Eating your food strangely will help you enjoy it more, study suggests

Even your favorite foods probably aren’t always as enjoyable as they could be. No matter how much you like Big Macs, the more frequently you eat one, the less joy each one brings. But new research suggests that you might be able to restore your burger’s splendor — by eating it with a fork.

Researchers from the University of Chicago and Ohio State University challenged participants in their study to consume unexciting foods — like popcorn and water — in novel ways. They found that people consistently rated their experiences more enjoyable when they shook things up a bit.

In one part of the study, participants were told that the researchers were studying ways to help people eat more slowly and given 10 kernels of popcorn. Some were asked to eat with chopsticks, while others could eat with their hands. The researchers found that those who used chopsticks reported a more intense and focused eating experience.

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“When you eat popcorn with chopsticks, you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience,” Ohio State assistant professor of marketing Rob Smith, one of the study's authors, told OSU’s press office. “It’s like eating popcorn for the first time.”

It doesn’t have to be a revolutionary change, either. Another part of the study found that people enjoyed water more if they simply sipped it from a martini glass.

“When something seems new, people pay more attention to it,” the study's authors explained in a piece for The Conversation. “And when people pay more attention to something enjoyable, they tend to enjoy it more.”

As always, though, nothing gold can stay — when the researchers asked participants to enjoy another helping of chopstick popcorn, it tasted… fine. The thrill, apparently, applies mostly to the first time.

Which puts the onus on all of us to keep coming up with weird new ways to eat. Spaghetti with chopsticks is a no-brainer, and it’s always fun to slurp your soup, provided you’re not in polite company. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich (prepared however you like), cut into small squares or long strips? Why not? A Double Whopper as two complementary open-faced sandwiches?

Homemade Kettle Corn Popcorn in a Bag

When you eat popcorn with chopsticks, you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience.  (iStock)

For their part, the study's authors brainstormed a number of off-the-wall eating methods before settling on their study design. Smith told The Daily Meal via telephone that the team had actually conducted an experiment, not included in their published paper, that asked participants to drink Champagne from coffee mugs and java from glass flutes. The switcheroo yielded results similar to those of the popcorn experiment.

We’re not necessarily suggesting that you jazz up your sad desk lunch by using two ballpoint pens as chopsticks. (Or maybe we are!) But if you find yourself in a rut, science seems to agree that throwing yourself a curveball can bring you more enjoyment. Try rethinking your breakfast tomorrow morning with one of these 50 different ways to cook an egg!