We’ve heard numerous times that eating mindfully can help us enjoy our food more and potentially curtail overeating. Of course that sounds great in theory, but when I have six minutes before I need to be out the door, and the dog still needs to be let out, and my phone’s beeping at me, mindful eating gets tossed in favor of cheese cubes stuffed in my face straight from the fridge drawer. Even when we have time to eat a sit-down meal, it’s hard to retrain our brains to think about each bite.
New research from The Ohio State University, though, points to a simple (yet bizarre) fix: Eating food in unconventional ways may help us focus on what we like about it. In what has to be one of the stranger food experiments we’ve come across recently, researchers asked participants to eat popcorn with chopsticks and lap up water like a cat (alternatively, participants could sip water funneled out of a shipping envelope… what?). They found that people enjoyed food and drink more when they consumed it in novel ways, likely because it nudges your brain to focus on the task of eating.
The methodology involved asking people to eat a food like popcorn two ways: first, with their hands; then, with chopsticks or in some other new method. People reported enjoying the food more after eating it in a strange manner. When the experiment was repeated—when people were asked to eat popcorn with chopsticks again—they enjoyed it the same amount as eating with their hands, suggesting that once a behavior has become more familiar, we’re less likely to focus on the experience.
Researchers say that people could test this themselves and evaluate whether it helps them enjoy food more. They suggest eating a slice of pizza normally, then eating the next one with a knife and fork. Or, if you regularly eat at your kitchen table, you could try eating in another room or outside. Or, if you normally eat soup with a spoon, maybe you could use a crazy straw, balance on your head, hum a song, and find out that your kid swiftly posted your dinnertime act to YouTube.