Google is on a mission and it has nothing to do with searching the Web or social networking. This tech giant is dedicated to helping its employees make better food choices. Not surprisingly, its philosophy is based on the latest behavioral research (much of it out of Cornell University) that finds that if you gently steer people toward healthy eats, they’ll naturally choose them. And Google has measured the results. “Removing all bad foods and only offering healthy foods may sound like a good idea but it only alienates employees, causing backlash,” says David Just, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral economics at Cornell University. “You’ll have much more success if you subtly nudge them in the right direction instead.” Read on to see how Google set up its cafeterias to encourage healthy eating and how you can create your own diet-friendly kitchen at home.
— Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.
Walk into any Google café and the very first thing you’ll see is the salad bar. Not only that, an inviting fruit bowl is strategically located in the middle of the center island. “Visibility is extremely important,” says Just. “Whatever you see first is what you’re likely to start thinking about.” In one short month, the number of Googlers munching on fresh fruit climbed by two-thirds.
Do It at Home: Fill the center shelf of your fridge with loads of freshly cut veggies or leave a stocked fruit bowl out on your counter.
Do It at Home: Swap oversized dinner plates for 7" salad plates
Research led by Brian Wansink of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab shows the bigger your dish, the more food you’re likely to pile on it. That’s why Google offers an option of a standard-size plate or a slightly smaller one. Directly above the plates hangs a sign with a gentle reminder that people who use larger plates tend to eat more. The result: a 32 percent uptick in small-plate use.
While buffet-style is still the norm, Google is test-driving pre-plated meals that spell out the exact number of calories in each dish. This move should have big benefits for waist-conscious workers. In a Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism study, researchers at the University of Illinois found that overweight men who ate a pre-packaged low-calorie entree for lunch and dinner lost 45% more weight than a group who were instructed to eat the same amount of calories, but prepared all of their own foods.
Do It at Home: Prepare a stash of healthy, pre-portioned, ready-to-go meals to have on hand for instant portion control.
Sure, soda and juice are still in café refrigerator cases, but if Googlers want them they’ll have to step off the food line to get them. But, they’re unlikely to bother. Long before workers ever reach for a sweetened drink they’ll find vats of filtered water conveniently positioned on café countertops right alongside the food. Simply placing bottled water on an eye-level shelf in the fridge and bumping soda to a lower shelf boosted H2O intake by 47 percent.
Do It at Home: Not a fan of plain water? Keep a pitcher of water with a slice of lemon in your fridge.
At Google, sweets aren’t taboo but they are harder to find in the cafeteria. Not a bad move considering one study—also led by Wansink—found people wolf down more than twice as many chocolates when they’re right in front of them compared to when they’re farther away (6 feet) and covered. Candy, once housed in clear dispensers at eye level, used to be a serious temptation. Not anymore. Now it’s tucked away in opaque containers, on a lowly bottom shelf, an about-face that cut candy consumption by 9 percent in one week.
Do It at Home: Stash snacks like chips, cookies or cereal in a cabinet. People who do this tend to weigh 15 to 20 pounds less than people who store snacks on their kitchen counters, says Just.