10 Simple Ways To Eat Less Without Noticing

by | Oct 14, 2013

Photo by Idle Type

What you eat is important, but even healthy food can stop you from losing weight if you eat too much of it.

I never recommend extreme calorie restriction (most people aren’t very good at it anyway), but there are some tricks you can use to slightly reduce the amount of food you eat without feeling deprived, or even really noticing.

Your brain is easily fooled by shifts in perspective. It’s also more responsive to external cues like an empty plate, than internal cues like a full stomach. Understanding these influences can show you how to tilt them in your favor.

In his brilliant book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink encourages you to use the “mindless margin,” a daily 100-200 calorie buffer zone where your brain doesn’t notice a difference in how much you’ve eaten.

Usually we eat more than we should because of the mindless margin, but you can use the same principles to subtly influence your behavior and mindlessly eat less.

Over time this calorie difference can help you drop weight. It’s slow, but it’s steady. And best of all, it’s painless.

10 Simple Ways To Eat Less Without Noticing

1. Use smaller plates

A full plate sends the signal that you’re eating a full meal and a partially full plate looks like a skimpy meal, regardless of the actual quantity of food.

The same amount of food looks like more on a smaller plate

Using smaller plates and filling them up is a proven way to eat less without noticing.

2. Serve yourself 20% less

The mindless margin is about 20% of any given meal. In other words, you can eat 80% of the food you’d normally eat and probably not notice, so long as no one points it out to you. You could also eat 20% more—not a bad idea if you’re scooping vegetables. If you have those smaller plates mentioned above, serving yourself a little less should be just as satisfying.

3. Use taller glasses

Just like less food looks like more food on a smaller plate, height makes things look larger than width, even when the volumes are the same.

A vertical line looks longer than a horizontal line and tall glasses look bigger than wide ones

You can cut down on your liquid calories by choosing taller glasses rather than shorter, fatter ones.

4. Eat protein for breakfast

People love to hype breakfast eating as a miracle weight loss cure, but only breakfasts high in protein have been proven to suppress appetite and reduce subsequent eating throughout the day. Skip the waffles and head to the omelet station instead.

5. Eat three meals a day

I bet you thought eating many small meals was better than eating three bigger ones throughout the day, but the data tells us otherwise. Though skipping meals can make controlling your appetite more difficult, eating more than three meals a day has not been shown to have any benefit, and may even be worse for appetite control.

Eat when you’re supposed to and you shouldn’t need any extra food.

6. Keep snacks out of sight or out of the building

Study after study have shown that people eat a lot more when is food visible rather than put away where it can’t be seen, even if they know it is there. Research has also demonstrated that the harder food is to get to, even if the extra effort is just removing a lid or walking to the cabinet, the less likely you are to eat it. The extra work forces you to question the value of your action, and this gives you the opportunity to talk yourself out of a decision you may regret later.

To avoid extra snacking keep tempting foods out of sight, or better yet, out of the house. On the flip side, keep healthy foods prominently displayed and easy to reach.

7. Chew thoroughly

Since I’ve been paying more attention to eating speed, I’ve been horrified to observe that most people don’t chew. If you’re one of those guys who chews the minimum number of times before swallowing or shoveling in another fork full, chances are you’re eating substantially more at every meal than your thoroughly chewing peers.

Slow down, chew each bite (counting your chews can help develop the habit) and watch as you fill up faster on fewer calories.

8. Don’t eat from the package

Your stomach can’t count. When you can’t see how much you’re eating you’re more than a little likely to lose track and consume double or even triple the amount you’d eat if you took the time to serve yourself a proper portion. Use a plate, or a bowl, or even a napkin, just make sure you get a good visual of everything you’re going to eat before taking your first bite.

9. Don’t eat in front of the TV

For the vast majority of us, distracted eating is overeating. The end of a show or movie is another powerful cue signifying that a meal is over, so parking in front of the TV with your plate for a Battlestar Galactica marathon is probably not the best idea. With the invention of DVR, there’s no reason you can’t take twenty minutes to sit down and have a proper meal before enjoying your shows.

