How Color Can Trick Your Brain into Healthier Eating Habits
Did you know we sometimes overeat because of our environment? Our expert explains.
If you struggle with controlling your eating, you know there is more to the decision to eat than simply responding to the feeling of hunger. We sometimes eat — and overeat — as a response to cues from our environment.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Some research shows that external cues influence eating more than internal cues such as hunger. Sometime we are aware of the cues, but many times we are not. The good news is that you can take steps to help control your eating by controlling your environment.
One external cue is color. Your brain responds powerfully to colors, and a number of studies have shown that colors can influence your eating. For example, one study showed that people who use red plates tend to eat less, says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.
The researchers, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, theorize that the color red elicits avoidance through its associations with danger, prohibition and the imperative to stop.
The researchers say it’s important that the color red seems to act as a direct cue for consumption control without affecting the diner’s eating experience in a negative way.
In other words, the color can help you to eat less without killing your appetite or making the food unappealing — the color was a subtle cue in the environment rather than part of the food or drinks.
“Studies have shown that people who eat from red plates actually tend to eat less,” Dr. Albers says. “It’s because when we see the color red, our mind automatically puts on the brakes.”
Red and green are on the opposite sides of the color wheel, and the opposite effect on your eating can happen with the color green: it can make food appealing.
So if you’re trying to get yourself or your children to eat more healthy foods, Dr. Albers suggests putting them in green containers to trick you and your children into going for them first.
The color of the room where you dine also can influence how much you eat, Dr. Albers says.
Mindful eating, where you slow down and focus on what you are consuming, can help you to eat less, Dr. Albers says.
You can make your eating environment a mindful one by decreasing clutter, she says, as research shows that people eat more in a cluttered, stressful environment. Paint the room a calm color to promote a soothing place where you can enjoy every bite of your food.
And if you’re trying to slow down your eating pace, Dr. Albers says to turn down the bright lights and turn off the fast music.
“Bright lights and fast music encourage us to eat really quickly and that will encourage us to mindlessly eat and to move along quickly,” Dr. Albers says. “Fast food restaurants often use that technique of the bright lights and the fast music to quicken your pace.”
Dr. Albers also suggests placing red stickers or sticky notes on the packages of the foods that you know will get your diet in trouble as a way to get your brain to stop and think before reaching for them.