Gastronomic delights are abundant and plentiful in the foodie paradise that is Singapore. Really, who could blame you for breaking your diet? And without fail, we continue to blame ourselves for getting lured by that one piece of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, frothy frappucino or the sumptuous slice of cake.

To be fair, it’s not just you. Most of us are blissfully oblivious to the ways in which the environment shapes and controls what we eat. In his fascinating book, Mindless Eating, Dr Brian Wansink, director at the Cornell Food Lab, says: “We overeat not because we are hungry but because of family and friends, packages and plates, labels and lights, distractions and distances…”.

Read on to discover seven powerful ways in which seemingly innocent and tiny elements in the environment make you cheat on your diet. Forewarned is forearmed. You can thank us later. 


1, Being with others makes you eat more.

Eating out with friends? Say goodbye to the diet. Yes, even if you fill up on a healthy salad before leaving home. And it’s not just because restaurant food may be calorie-laden – research shows that simply being with others makes us eat more.

Having a cosy dinner with a partner can increase the amount of food consumed by a 28 per cent while an outing with six friends can increase the amount of food consumed by a whopping 76 per cent!


2. Your wait staff matter.   

Their influence on what and how much you eat is more pervasive than simply taking your order. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2010 showed that participants ate more when served by an overweight waitress. They also ordered more sinful desserts when recommended by her.


3. Your phone is a culprit.

If being with friends and being served by someone overweight both make you eat more, it’s probably a better idea to eat alone? Have you stopped to consider that constant, till-death-do-us–part companion – your phone?


Read more: 3 brain hacks to lose weight fast 


Extensive research shows that distractions of any kind, be it reading, watching television, or checking your phone, lead to overeating. We are so engrossed by the ‘distraction’ that we fail to pay attention to when we feel full, and continue to eat more, for longer. Do yourself a favour, and enjoy your own company (rather than the phone’s) the next time you eat alone.


4. Candlelight is dangerous.

Fire hazard aside, soft, dim lighting is known to reduce inhibitions and self-consciousness, resulting in another drink or making room for an unplanned dessert.


5. What music are you eating to?

Planning to eat at the stylish Italian bistro with a live jazz band or an Indian restaurant with foot-tapping Bollywood music? Both could make you say cheers to eating and drinking more.

Loud, fast music could result in extra food being gobbled down, as you’re in a hurry to finish and leave quickly. Soft music, on the other hand, increases food intake by making you slow down and spend more time on the meal.


6. Take a closer look at your tableware.

Have you ever seen food being served on red plates in a restaurant? Our guess is no. Red signals stop and our minds are conditioned to restrain movement – in this case, eating – when we see the colour.

However, white tableware is common. And for good reason. Food served on white plates is perceived to be significantly more intense and flavorful, resulting in greater liking.

Even the weight of your plate can influence how tasty you think you food is. Studies show that the same serving of yogurt is perceived as being more dense, expensive and likable when served in a heavier bowl.


7. If you think there’s more variety, you’ll eat more.

You know that buffets do nothing for your waistline. And that’s because the perceived variety in a buffet dramatically impacts on how much you eat. 

In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, psychologists Barbara Kahn and Brian Wansnik gave participants a stash of 300 M&Ms in either seven or 10 colours. Now, you and I know that M&Ms all taste the same, whatever the colour. But despite there being no difference in taste, those given the bowl with 10 colours ate 43 per cent more candy than the seven-colour group.


Read more: Health and nutrition: The colour wheel of food


On the contrary, having minimal variety will make you eat less – because you get bored of eating the same thing.  Gemma Calvert, professor of marketing at the Nanyang Business School at the Nanyang Technological University, says this is called ‘sensory specific satiety’. She says, for example, if you eat two bananas, you won’t want a third.  But you would have room for say, corn or bread!