Put down the headphones and step away from the TV

By Rachel Jacoby Zoldan
March 16, 2016
Corbis Images

Ever wonder when you're munching popcorn in the theater if other people can hear you chew your food? If you do, have you ever thought about whether it affects your eating habits?

Let us back up: In the past, so much research has focoused on how extrinsic factors like environment and emotions have affected eating habits, but it's only recently that the connection between eating habits and one's senses-what are called intrinsic factors-has been really looked at. Interestingly, sound is (perhaps unsurprisingly) the most commonly forgot flavor sense. So researchers at Brigham Young University and Colorado University set out to examine the relationship between food sound salience (the sound that food itself makes) and consumption levels, publishing their findings in the Journal of Food Quality and Preference.

Over the course of three studies, lead researchers Drs. Ryan Elder and Gina Mohr found a common, consistent result: the crunch effect. Specifically, the study authors show that increased attention to the sound the food makes (that's food salience again) may serve as what they call a "consumption monitoring cue," ultimately leading in reduced consumption. (Did you know counting bites of food instead of calories can help you lose weight?)

TL;DR? The "Crunch Effect," as it was named, suggests you're way likely to eat less if you're more conscious of the sound your food makes while you're eating. (Think about munching on a bag of Doritos in a quiet office. How many times is someone going to comment on your food? Probably more times than you'd care.) Therefore, having any loud disturbances on while eating-like watching loud TV or listening to loud music-can mask eating sounds that keep you in check, the team suggests.

Because the subjects in each study only ate around 50 calories of whichever snack was assigned to the experiment (for example, one experiment used Famous Amos cookies), it wasn't clear if the decreased consumption from louder chewing could lead to any substantial weight loss. However, "Tthe effects many not seem huge-one less pretzel-but over the course of a week, month, or year, it could really add up," Dr. Elder says.

So while we're not exactly suggesting you eat in total silence, Mohr and Elder suggest the key takeaway from this study is to inject more mindfulness into your daily eating routine. By being hyperaware of all of your food's sensory properties, you're more mindful of what goes in your mouth, and are likely to make healthier, sounder choices. Which reminds us, we need to go turn my TV off.

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