We all know what happens when there’s a bar of chocolate sitting on your desk, conveniently placed, so it’s just in the corner of your eye. It talks to you, doesn’t it, invites you in… That is, until it’s gone!
If only the same thing were to happen with a delicious green bowl of veggies… Well, apparently it does. The concept is called ‘food nudging’, and it’s an approach being used to combat the problems with our obesogenic environment.
If that word is a bit of a mouthful… basically an obesogenic environment is one in which it is easy to eat too much of what we shouldn’t be eating and to spend too little time moving. For example, excessive amounts of junk food advertising on television or the lack of bike-friendly routes on your way to work.
Food nudging aims to make healthy foods easier to access. And while it might sound a bit basic and obvious, there is actually a growing body of evidence behind the concept. Another term that’s used in the world of behavioural science is ‘choice architecture’; the impact of the presentation of choices on consumer decision-making. It’s a simple approach, but one that allows people the flexibility of choosing different options without feeling pressured to choose the healthier or ‘better’ one.
Many of the decisions we make surrounding food choices are mindless, particularly if we have a routine that we like or one that is easy to follow. This is not necessarily a bad thing, decision making is designed to be as quick as possible, and as a result, our minds can take shortcuts. Interventions encouraging healthy eating need to fit in seamlessly so that we can continue our routine uninterrupted, without giving it too much thought. That’s where food nudging comes in, we’re automatically guided towards healthier choices.
The beauty of ‘food nudging’ is that it’s gentle, there’s no one telling you off for eating that chocolate bar, there’s no advertisements making us feel guilty for wanting to treat ourselves with pizza for dinner one night. It’s simply making healthier options more accessible and easier to achieve. Because at the end of the day, it’s not pleasant being told what to do. We want to feel empowered for making the healthy choice ourselves, not because it’s being forced on our plate.
Positive results have been found in supermarkets moving healthy choice options next to the cash register and moving discretionary choices elsewhere in the shop. This relocation reduces the temptation to grab something last minute, particularly easy to do if you’re grocery shopping on an empty stomach. The idea of not having anything to eat until you’re back home in the kitchen can seem almost unbearable! So, rather than grabbing that chocolate bar, there is a bag of mixed nuts there instead, or an apple, or tub of yoghurt, you get the idea.
If you’re trying to eat healthier, there are things you can do at home too. The same principle applies to keeping healthy food in your household. If you keep healthy food in your household and limit the amount of treats in your cupboard, you’ll be more likely to choose those healthier options. By keeping a bowl of fruit on your kitchen bench, for example, you’re more likely to increase your fruit consumption throughout the day. Studies have also shown just by simply making fruits and vegetables more visible, such as using clear bowls and containers rather than opaque ones, can increase our consumption too.
A few Dineamic pouches in the fridge or freezer could even be an easier option than having to run down to the local take-away shop.
Sometimes the small, subtle changes can make all the difference in the long-run. Eating a balanced diet is something we want to continue for life, and incorporating ‘food nudging’ may be a great kick-start.