Turns out, cutting your daily intake of calories is as simple as ordering your food just an hour before it’s time to eat. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University shows that people choose higher-calorie meals when ordering immediately before eating and lower-calorie meals when ordering an hour or more in advance.
“Our results show that ordering meals when you’re already hungry and ready to eat leads to an overall increase in the number of calories ordered, and suggest that by ordering meals in advance, the likelihood of making indulgent purchases is drastically reduced,” said lead author Eric M. VanEpps, adding “The implication is that restaurants and other food providers can generate health benefits for their customers by offering the opportunity to place advance orders.”
Researchers conducted two field studies examining online lunch orders of 690 employees using an onsite corporate cafeteria, and a third study with 195 university students selecting among catered lunch options. Across all three studies, the researchers noted that meals with higher calorie content were ordered and consumed when there were shorter (or no) waiting periods between ordering and eating.
“These findings provide one more piece of evidence that decisions made in the heat of the moment are not as far-sighted as those made in advance,” said senior author George Loewenstein. He added, “For example, people who plan to practice safe sex often fail to do so when caught up in the act, and people who, in dispassionate moments, recognize the stupidity of road rage nevertheless regularly succumb to it. Unfortunately, pre-commitment strategies are more feasible when it comes to diet than to many other ‘hot’ behaviors.”
The authors suggested future research in the form of longitudinal studies that measure eating decisions over a longer period of time would be useful in addressing this issue. The study is published in the Journal of Marketing Research.