Stories of research, nutrition, and nature

January’s crops

The first three weeks have flown by really quickly, so time to pause for a moment and see what I’ve done and planning to do at the Lab. Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to get work done too, not just running around applying for social security numbers, fixing myself a bike, and chasing squirrels!

Mindless Eating Challenge data. I’m currently analyzing what kinds of eating tips are effective for people who want to lose weight. For instance, is it better to ask people to change their physical environment or eating habits, or rely on their willpower? (I personally think that in the long run, all are needed – it’s good to eliminate some of the temptations, but being mindful of what and how one eats is also necessary.)

The dataset consists of about 2000 people who participated in the online National Mindless Eating Challenge a few years ago. Each participant got three eating suggestions that were based on the research done over the years in Food & Brand Lab, and was advised to follow these suggestions for a month. Basically, like this.

The tips are meant to be easy and simple, since small sustainable changes are better than large ones that cannot be sustained, both on individual and population level. Adding 20 minutes of walking to a day, changing one unhealthy snack to a fruit, eating salad first during meals – they don’t require a lot of sacrifice or effort from a person, but they can work as first steps to a lasting habit change. And throwing in some environmental changes, such as using smaller plates, makes it easier not to stuff oneself.

Now if I can just figure out which tips are the best, and perhaps even find some clues for profiling people who benefit the most from certain types of tips…

Habit change interventions. These are still on the drawing board; I’d love to develop some easy, simple, and low-cost interventions that tackle stress management and healthy eating. Could be something similar to Mindless Eating Challenge, but with the added flavor of relaxation/mindfulness, values clarification, and problem-solving strategies. Improving people’s abilities and self-efficacy as well as helping them make concrete changes. All this on web or mobile platform, of course – not for the sake of technology, but because that’s how it would be possible to reach almost anyone.

Lab experiments. I’m quite interested in emotional eating and eating behaviors under stress, and studying these things in a laboratory setting could provide insight in developing interventions for them. Something like making the participants try to complete impossible tasks to increase their stress level, then giving part of the group relaxation or mindfulness exercise, and finally seeing how their subsequent eating behavior is influenced. You can probably guess what my hypothesis of the outcome is.

Even if nothing earth-shattering would come out of it, it would be good to try my hands on this kind of experimental research. During these first three weeks, I’ve participated in one study (wine appraising – just looking, not tasting, unfortunately) and observed another bunch of small studies to gain understanding in their practicalities. The department has a pretty good lab for running all sorts of studies.

Conferences & publications. I’ll try to attend at least a couple of interesting nutrition-related conferences; one is SNEB in July, another could be APHA in October. Even better if I manage to write something presentable there too! Then there’s of course EMBC, which is so near (well, only on the other side of the continent, not the world) and such a big event that I should probably go. Good chance to meet folks from Finland as well šŸ˜‰

Aaand, some journal papers will also be written, certainly.

Food & Brand Lab class. Some sort of unofficial studying going on too. Brian and Aner teach a course for undergrads, with the purpose of helping them understand consumer behavior by involving them in research. I’ve decided to participate at least in some of the classes, even though I’m old as grit, since they can provide new ideas and perspectives. This week’s class was already helpful: we used a Q-sort method to form categories for 33 different tips and select interesting comparisons to make.

Gotta say that Brian and Aner are both really smart and incredibly friendly. And the list doesn’t end there; in fact, that description fits everyone in the Lab. I feel I’ve been very fortunate to hop from one wonderful workplace to another.

I also really like the university’s motto by the founder Ezra Cornell: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Although that’s probably one reason why, apparently, Ithaca is the City of Evil in some people’s books. It’s funny how caring about things such as human rights and environment can be seen in that light.

Anyway, it’s a new month now and lots of interesting stuff to be done. I wonder if it will snow in February… it’s only been a handful of days with snow so far, and it feels a bit unnatural. I was told that Ithaca should have harsh winters, but haven’t seen much of that yet.

Beebe Lake in the end of January

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