10. Don’t pay attention to health claims

But wait, isn’t healthy food supposed to be better for you? In theory, yes. But truly healthy food—vegetables, fruits an other unprocessed foods—rarely have labels at all. Instead foods with health claims tend to be processed junk repackaged as better for you alternatives.

Even worse, research from Wansink’s lab has shown that people drastically underestimate the calories in foods with visible health claims on the packaging. People also tend to eat more food overall as a result of this miscalculation. He refers to this effect as the “health halo,” and it’s a recipe for packing on the pounds. For real health, stick to humble foods without labels.

How do you mindlessly eat less?

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Originally published October 3, 2012.

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56 Responses to “10 Simple Ways To Eat Less Without Noticing”

  1. Adam says:

    I’m curious about the “chew your food thoroughly” advice. It seems to me that if one chews one’s food more thoroughly, the food would be easier to digest, and one might get hungry again sooner?

    I’m definitely no expert on this; just wondering.

    • Thoroughly chewing your food gives your brain enough time to respond to the food and send a “full” message.

    • Carson says:

      From everything I’ve read, chewing more thoroughly leads to better digestion of the food itself (starting with enzymes in the mouth rather than in the stomach), so your body uses it most efficiently and thoroughly. Logically, a body using food optimally wouldn’t get needlessly hungry or lack that satiated feeling.

      But your question is interesting… what IS hunger? Is it from the stomach or brain? Both, I bet.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Adam, that’s a good point and there is some data that you absorb more calories from food with more chewing. But you also absorb more nutrients, and every study I’ve seen in free living people suggests more chewing helps satiety and promotes weight loss.

      • Jacqi says:

        I am not so sure if chewing thoroughly works. I seem to eat slower than most of my friends and yet I can eat alot!

      • Alicia says:

        I eat pretty slowly myself, but eating slowly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re chewing more; it might mean that you talk a lot at the table with family/friends or that you just take your time–I know I’m always finishing last, but I definitely don’t chew as well as I should!

    • Jessica says:

      it does help you digest your food faster and more efficiently. This make you feel fuller faster and LONGER because you body is actually digesting properly instead of just holding it as fat. When your body can digest something properly it is more likely to turn into fat. You may get hungery soon but a nice healthy snack will fix that. Also when your digestive system is working properly you should be eating some SMALL ANS HEALTHY (piece of fruit, handful of carrots) about every 2-3 hrs.

    • Ed says:

      Adam has a point. The basic physiology of hunger is that it involves both your brain and stomach. The stomach act as a sensor that relays signals to the brain that it is empty or full. The brain’s satiety center then responds to the signal. However your brain can be trained at what level of fullness is considered as satisfactory or pleasurable and this results in over eating. In short, it is highly subjective and this article provides tips to trick your brain. It may not work for everyone because of this reason. Studies on diet could be unreliable due to this subjective factor.

      This is a great article. I wish more mainstream media are written like this site.

    • Corinne Alice says:

      Well. That’s a very good. Although that makes a lot of sense, If you are eating faster, you don’t taste as much and have the satisfaction as if you are eating slowly and can taste your food and enjoy it. So you will eat more and more until your taste buds and stomach are satisfied. Or until you realize how much you have consumed.

    • I think the idea here is that the more you chew, you give your brain more time to recognize that it is full. It is similar to the 80% rule, that you push away from the plate when you are 80% full. But when is that? Chew more slowly and you might figure it out! LOL!

  2. Josh says:

    And for those ‘hardgainers’ looking to bulk up, do exactly the opposite (except for 4): liquefy 20% more smoothie than you usually consume, pour it into a very wide glass and drink it (without chewing at all) while distracted by a TV show :p

  3. I think another one besides the tricks mentioned above is that when we get that feeling of “hunger” is to take a moment to acknowledge what’s going on. Are we really hungry? None of us know what true hunger really is. When we feel “hunger” we are usually nervous, anxious, depressed, etc and go to food to help make us feel better.

    Taking a look at ourselves on the inside is a great way to help curb our appetites and feel better.

