Do you often eat more than you should? Join the club. Many of us mindlessly munch out of habit or occasion (e.g., movies, parties). Even the repetitive motion of hand-to-mouth can take on a momentum all its own. Researchers at USC wanted to see if they could break up such unconscious eating behaviors by changing things up on study subjects who were habitual popcorn eaters — simply by getting them to switch the hand with which they scoop their snack.

When using their dominant hand (for the vast majority of the population, this is the right hand), popcorn aficionados chowed down indiscriminately, regardless of whether the popcorn was stale or fresh. But when asked to use their non-dominant hand (e.g., righties switched to their left hand and lefties switched to their right hand), the habitual popcorn eaters broke the mindless munching cycle, eating 20% less of the stale stuff. By changing hands, says lead researcher David Neal, Ph.D., “You slow down and realize the food is bad for you.”

What are some other practical tips for eating more mindfully? One study counter-intuitively found that larger forks actually led folks to eat less. You might also try using chopsticks, chewing slower (and thus savoring) food, turning off the TV during mealtimes, and sitting at a table (not standing by your countertop) to dine. Shed a light on it too: Researchers found that people are more likely to binge in a dim environment. Your best overall bet — whether you’re reaching with your right or left hand — is to opt for filling, nutrient-dense, low-calorie fruit and vegetables, which are the delicious, nutritious way to maintain a healthy weight.

 Published February 1, 2012