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Brilliant Tip to Cut Down Snacking

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Brilliant Tip to Cut Down Snacking

In a new paper by USC researchers, bad eating habits were shown to persist even when the food didn’t taste very good; but the best nugget of the study, perhaps, is the revelation of a surprisingly easy way in which to counter bad eating habits.

Researchers gave people entering a movie theater a bucket of either just-popped popcorn or week-old popcorn. People who don’t generally eat popcorn during movies ate much less of the stale popcorn, but moviegoers who indicated that they typically had popcorn at the movies ate about the same amount of popcorn whether it was fresh or stale. The conclusion: for people accustomed to eating popcorn at the movies, it made no difference whether the popcorn tasted good or not.

“When we’ve repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and make us keep eating as long as those environmental cues are present,” said lead author David Neal, who was a psychology professor at USC when the research was conducted.

“People believe their eating behavior is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn,” said corresponding author Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC. “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.”

According to a press release for the paper, the researchers also gave popcorn to a control group watching movie clips in a meeting room, rather than in a movie theater. In the meeting room, a space not usually associated with popcorn, it mattered a lot if the popcorn tasted good. Outside of the movie theater context, even habitual movie popcorn eaters ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn, demonstrating the extent to which environmental cues can trigger automatic eating behavior.

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Health

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

94 comments

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8:45AM PST on Feb 17, 2013

Have water and celery sticks!!!! YUM YUM

3:56PM PST on Nov 15, 2012

Try not to snack.

3:09PM PST on Nov 15, 2012

noted

6:15PM PST on Nov 14, 2012

good to know

9:37AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

thanks!

1:02PM PDT on Mar 28, 2012

thanks for the tip, my new snack hand is the left. haha(:

1:46PM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Thanks for posting.

9:55AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Grazie delle informazioni.

7:56AM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

would probably work for awhile, and then become part of the environment/food association

4:30PM PDT on Mar 13, 2012

worth a try...

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