    • Teal says:

      Very good point. Why are we hungry at snack time? I have snack time all the time and I think it’s a mental issue that I need to figure out. My stomach doesn’t necessarily feel hungry but my mind is so over consumed and for slme reason i get hungry. Mabey im sad or anxious or just plane mad but i eat and just feel fat. No better than befor i ate and felt anxious. I just need to collaborate why I am getting these urges to snack so hard all the time. So the next time i feel like snacking I will try asking myself 3 times why I feel like that. In turn it might help me work out threw mental issues I’m having at the same time as curving my bad eating habits.
      Live, Love, God.

  4. I try to not have too many snacks in my house – because if it’s there I’ll probably eat it. If I have to drive to the shops, it’s far less of a temptation.

  5. Carson says:

    Any data on the average number of chews for Americans?

    After reading your previous post on slowing down, I’ve made a conscious effort to do so by counting chews. I’m averaging ~20/bite, started at ~5-7/bite. The best part is how much more I *taste* everything, feel the texture, etc. It’s changed some of my cooking methods even.

  6. Greg says:

    Great Post! I totally overlook the importance of PROTEIN in my breakfast meal…this makes so much more sense than just eating coco puffs! :-)

  7. Jacqui says:

    I love that you posted this! I read Brian Wansink’s book several years ago in college for a food politics course and loved it, definitely tips to keep in mind.

  8. Twenty minutes does not sound like enough time to eat and chew well. I think that someone can be attentive to eating while watching TV. Not only did my family eat while watching TV but we were big readers. So we would also read books while watching TV.

    Some scenes are action packed and need all of your attention. But most TV requires only a small amount of your TV. Of course I am not talking about people watching a football game and consuming all these chips, pizza and stuff as snacks and washing it down with beer.

  9. Justin Adney says:

    When I am bored I often feel hungry, even within an hour after a normal meal. In situations like this I have found that a glass of water is the simplest way to suppress my appetite. Usually I completely forget about food before the glass is empty.

    Another method that I have used recently is a short workout. Even just a few minutes of jumping rope or hitting the punching bag will eliminate my hunger for hours. And you can’t forget the added benefit of burning calories while avoiding an opportunity to over-eat.

    • Jen says:

      Justin you are on to something here. With the exercise supresses apatite. The nights I don’t workout I usually eat an extra snack after dinner. The nights I do workout I am not hungry for an after dinner snack and can skip it completely. I need to do some more research on this.

    • Phil says:

      I like this idea.

  10. Missy says:

    Try to make all of your food from scratch! This takes a lot more time, but that’s the point. When you have to consider all the effort that goes into your meal, often it’s easier to stir-fry some vegetables or just eat them raw. You’re also eliminating most of the processed foods and hidden calories.

    That’s how my husband and I each lost 30lbs (and counting) after his heart attack… we stopped eating out, stopped buying pre-made food, and I made it all myself using raw ingredients.

    I realize that a lot of people don’t have time for that, but when you consider the travel time and the wait time to get your food at a restaurant, it’s really not that much of a difference. YOU have control to replace your white flour with wheat flour, to use palm oil instead of shortening, or applesauce instead of all the oil. And you gain an incredible sense of pride over your meal, and for taking charge of your health.

  11. Alicia says:

    My family’s tricks are: always drink a tall glass of water a half hour before a meal and put your fork down between each bite, since if you have a fork in your hand, you want to put it to good use, but if you don’t you can focus just on chewing your food.

  12. Molly says:

    I’ve been eating my meals in courses, using small plates. When I see three plates, I feel like I’m eating lots more.
    I’ve also started eating cheese as a course, by it’s self, on a tiny plate, at the end of a meal like a dessert. I end up eating 1T of really good stuff instead of using it like a condiment.
    Even if it’s a food you don’t have to chew as much, I try to hold it/process it in my mouth longer, really tasting/feeling it. Another tip I’ve seen is to change the way you cut or serve food. For example, instead of eating a banana out of hand, cut it in half (save the other half) and cut it into smaller slices and put them on a plate. It takes longer to eat 15 slices than a couple big bites…..you taste it more and it slows you down.
    #6 and #9 have really helped me lately…….
    Concentrating on just the food helps slow you down!

