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Originally published September 17 2011

Habitual eating is caused by the environment

by Mike Barrett

(NaturalNews) Eating out of pure habit is something many people experience without even realizing it. Someone may unknowingly get into the habit of mindless eating while watching TV and then wonder where the few extra pounds came from. After a certain pattern is repeated so many times, that pattern becomes fixed in the brain and must be interrupted or at least noticed in order for it to be broken.

This idea was put to the test in a study using movie goers and popcorn eaters. In the first experiment, popcorn was handed out to participants entering a movie theater. The popcorn handed out was either freshly popped or stale, week-old popcorn.

Those who ate popcorn regularly when going to the movies ate about the same amount of popcorn whether it was stale or fresh. Those who didn't normally eat popcorn at the movies consumed far less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn.

To further test this idea of habitual eating, a control group was placed in a meeting room where movie clips were played while scientists conducted the same popcorn experiment. This time, even the fierce popcorn eaters consumed much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn. The results indicate that the environment has more to do with eating than people realize.

The meeting room, unlike the movie theater, is not associated with popcorn. The scientists believe that since the meeting room has no association with popcorn, people paid much more attention to what they ate instead of mindlessly eating out of habit.

"People believe their eating behavior is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn," said Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at USC and the study researcher. "But once we've formed an eating habit, we no longer care whether the food tastes good. We'll eat exactly the same amount, whether it's fresh or stale."

In order to break the pattern, the study conductors ran one more separate experiment. Researchers gave participants stale or fresh popcorn before they went into a movie theater. Only this time they were asked to eat with either their dominant or non-dominant hand. The researchers found that those, who ate with their non-dominant hand, ate much less of the stale than the fresh popcorn. This simple change in the way the participants ate resulted in a pattern interrupt, thereby temporarily breaking their eating habit.

The study was published in the current issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.


About the author

Mike Barrett is a writer and entrepreneur with an affinity for natural health and exercise. He has helped thousands around the globe transform their lives through his informative writing. His work is featured on (, a natural health website that he helped to create. As a founder of NaturalSociety, Mike focuses on getting life-saving natural health techniques out to the world in a timely and efficient manner, syndicating his articles around the web. Mike maintains a degree in Business, and is constantly researching the many new advances in the field of nutrition and kinesiology.

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