Overeating? Which hand are you using?
A study suggests that the environment in which we eat “plays a big role” in how much we eat, a researcher says.
September 20th, 2011
10:46 AM ET

Overeating? Which hand are you using?

It starts with a single potato chip.  After some rapid-fire munching, you find your fingers coated in oil and salt.  Before you know it, you’ve devoured an entire bag of chips while you're sitting in front of the TV.

Or maybe your food of passion is ice cream or pizza. Regardless, it’s caloric overload when you've polished off an entire large container all by yourself.

Mindless eating becomes a habit when people shovel food into their mouths, blissfully unaware of how much they’re eating, how full they feel and what the food actually tastes like.

Here’s a suggestion from one study conducted at the University of Southern California: Switch hands.

People who snacked using their nondominant hands reduced about 30% of their total intake, compared with those using their dominant hands, according to the study, which was published online in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“If people disrupt the physical sequence of action that is in automatic eating, that’s one way to gain some control,” said David Neal, who had been an assistant professor in psychology at USC at the time of the study.  Since then, he has left to start his own company, Empirica Research.

For the study, Neal and his colleagues gave each participant a bag of popcorn - some were stale popcorn (popped a week ago), and others were fresh (popped less than an hour ago).

They sat in a dark movie theater and watched several trailers while they were within convenient reach of their popcorn bags.  In questionnaires, they indicated whether they habitually ate popcorn in the movie theaters or not.

After the participants left, researchers weighed the popcorn bags.  They found that the people who indicated that they regularly ate popcorn during a movie screening ate about 63% of the popcorn bag - regardless of whether it was stale or fresh.

“If you are the sort of person who bought and ate popcorn a lot in the past, as long as you’re in the environment, you continue to eat the food even when it’s stale and horrible,” Neal said.

Being in the dark movie theater environment with popcorn at easy access seemed to trigger an automatic eating habit, he said.

“People believe their eating is controlled by internal preferences,” he said.  “We think how much we eat is guided by how hungry we are or taste of the food options.  But in reality, that’s not the case.  The environment plays a big role.”

So the researchers altered the environment.  Instead of a movie theater, they set up a dark meeting room with music videos projected on a screen with popcorn at the ready.  The participants didn’t eat as much popcorn when their environment changed.

For the final study, they asked participants to use their nondominant hand if they chose to eat the popcorn inside a movie theater.

The amount of stale popcorn eaten by habitual popcorn lovers dropped about 30%.  The amount of fresh popcorn eaten also dropped, but the difference was slight.

“It’s inconvenient and disruptive to eat with the nondominant hand, but that effect is much stronger when the food is horrible,” Neal said.  “It suggests it’s not just inconvenience. It makes you think, ‘Is there a value of what I’m doing?  Does this taste good? Am I hungry?’ If the answer is no, you stop eating.”

The researchers borrowed this trick from neuroimaging studies that have shown that people’s habits are disrupted when they’re asked to perform tasks using their nondominant hand.

Dining out at a fancy restaurant using your nondominant hand might make for a really clumsy and awkward meal. So, this advice might be more practical when you’re sitting in front of the TV, where your snacking could get out of control.

“The general idea is that relying on willpower and self-control is often not very effectual,” Neal said.  “It doesn’t get people to change health behavior.”

Try changing your environment that triggers mindless eating behaviors, he suggested.  You could try switching to smaller plates and utensils to eat less, stashing junk food out of reach in shelves, or you could try eating with your left hand (if you’re a righty) or your right hand (if you’re a lefty).

But this tip may not work out if you’re ambidextrous.

soundoff (649 Responses)
  1. Percy Bracher


    June 20, 2021 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tyree Figaro

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Many thanks!


    June 20, 2021 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ray Farlin


    June 20, 2021 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Shizue Buxton

    Hi there! This post couldnít be written much better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this article to him. Pretty sure he'll have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!


    June 20, 2021 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. carmax near me

    Hi there! This article could not be written much better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I most certainly will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!