  13. rachel says:

    there are other great options to breakfast with protein other than eggs. For those who are vegan or allergic to eggs, a quinoa porridge would make a great option as would oatmeal loaded with nuts/seeds and dried fruit. i love hummus on bagels as an option too.

  14. Joe says:

    Completely agree w/ your 10. And if I ever learn to chew more thoroughly I’ll be ready for sainthood.

    Remember, per your buddy Ferriss, that it’s a good idea to get enough protein in the morning — within 1/2 hour after arising, at about 20 – 30 grams, depending on body size and exercise regimen.

    Obviously there are many tips on this subject, but one in particular that I’d like to point out is to drink a large glass of water before eating. Squeezing some lemon it is better yet. Will help curb appetite, not to mention the hydration.

    Yep.

    -Joe

  15. Nicholas Casteel says:

    I have also found the advice to skip a meal here and there if you are not hungry very helpful. Sometimes we eat just because when our bodies don’t need it. Also I have read that some cultures say eat until you are 75% full and then stop. This is similar to your 20% less rule. My only problem with that rule is when eating I only know when I’m actually full, not when I’m 3/4 full. So, your 20% less is more practical to me personally.

  16. There’s a lot of great research behind the the Small Plate movement. Smaller plates really is a great way to keep your portion control in check without feeling hungry or deprived. If you’re not sure about it, pick up some smaller paper plates and give it a try for a week!

  17. Thomas says:

    The picture for “A vertical line looks longer than a horizontal line” isn’t helping.
    I took the picture, rotated it by 90° and guess what, the horizontal line seems longer. (probably because the other one is “cut in two” and therefor seems shorter).
    I’m not saying the statement is wrong, but the picture doesn’t proof that in any way.

  18. AJ says:

    Hi, Darya!

    I have a question about this very helpful post on mindful eating. What do you do to determine your meal eating end point? Is it by portion control (e.g. your meal is defined by one plate)? Or by time constraints (e.g. you only eat a well-chewed, slow meal over the course of one hour)? Or by a certain feeling in your stomach? This is something I have struggled with, and as always, I would greatly appreciate your advice.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I just try to eat slowly and stop when I’m 80-90% full. At home I serve myself the amount I would ideally eat, and only go back for more if I’m still hungry. At restaurants this is an essential skill, since they almost always serve you too much. It takes practice, but it comes naturally to me now.

  19. Jay Bird says:

    Choose high-protein waffles instead of the omlettes.

    • Darya Pino says:

      How is adding protein powder to processed food better than real food?

      • Ginny Jo says:

        Darya- How do you feel about a protein shake made with unsweetened almond milk for breakfast? I’m not a fan of eggs and I need something quick & filling in the morning. So I use myolean protein mix. I recently tried a natural plant based, no sugar, wheat, milk, anything protein powder and it was a sister of cardboard. :/ I like protein drinks in the morning because it keeps me full all morning and its simple, only takes me about one minute to throw together. I always make sure to eat a fruit with it and then for dinner I make up with by making something from scratch when I have more time. I have heard mixed reviews on protein powders so I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth substituting or if I should just go with it since it works for me and it’s the only processed thing in my diet.

  20. Jay Bird says:

    I did not suggest adding protein powder in my previous post. Waffles can be made from a number of grains which contain significant amounts of protein.

  21. Great post Darya. A neat trick that works for me is to drink a glass of water before my meals. That way I begin to feel fuller quicker and still get to eat an adequate amount.

  22. Kev says:

    I would also add do not eat in front of your computer as well as the TV. It’s just as distracting!

  23. Lauren says:

    Loved this article. :) It’s also mind over matter – Keep yourself active and busy – You won’t even have time to think of food until you are hungry!

