It’s amazing how much things can change in the span of just a few hours: You wake up resolving that today will be the day I get a salad, no really, I mean it this time. And then come lunchtime you already want to go home and crawl into bed, and the day’s not even half over yet, and somehow the thought of relying on lettuce to carry you through makes time stretch infinitely longer in front of you. Your morning self, you now realize, was a fool, one whose naïveté is no match for the siren call of a Seamless-ed burrito.
Or maybe you should put your morning self in charge. In a new study in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers outlined a simple tactic for eating healthier during the workday: If you’re buying lunch, just order it several hours before you plan to actually eat it.
Over several different experiments, the researchers analyzed more than 1,000 takeout lunch orders, looking at the content of each meal and the span of time between ordering and pickup. Across the board, those who waited until it was actually time to eat went for more high-calorie food; those who planned ahead, on the other hand, were generally healthier about what they chose.
Past research has reached similar conclusions about the relationship between how we time our food consumption and what we actually eat — namely, that planning tends to be better than spur-of-the-moment calls. One 2010 study of people ordering online groceries, for instance, found that as the gap between ordering and delivery increased, so did the likelihood that the shoppers would choose healthier items. Scheduling planned cheat days, meanwhile, has been shown to make it easier for people to stick to a diet.
As Science of Us has previously reported, most people will make around 200 decisions about food in a single day. One of them can be logging on to Seamless sometime in the morning and unchecking “ASAP” from the delivery time slot; as far as lifestyle adjustments go, it’s a pretty low effort tweak. Plus, it’s one less task for your brain-drained afternoon self — which means you’ll have all the more mental energy for those daydreams about being back home in bed.