If you’re looking to eat more healthfully, here’s a possible strategy to consider: order in advance. New research shows that when we order food at least one hour before eating it, we’re less likely to pick “indulgent” options.
Researchers conducted three experiments exploring calorie intake for different ordering-to-eating time gaps. In each case, the further ahead people ordered, the fewer calories they consumed. In the third study–where university students were randomly assigned to order lunch before and after class–the difference was huge. Students ordered 890 calories fewer calories on average when making choices beforehand rather than right before eating.
“Decisions made for immediate consumption are . . . particularly likely to be indulgent, whereas introducing a delay helps people to make healthier decisions, suggesting that people are paying more attention to the long-term health consequences of a meal when ordering in advance,” says Eric Van Epps, lead author of the paper.
Van Epps puts the results down to “present bias,” the behavioral phenomenon whereby we privilege immediate rewards over long-term benefits, even when the latter are greater. Another explanation could be that we tend to be hungrier nearer lunchtime, so we’re more likely to order heavily. The study is published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Van Epps, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, hopes his research will be taken up by schools, company cafeterias, health advocates, and online ordering companies. “There’s the opportunity to ask people to place orders in advance rather than make the decision at mealtime,” he says in an email. “These kinds of interventions are relatively straightforward to implement and could achieve health benefits without even being described as health interventions. Our results suggest people will have an easier time exercising self-control when ordering in advance, whether online or in other ways.”
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