  24. Nasim Saberi says:

    I wanted to Reply to Ginny Jo, but I couldn’t. So, I posted here. As a dietitian, I have received similar question, so, I found it useful to let you know that unfortunately, Dislike dairy milk, almond milk is not a great source of protein, and not Ca and Vit D if not fortified. I invite you to check your almond milk nutrition label or have a look at my example of Almond breeze milk. http://www.almondbreeze.com/?navid=329&pid=330. Therefore, if you wish to still use it, you can add nuts or low-fat cheese to your breakfast to boost up the protein content. Good luck

  25. I like this article. It gives me more ideas to present to my Personal Training clients. I have recommended some the basics, especially the “don’t eat from the package” and “not in front of the TV”, (these I preach to my husband and kids as big no-no’s) but not all them. As always, your blog is fantastic, I like to check in to see what is up and wish that my blog were as great as yours! Keep up the good work.

  26. Em says:

    Some good points here! I find that I can’t have too many snacks in the house or I will end up eating everything. The same goes for eating in front of the TV – I’ll easily eat a whole bag of crisps and then be horrified with myself. I often eat on the go as I’m quite a busy person so I found this article quite interesting: http://www.eatbreatheblog.com/healthy-eating-for-busy-people/

  27. Dan Bolton says:

    Great Post, Darya!
    I’ve found number 4 to be so important. Growing up on toast and cereal I really benefited from transitioning to having eggs or protein shakes most mornings. More energy and feeling fuller for longer :)

  28. Robert says:

    Excellent article Darya, I have often found myself eating in boredom or have a taste in my mouth. I have tried hard to slow my habits by always having a bottle of water nearby (when on the computer or watching TV) to cleanse my mouth to reduce feeding myself for the sake of having something in my mouth. I especially like the point on eating slowly, it reminds me of something my grandmother used to say. Eat slowly as it can take 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full.
    I am glad I found your site, finding some very interesting and thought provoking articles. Keep up the good work.

  29. Jessy says:

    I like the illustrations here. Smaller plate; ha-ha gotta do it.

  30. lindsay says:

    Does eating slower help at all? Or just eating a smaller plate of food?

  31. ewat says:

    I actually think breakfast is highly overrated in general and learning to not ‘need’ it is quite powerful.

    I’ve been doing a 16/8hr (or more) ‘intermittent fast’ for more than a year now – my goals are mostly strength/muscle gain + fat loss orientated and not generically _weight_ loss and it has worked phenomenally.

    I highly urge people to look into it (there are heaps of resources i won’t bother pasting, but google ‘intermittent fasting for weight loss’ for instance) if you’re looking for one of the easiest ways to ‘eat less’ and reduce all the decision fatigue!

    • Stacey says:

      I would like to comment on ewat; “I actually think breakfast is highly overrated in general and learning to not ‘need’ it is quite powerful.”

      Breakfast is in fact a very important meal and you do ‘need’ it- it not only kick starts your metabolism and prevents the body from entering the’starvation’ storage mode, but it is also where the majority of the population get their intake of fibre and calcium from. Studies also show that you are more likely to consume more calories/kilojoules over the day if you skip breakfast.
      I hope these few points show just how important breakfast is to consume regularly.

  32. Noriah says:

    Oh Darya!! Where have you been all my life?!?!?!?!

    :-)

  33. Clara says:

    Hi! When I don’t feel like eating a lot of healthy salad for example, I trick myself into doing it anyway by eating in front of the TV or while reading. Of course it would be better to eat it mindfully but at least in this way I get my stomach full of healthy stuff… If you do this before eating the more fattening parts of your meal (best with the TV turned off), you’re already quite full so won’t eat as much of them.

  34. Derek says:

    Great tips here!

    However, the tips here doesn’t cover the importance of remaining hydrated, specifically drinking water throughout the day. We should be drinking about 1/2 the volume of our weight. For example, if a person weighs 180 lbs, then the person should be drinking about 90 fl oz of water per day. Also, drinking 1 or 2 glasses of water 15 minutes before you consume your meal may also help. Sometimes our brain and stomach can’t distinguish between hunger and thirst. We could be thirst instead of hungry. :)

    Further, for the important breakfast meal, while proteins is very good, but it should also have a good balance of complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, etc.

    Thanks again for these tips.

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