Monday, September 12, 2011

Does what hand you eat with affect your weight?

I'm guessing many of my readers have heard of Brian Wansink's original stale popcorn experiment. Without getting into exact details, Wansink found that the amount of awful stale popcorn consumed by movie goers was dramatically influenced by the size of the container of awfully stale popcorn (I believe folks who received larger tubs ate 30% more despite ranking the popcorn as equally awful).

Well check this out. Some folks out in California explored things a bit further.

Three experiments:

1. Awful, stale popcorn at the movies.
2. Awful, stale popcorn in a meeting room.
3. Awful, stale popcorn at the movies handled with subjects' non-dominant hands.

Researchers also subdivided folks into those who were habitual movie popcorn eaters, and those who weren't.

In the movie situation, habitual eaters ate just as much awful, stale stuff as they did the fresh, but not so in the meeting room, and not so when eating with their non-dominant hands!

Basically if the habitual nature of the pattern was disrupted (by taking popcorn out of context or by using a hand that required conscious attention), people seemed to notice just how awful the stale popcorn really was.

A fascinating result and one that lends credence to the importance of mindful eating practices, as well as to actively attacking your own automated eating patterns (like not eating in front of the TV for instance).

And maybe (just maybe) it means that switching which hand you regularly eat with, especially if eating habitual and/or highly palatable foods, is an effective weight loss strategy.

Couldn't hurt.

Neal, D., Wood, W., Wu, M., & Kurlander, D. (2011). The Pull of the Past: When Do Habits Persist Despite Conflict With Motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167211419863

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  1. I'm a lefty and hold my fork/spoon in my left hand when eating but I also use that hand to hold my book or magazine too (yes, I read at the table) so I'm always putting down the fork and switching to the book. It forces me to eat a little slower so I notice when I feel full and can stop eating. I don't use my right hand unless I'm eating finger foods - I'm just too clumsy using a fork or spoon with that hand. I don't like popcorn so I'll never have to worry about shovelling too much in my mouth at the movies. My downfall there is M&Ms.

  2. I noticed this in grad school while watching late night TV. I'd always be craving potato chips - not because I was hungry, but because the habit of TV, chips, couch and sweat pants was ingrained in me. It's hard to break, but identifying it definitely helped!

  3. I know I am always guilty of wanting to eat, even if I am not hungry, on the rare occasions that I sit down in front of the television. As a result, I usually chose not to watch TV (I prefer reading in my free time).

    Those findings are fascinating though and I might try incorporating left-handed eating!