, do this for every meal. You’ll automatically make a better food choice when you let go of judgment and come instead from a place of balance. When you first start to practice this, it might feel more as if it is a minimization of the feeling of angst or guilt. That’s OK. As time goes on, it will feel easier.
- When your food arrives, feast first with your eyes – this is part of what is known as your cephalic digestion and starts the digestive processes in your body – it’s very healthy. (Get them to turn up the lights so you can see!)
- Then take your time, eat and enjoy, without guilt or judgement. Taste and savour. And allow yourself to feel the greatest sense of satisfaction and nourishment than ever before.
The biochemistry of food and emotion is far greater than willpower, which explains why diets simply don’t work. So regardless of whether the lighting in the restaurant is bright or dim, jarring or romantic, the key to the battle is to nourish yourself first and foremost, each and every day, then when you’re eating, you don’t have to battle with guilt or angst. Instead you’ll get to savor every mouthful to the fullest and experience the deepest sense of satisfaction around food.
Biswas, D., Szocs, C., Wansink, B. and Chacko, R. (2016) Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices. Journal of Marketing Research In-Press. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0115
Polivy, J., Coleman, J. and Herman, C.P. (2005) The Effect of Deprivation on Food Cravings and Eating Behavior in Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 38:301-309
Polivy, J., Heatherton, T.F. and Herman, C.P. (1988) Self-Esteem, Restraint, and Eating Behavior. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 97(3):354-356
Stress and overeating. (2011) Source: from Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Health Publications