Mindless Eating is Stronger Than Will Power

Environmental cues feed obesity and diabetes risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Is popcorn a necessity for you when you go to the movies? If it is, you probably don't even notice the quality of the popcorn. Mindless eating habits like these can be a real problem.

Mindless eating can lead to overeating and eating when you're not hungry. Researchers discovered the reason behind mindless eating and provideed tips that might help you fight those bad habits.

"Try using your other hand to eat with to avoid mindless eating."

David Neal, Ph.D., who was a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and is now the head of a social and consumer research firm, found that the environment plays a huge part in bad eating habits - whether it's eating popcorn at the movies or eating a bag of chips in front of the television set.

Dr. Neal and team also found that consumers will eat their habitual snack regardless of the taste or freshness.

The brain tends to associate a specific food with a specific environment if it's done over and over again, Neal explains. So we eat as long as the environmental cue is present, he adds. Once an habit has formed, the quality and amount will no longer matter, Wendy Wood, Ph.D., Provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and co-author, says.

The researchers gave either fresh or stale popcorn to people entering a movie theatre. People who were not accustomed to eating popcorn during the movie ate less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn. Moviegoers who have a habit of eating popcorn during the movies at just as much stale popcorn as fresh popcorn.

The researchers also tested people who watched a movie in a meeting room. Moviegoers who eat popcorn regularly at movies ate much less stale popcorn in the meeting room than fresh popcorn. This shows the role environmental cues plays on habitual eating.

It's not always going to be possible to change the environment , so dieters should try other ways to change their habits, Wood says. Simply changing the hand you eat with can help you break your habit, she adds. Switching to the non-dominant hand to eat even helped people with strong eating habits eat less stale popcorn

The research is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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Review Date: 
September 6, 2011
Last Updated:
September 6, 2011