We all have habits--some good and some bad. Habits--because they are habits--are something we usually don’t have to put much thought into. Hopefully, you have developed some good habits with your diabetes care--such as testing your glucose, taking medications at the right times, getting regular exercise, and planning meals and snacks.
But plenty of habits can be detrimental to our health, and mindless nighttime snacking often tops the list. A recent research study has shed some light on the topic of habits related to eating.
The Popcorn Study
Researchers from the University of Southern California have published a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in which they used popcorn to look at people's snacking habits. In the first experiment, the researchers sent all participants to watch a movie at a movie theater, after first giving each participant either a bag of fresh popcorn or a bag of stale popcorn. Those who, in an earlier interview, had reported that they didn't always eat popcorn at the movies did not eat the stale popcorn during the experiment. Those participants who earlier had reported that they regularly ate popcorn at the movies did eat the stale popcorn. So, what can we learn from this?
It’s not about taste but about habit!
For Experiment #2, the researchers repeated Experiment #1, except that they used a meeting room instead of a movie theater. Again, they gave the participants bags of either stale or fresh popcorn. This time, as expected, those who didn't always eat popcorn at the movies left the stale popcorn alone in the meeting room. But this time, even the habitual popcorn eaters didn’t eat the stale popcorn--the change of setting made their habit change.
For the third experiment, it was back to the theater again, only this time the participants had to eat their popcorn with their non-dominant hand (right-handed people ate with their left hand; left-handed people etc.). Once again, although the setting was back to "normal" (i.e., the movie theater), the habitual popcorn eaters did not eat the stale popcorn. Why? The scientists believe it was because the participants now had to think about what they were doing while they ate.
Two Keys to Breaking Bad Habits
This experiment demonstrated 2 good ways of overcoming a bad habit:
Change the setting.
Think about what you are doing. In other words, when you are eating, think consciously about the foods you are putting into your mouth.
Breaking the Nighttime Snack Habit
So, what about that late-night snack? Maybe try a couple of new rules. First, change the setting. This would mean no eating outside of the kitchen--and definitely not in front of any screen (TV, computer, phone, etc.). And second, before you can gobble down that snack, you have to think about whether you are really hungry. Would you still eat that snack?