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 and 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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115 Responses to “10 Simple Ways To Eat Less Without Noticing”

  1. Annie says:

    I can usually potion control fairly well at home, it’s when I am out that I have trouble, especially at gatherings where there is a buffet. When I’m there I go for the vegetables and fruit first. After I finish that I stop and think if I really want more food and if so I pick the item I don’t have often but love, like a crab puff or pig in a blanket, and enjoy a small portion. I also discovered that giving up alcohol helps too. I had to give it up due to acid reflux, but I noticed that I am better able to say no to extra portions I don’t need since I am not under the influence. I stick to water or unsweetened iced tea so I also save calories there. Most importantly I focus on socializing so I really enjoy myself rather than spending the whole time obsessing over the food.

  2. Thijmen says:

    another tip is: take a serving and leave the rest of the food in the kitchen, so you’ll have to walk to get more food. (allows for some time to think before you eat more)

  3. Judy says:

    Only eat when hungry eating small portions, protein with vegs, or rice with chicken in small portions,( rice cooked in margarine instead of oil,stir fry with chicken or other lean meat
    Save that health muffin for the end of the night or wheat pancake when have enough calories left to use for the day is not too many calories for that day! Also low glycemic diet works for some people or can use sometime to cut down on bad carbs! They have a chart online for healthy carbs, this is good to curb appetite, and for diabetic and low blood sugar.
    Just a thought cause some people like to eat carbs, if not eating too much at one time and eating slow(mindful eating)

  4. blake davis says:

    This is the most uneducated website I’ve ever read, some people eat a lot because they love the way it tastes or from boredom or because they just are hungry

  5. Ieshia says:

    Hi Guys. I’ve been reading the comments and love the advice. So I’m at home a lot and I’m constantly having food cravings and once I start eating, I don’t stop for a while. My brain would constantly tell me I’m hungry. I have almost no control and when I do try to stop myself I feel like I’m being tortured.

  6. Great post, I appreciate you sharing! I never would have thought that taller glasses would lead to less eating (though I would suspect smaller plates would :). Personally, I am 31 and work from home and when you work from home, life gets tremendously, physically easier. All the struggles of getting up and going into an office everyday simply don’t exist so I’ve been looking for ways to continue to eat well while not overdoing it, as I noticed my metabolism shifted when I was about 29 and slowed down. Have you ever thought about posting a blog post about vitamins that aid in digestion or weight loss? I think this would be very interesting.

  7. Jenny says:

    Choosing a strict diet is always makes me scary as I can’t do it. But, here you have mentioned some great tips to do it without noticing. Atleast, I will try this for sure.

  8. amy says:

    These are just wonderful tips to eat less food specially the one that says chewing thoroughly this is the best trick I have applied it a lot many times and as a result after eating few bites i get tired of eating any further thus we end up eating very less. 😉

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