Dining in dimly-lit restaurants has been linked to eating slower and consuming less food than in brighter restaurants. However, people dining in well-lit rooms are about 16 to 24 per cent more likely to order healthy foods than those in dimly-lit rooms.
According to the latest research, this effect is due mainly to the level of diners' alertness.
"We feel more alert in brighter rooms and therefore tend to make more healthful, forward-thinking decisions," explains lead author Dipayan Biswas, PhD, University of South Florida.
Researchers surveyed 160 restaurant patrons at four casual chain restaurant locations.
Half of those diners, who were seated in brighter rooms, were more likely to choose healthier options over relatively unhealthy items. As for diners in dimly-lit rooms, the sales records showed that they actually ordered 39 per cent more calories!
Does this mean we have to turn up the lights in order to stick to a healthier diet?
"Dim lighting isn't all bad," says co-author Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. "Despite ordering less-healthy foods, you actually end up eating slower, eating less and enjoying the food more."
Follow-up studies also showed that when diners' alertness was increased with the use of a caffeine placebo or by being given a prompt to be alert, those in dimly-lit rooms were just as likely as their peers in brightly-lit rooms to make more healthful food choices.
According to Dr. Wansink, doing what you can to make yourself feel alert is the best way to avoid overindulging when "dining-in-the-dark."
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