    June 20, 2021 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rooms for rent near me


    June 21, 2021 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Nearest RV Repair

    This blog was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Thank you!


    June 21, 2021 at 05:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. subaru dealership near me


    June 21, 2021 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. propane gas near me

    Wonderful post! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our site. Keep up the good writing.


    June 21, 2021 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. RV Repair Shop Near My Location

    I was able to find good information from your blog posts.


    June 21, 2021 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mulch near me

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article and the rest of the site is extremely good.


    June 21, 2021 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Repair Shops Near Me

    Itís difficult to find experienced people on this subject, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 21, 2021 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Camper Repair Near Me

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't fail me just as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I genuinely thought you would probably have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    June 21, 2021 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. bicycle shops near me

    You are so interesting! I do not think I have read through something like that before. So nice to find somebody with genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is something that is needed on the internet, someone with some originality!


    June 21, 2021 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. 2016 Sprinter Mirror Repair

    After I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Is there a means you are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!


    June 21, 2021 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Ram High Top Van Repair Shop Near Me

    There is definately a lot to know about this issue. I really like all of the points you've made.


    June 21, 2021 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Courier Van Repair


    June 21, 2021 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Travel Van Repair Shop

    Hello there, I do think your site could be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Aside from that, excellent website!


    June 21, 2021 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. petsmart near me


    June 21, 2021 at 23:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. boost mobile near me


    June 21, 2021 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Auto Sprinter Repair


    June 22, 2021 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Repair California

    Hi, I do believe this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may return once again since I book-marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.


    June 22, 2021 at 03:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Repair Orange County


    June 22, 2021 at 04:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Suspension Repair Sprinter Van


    June 22, 2021 at 04:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Glass Repair Near Me

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am going through troubles with your RSS. I donít know the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    June 22, 2021 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Chevrolet Luxury Van Repair Shop Near Me

    Hi, I do believe this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to revisit yet again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.


    June 22, 2021 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Sprinter Van Recall Repair Near Me


    June 22, 2021 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Content Marketing Agency


    June 22, 2021 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Repair Near My Location


    June 22, 2021 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Google Marketing Consultant


    June 22, 2021 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Social Media Marketing Consultants

    I must thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this blog. I really hope to view the same high-grade blog posts from you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉


    June 23, 2021 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. RV Air Conditioner Repair Near Me


    June 23, 2021 at 01:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Digital Marketing Specialist

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not speak about such topics. To the next! Cheers!!


    June 23, 2021 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Google Marketing Experts


    June 23, 2021 at 03:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. SEO Marketing Agency


    June 23, 2021 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Social Media Marketing Agency Near Me

    I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.


    June 23, 2021 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Social Media Marketing Agencies

    Hi there! This post couldnít be written much better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I will send this article to him. Fairly certain he's going to have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!


    June 23, 2021 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Collision Repair Near Me


    June 23, 2021 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Social Media Marketing Specialists

    There's definately a great deal to learn about this subject. I really like all the points you made.


    June 23, 2021 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Digital Marketing Firm

    Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to generate a great articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a whole lot and don't seem to get nearly anything done.


    June 23, 2021 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. auto detailing near me

    Aw, this was a very good post. Spending some time and actual effort to make a very good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.


    June 23, 2021 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Social Media Marketing Consultants

    A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you need to write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but generally folks don't talk about such issues. To the next! Cheers!!


    June 23, 2021 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. h&r block near me

    Hi there, I do think your website could possibly be having web browser compatibility problems. When I take a look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, excellent website!


    June 23, 2021 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. SEO Marketing Agency


    June 24, 2021 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Best RV Repair Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. 24 Hour RV Repair Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 02:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Digital Marketing Companies


    June 24, 2021 at 05:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Repair Parts Near Me

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.


    June 24, 2021 at 08:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. bank near me

    An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a colleague who was doing a little homework on this. And he actually bought me breakfast simply because I discovered it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this matter here on your website.


    June 24, 2021 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Best RV Repair Near Me


    June 24, 2021 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.