Do you ever find yourself eating when you’re not even hungry? Do you need to have a snack at the movies or while watching television? If you said yes to both of these questions, you may be in the habit of overeating. It’s a bad habit, but the good news is, any bad habit can be broken! This was the topic of discussion in a recent article from ABC News.
Research finds that some people have gotten into a habit of eating when engaging in certain activities, such as popcorn at the movies.
Psychologists David Neal and Wendy Wood from the University of Southern California have come up with a simple formula that may help break the habit of overeating, which may lead to weight loss for many people who struggle with this habit. They say that rather than trying to overwhelm the habit with a strong sense of self control, alter the environment that triggers the automatic response, or habit. This conclusion comes from the findings of a very interesting study involving a movie theater and a bag of stale popcorn.
Neal and Wood, along with several colleagues, wanted to find out if people who nearly always eat a bag of popcorn when at the movies would eat it, even if it was old and stale, simply because it has become a habit.
Several hundred participants were recruited, some who really wanted popcorn with a movie, some who sometimes wanted popcorn, and some who really didn’t care either way. Each person attending a showing in a regular theater was quizzed on how much they liked popcorn, how hungry they were, and several other things. They were not allowed to sit near anyone else.
Half of the participants were given a bag of freshly cooked popcorn, and the other half were given a bag that had been sitting around for several days, leaving it stale. After the showing the bags were collected and weighed. Participants who could take it or leave it left the stale popcorn almost untouched. But habitual popcorn eaters ate the whole thing, regardless of whether their bag was new or stale. This goes to show that it isn’t so much about the taste or hunger level for these participants, but rather about the habit.
In the second experiment, new participants sat in a meeting room, as opposed to a movie theater. Again, half the participants were given a fresh bag of popcorn, while the other half received a stale bag. This time, even the habitual popcorn hounds ignored the stale popcorn and the only change was the setting. This goes to show that a small alteration can greatly impact the habit.
In a third experiment with new participants, the setting was back to the movie theater. Again, half the participants received fresh popcorn, while the other half received stale popcorn. This time, however, the participants were instructed to eat only with their “non-dominant” hand. None of the participants cared much for the stale popcorn, even in the movie theater setting. This goes to show that even a small cue can overwhelm a habit because it causes the person to have to think about what they were doing, rather than just going through the motions.
“On average, people have more good habits than bad,” said Neal. But bad habits can be particularly destructive, contributing to the current obesity crisis, he added.
Neal has some simple tips to help you in your weight loss efforts on the path to a healthy lifestyle. Put the cookie jar where you can’t see it. Look only at the salad menu in your favorite restaurant. “Basically, it’s not really a matter of setting the right goals or having enough will power,” he said. “Those things are valuable, but they don’t really get you over the line. The critical thing to focus on is the environment.”
This news should be encouraging to most, because bad habits can be broken. Camp Shane weight loss camps for children and Shane Diet Resorts weight loss program for adults know the importance of getting into good lifestyle habits, while leaving the bad ones behind. If you eat healthy every single day, it will become a habit. If you exercise daily or a few times per week, it will become a habit. If you currently experience bad habits, it is time to make small adjustments in your life!
Do you have any bad habits that you need to break? Or, have you already broken a bad habit? We would love to hear from you.