How many pieces of fruit have rotted away in those big plastic drawers inside your refrigerator, left forgotten and moldy? How many hours have you spent elbow deep into a chip bag mindlessly munching away? According to food scientists, a simple fruit bowl can solve your problems. Researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab published a new study in the journal Psychology and Marketing that outlines three easy rules to incorporate into everyday living.

CAN Approach Cartoon Lunchroom
Three principles are helpful to incorporate for people struggling to lose weight. Photo courtesy of Cornell's Food and Brand Lab

"A healthy diet can be as easy as making the healthiest choice the most convenient, attractive, and normal," the study’s lead author Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said in a press release. "With these three principles, there are endless changes that can be made to lead people — including ourselves — to eat healthier."

Wansink and his team combed through 112 studies on healthy eating and the behaviors associated with nutritious decisions. They found whether a person is at a restaurant, grocery store, school cafeteria, at home, the chance of them making a healthy choice increases with convenience, attraction, and normalcy. The easier it is to grab the fruit or vegetable, the more enticing it’s displayed, and the more obvious the choice appears to the individual, the more likely they’ll choose good food over bad.

It’s all about manipulating your eating environment to dictate healthy choices as easily as possible. At home, place a bowl of fresh fruit on your counter and watch the diet transformation work just as mindlessly as eating that entire box of Cheez-Its was during your Netflix binge the other night. Put the ice cream in the back of the freezer, the cookies in the cabinet above the fridge, and the candy on the top shelf of your pantry.

If schools want to improve children’s milk intake, all they need to do is make milk more convenient than the chocolate milk, sell it in an attractive bottle that would seem cool to kids, and make it normal by giving it more cooler space than the chocolate milk. Wansink found the simple three-step approach increased white milk consumption by 30 to 60 percent in schools.

Unfortunately, when you leave home you need to arm yourself and become acutely aware of the eating cues hiding in plain sight, Wansink writes in his first book Mindless Eating. For example, when you’re at a restaurant and the waitress points out an appetizer with an enticing name along with an attractive professional photo inside the menu, the food itself becomes more attractive, convenient, and sensibly normal to order the special she’s recommended.

Source: Wansink B. Change Their Choice! Changing Behavior Using the CAN Approach and Activism Research. Psychology and Marketing. 2015.