Mom Was Right When She Said To Wait Until Dinner

The Lempert Report
September 16, 2016

Improve your diet by time-delaying your eating by ordering your food long before you plan on eating.

A series of new experiments at Carnegie Mellon University found that when there was a significant delay between the time a person ordered their food and the time they planned on eating it, they chose lower-calorie meals according research published in the Journal of the American Marketing Association and reported by the NY Times.

Eric M. VanEpps, a post-doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics who led the research while at Carnegie Mellon. He believes people have what he calls a “bias toward the present,” that alters the calculations they make about something that is occurring momentarily.

“If a decision is going to be implemented immediately, we just care about the immediate consequences, and we discount the long-term costs and benefits,” Dr. VanEpps said. “In the case of food, we care about what’s happening right now – like how tasty it is – but discount the long-term costs of an unhealthy meal.”

“When you order a meal in advance, “you’re more evenly weighing the short-term and the long-term costs and benefits,” he said. “You still care about the taste but you’re more able to exert self control.”

Another study, I’ll have the ice cream soon and the vegetables later: A study of online grocery purchases and order lead time by Katherine L. Milkman & Todd Rogers & Max H. Bazerman found that when people order groceries online, they are more likely to choose healthier foods when they schedule a delivery date several days ahead.    

In the one of the experiments, 394 employees of a large health care company were asked to place their lunch orders at least 30 minutes before they wanted to pick up their meal. They had the option to place an order as early as 7 a.m. for lunches that were to be picked up between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The more hours people planned ahead, the fewer calories they ordered and ultimately consumed.  

In another, the Carnegie Mellon researchers recruited more than 1,100 workers and controlled the time delay between ordering and eating. One group of workers at the same company placed their food order before 10 a.m. and had to wait at least an hour before eating. Another group placed its lunch order after 11 a.m., and waited just 30 minutes before eating it. The same thing occurred.

Dr. VanEpps isn’t sure advance ordering will work the same way if you are going out for dinner or a celebratory meal. But if businesses or schools want to encourage employees and students to eat healthfully, he said “let them make decisions further in advance.”