Why Eating With Your Non-Dominant Hand Can Help With Weight Loss

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Everyone has ran into a situation where they have had great intentions to eat healthy but somehow find themselves mindlessly reaching for a bag of chips or ice cream rather than the fruit or vegetables they had planned on eating.

By the time they realize what they are doing half the bag or carton is already gone!

Most people tend to underestimate how many food-related decisions they make every day.

That is to say: most of the food decisions we make happen automatically or without conscious intention (4). Behavior that occurs without conscious intention is descriptive of habit. The two important components of habit are repetition; the behaviors occur often, and context; the behavior occurs in the same environment.

Many people battle between their bad habits and their good intentions.

If the context or environment in which behaviors occur is not changed it is likely that bad habits will win out over good intentions more times than you would like.

Note From TG: Reminds me of the concept of the Elephant, Driver, and the Path1alluded to in Dan and Chip Heath’s awesome book, Switch: How to Change, When Change Is Hard.

There are many environmental contributions to behavior. However, for the purposes of this article the environment will constitute the where and how behaviors occur.

In a research study Neal and colleagues found that interrupting habits is as easy as switching the hand you eat with.

They found that individuals who scored high for habitually eating popcorn during a movie ate relatively the same regardless of if the popcorn was fresh or seven days old!

That is, they ate without thinking.

However, when high habit popcorn eaters were asked to eat with their non-dominant hand they ate considerably less when the popcorn was stale.

Participants ate slightly more than 40% of their bucket when they ate stale popcorn with their dominant hand whereas they ate slightly more than 20% of their stale popcorn when they switched to their dominant hand (1).

This small environmental disruption apparently brought behavior under intentional control and allowed high habit participants to follow their goals (to not eat a lot of popcorn that tasted like Styrofoam!).

popcorn habits

Disrupting automatic eating may be as easy as moving unhealthy food out of sight2 (2) or changing the sequence of events that leads to automatic eating.

For example, picture that every day you come home from work and enter your home through the kitchen door.

Note From TG: Or, if you’re me, parachuting from an Apache helicopter onto the roof of the apartment complex. Same difference.

From there you open the fridge and stare at the leftover pizza slices from last night. A few minutes later you’re still standing in front of the fridge and are working on your third piece!

In this case the series of events as well as the location of the food could have been changed to help disrupt mindless eating3 (3). This individual could have done the following:

  1. Walk through the front door rather than the kitchen door to avoid temptation.

  2. Put the pizza in a less noticeable place such as the bottom shelf. Place healthy food at eye level so it is a more noticeable snack than the pizza.

  3. Rather than eat food in front of the fridge put one piece on a plate and bring it to the dinner table.

It is easy to imagine how these concepts could apply to different scenarios.

For example, you may drive home from work past a series of fast food restaurants. It has been a long day and you’re hungry now. Rather than mustering up the willpower to say no to four different restaurants find an alternative route home.

If you find yourself engaging in an unhealthy behavior think about the series of events that led up to the behavior.

Note: HERE’s some further reading on how to go about changing behaviors.

From there think of ways to interrupt this sequence of events or make the behavior more difficult to do. The environment is an important and overlooked contributor to habit. By modifying it you may be able to bring your actions under voluntary control and perform the healthy behaviors you would like to do!

Author’s Note

This article covered one important part of how personal trainers can help clients make healthier decisions. I believe that this information is just one important aspect of how trainers can provide better services for their clients.

Because of this passion I have put together a full day conference where great coaches and researchers will share their knowledge to help trainers provide a better service.

These speakers include Tony Gentilcore, Mark Fisher, Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, and John Brand. The conference is Saturday April 2nd at SUNY Cortland. For more information you can go HERE.

CEUs will be available and the cost is only $20 for students and $60 for professionals.

Also, I totally don’t have bigger biceps than Tony.

Justin and Tony Bicep-off

References

  • Neal DT, Wood W, Labrecque JS, and Lally, P. How do habits guide behavior? Perceived and actual triggers of habits in daily life. J Exp Soc Psychol 48:492–98, 2011.
  • Wansink B, Painter JE, and Lee YK. (2006) The office candy dish: Proximity’s influence on estimated and actual consumption. Int J Obesity 30: 871-875.
  • Wansink, Brian.Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Bantam Books, 2006.
  • Wansink B. and Sobal J. Mindless eating: The 200 daily food decisions we overlook. Environ Behav 39(1): 106-123, 2007.

 

 

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  1. Think of the elephant as your “emotional” brain (I want it and I WANT IT NOW!!!!!!), the driver as your rational brain (no, it’s probably not a good idea to dominate that cheese lover’s pizza right now), and the path, is well, the path.

    All freaking day your rational brain (driver) is trying to steer the elephant (emotional) down a certain path.

    Think of it this way.  Many of you reading right now are probably trying to shed a few pounds of fat, and in an effort to do so, you brought a kick-ass salad to work with you today.  Hell, you even omitted the croutons.

    You’re making an effort to eat healthier, and that should be commended.  Good for you.

    Thing is, how many billboards or signs did you pass today telling you to buy the latest snack food?  Moreover, how many times has one of your colleagues brought in a baked good (Oreo mudpie!!!!!!) to share because it’s someone’s b-day or because it’s Wednesday?

    And, throwing more salt on the wound, by the time you’re on your way home (after a 13 hour day no less), you’ve been fighting off the elephant for so long, that the idea of going home to grill a chicken breast sounds about as enticing as sandpaper.

    You can’t fight will power forever, and the elephant inevitably wins.  You violently turn your steering wheel to the right and  switch lanes – Jason Bourne style – into the Burger King drive-thru.

    Sound vaguely familiar?

    They key, then, to fixing these horrendous default patters (hitting the fast food joint instead of cooking a homemade meal) is to give your clients another default pattern that will help them become successful.

    As an example.  Maybe instead of crushing Bacon Double Whoppers, you could encourage them to go to a “healthier” fast good alternative.  Say, Chipolte Mexican Grill!

    At least there they can order a meat salad with a heaping scoop of guacamole, which is a far cry from the heart attack they’re ordering elsewhere.  Annnnnd one!

  2. Moving a candy dish away from arms reach significantly decreases consumption

  3. The book Mindless Eating provides a variety of great examples on why we eat more than we intend to.

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