Nutrition Articles

9 Simple Tricks to Eat Less

Cut Calories, Not Satisfaction

5.7KSHARES
Setting a goal (such as losing weight) and implementing steps to reach it (like portion control) are two very different things. When it comes to eating healthier—or eating less for that matter—it isn't always as simple as "just eating less." Why? Because what and how much we eat is influenced by so many factors—the environment in which we're eating (relaxed at home or at a party), how much food is served (a portion-controlled meal at home or a super-sized restaurant meal), and how hungry we are (just a little or famished)—mindfulness, speed, emotional state. The list could go on and on.

The good news is that YOU can control many of these factors; it's just a matter of bringing them to the forefront of your mind until they become habits. Here are nine proven tricks you can use to help yourself eat less and keep your calories in check. Over time, they'll become second nature—and your weight loss will be second to none!

1. Enjoy every bite.
Do you take time to smell the flowers? How about taking time to enjoy every meal and snack you eat? There is truth in the benefit of slowing down and appreciating the world around you, food included. Focusing on every bite can help you practice mindful eating, which has been shown to cut down on calorie intake. Slowing down between bites allows you to recognize your feelings of hunger and satiety so you have a chance to realize when you’ve had enough—then stop before you clean your plate and later regret it. Eating at a relaxed pace also means you'll chew your food more thoroughly, thus experiencing fewer digestive issues and less intestinal upset. This may take some practice. The hustle and bustle of daily life often catches up with us and sometimes it takes a conscious effort to take it easy and give your brain a chance to enjoy the food and tell you when you’re full. Until you get in the habit, try leaving a note or motivational saying on your dinner table. ACTION TIP: Set a timer. Start by finding out how quickly you currently eat your meals. You may be surprised to find out that breakfast or lunch at your computer is over within 5 or 10 minutes. Then, work on adding time to your meals, aiming for each meal to take AT LEAST 20 minutes.

2. Use smaller plates, cups and bowls.
Your mother was right about some things: Your eyes really can be bigger than your stomach. Research has shown that when people use large bowls, plates and serving utensils, they serve themselves more and consume more food. In a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 85 nutrition professionals were asked to serve themselves a bowl of ice cream. Researchers provided a variety of bowl and spoon sizes. Subjects with larger bowls served themselves 31% more ice cream; when they used a large spoon, they dished 14.5% more into their bowls. Although the super-sized plates may look slick, put those away for special occasions. When you see a large canvas, you want to fill it! ACTION TIP: Eat from smaller salad plates and small bowls for daily use. Without even realizing it, you'll serve and eat less. If your dinnerware is oversized, it might be time for new dishes that won't dwarf your properly portioned meals.

3. Pre-portion your foods.
How often do you eat straight from the bag of crackers or chips? How is it possible to track your food or know how much you eat without measuring it? That's just one reason you should never eat directly from a box or bag that contains multiple servings of a food. Grab your measuring cups and a small bowl (see #2 above) to keep your calories in check. Why? Because it's easy to overeat when you're reaching into a bottomless bag of food. ACTION TIP: Instead of reaching into the chip bag or a big bowl of chips at a party, pre-portion your snacks into a smaller container (or plate) so you know exactly how much you're eating. Then, put the big bag away (or walk away from the chip bowl). You are much less likely to overeat enjoy the smaller portion you served yourself. So dish it up, put the rest away, and taste every bite (see #1 above).

4. Know your pitfalls.
We all have food weaknesses. That food that you can't resist. The food you can't stop eating once you started. The food you have trouble saying no to, even if you're not hungry. The food you think about even when it's not in the vicinity. Maybe you'll never shake the grip this food has you on, but the first step is recognizing it. Take a minute to think about your food weaknesses. Once you know what they are, you can take extra measures to prevent overeating these particular foods, whether you avoid repeated exposure to this food or plan the rest of your day's intake planning to enjoy a bit of this favorite food. ACTION TIP: Make a list of your food weaknesses and the places you encounter them. Come up with solutions to avoid those encounters, like not venturing down the snack food aisle in the grocery store or choosing a different route to bypass the co-worker who always offers free doughnuts. Stick with your plan of avoidance until you build up the strength to face that food without giving up your control.

5. Keep a food journal.
Keeping a food diary is the best weight-loss tool. Several studies have confirmed this, and most SparkPeople members would agree, too. One recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dieters who kept track of their food lost twice as much weight as those who didn't. Writing down what you eat will encourage you to think about your food choices all day, and consider what you've already eaten and what you plan to eat later. This means you'll make conscious choices more often and usually curb your calorie intake as a result. Whether you jot foods down on a sticky note, keep a small paper pad in your purse or use SparkPeople's free Nutrition Tracker, writing down everything you eat will keep your calories in check. ACTION TIP: If you don’t' already, start tracking your food. Even if you don't list all the calories, fat or carbs you eat, even a simple list can make a big difference. Don’t forget to include beverages, sauces, condiments, and other small "tastes" in your log! Extra calories can be hiding in these items.

6. Use the proper plate method.
Most meals we eat at home or in restaurants are backwards: big portions of meat and carbs and very few (if any) vegetables. If your plates put veggies in a supporting role, you're probably consuming too many calories and hurting your weight-loss efforts. Using a perfectly portioned plate can help! ACTION TIP: Fill half your plate with disease-fighting vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with your whole grains. This method automatically piles your plate full of filling, low-calorie veggies that also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals to fight disease. It also helps control portions of starches and protein, which can sometimes become larger than necessary. Keep in mind that using a smaller dish still helps, even when using the proper plate method.

7. Pack in the protein.
Studies show that protein plays a key role in regulating food intake and appetite; people who consistently consume protein regain less weight after a significant weight loss, too. Protein helps increase feelings of fullness because it takes longer to digest. When you skip protein in your meals and snacks, those pesky hunger pangs might encourage overeating! So get into the habit of consuming protein at each meal and snack. ACTION TIP: Stick to lean sources of protein: Beans, hummus, egg whites, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products (cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, and milk) can all give you muscle-building proteins without added fat.

8. Doggy bag it.
Portions served at most restaurants set you up for overeating. Sure, we want a good deal for our money, but it often comes at the price—our health. A full meal can contain more than 1,200 calories at some eateries, and that’s before dessert. Even if you have the best intentions to eat only half of your meal when it arrives, it can be hard to stop or know when you've reached the halfway point—especially if you're distracted while talking with friends and family. ACTION TIP: Take your good intentions one step further. Ask your server to pack up half of your meal before it hits the table. That way, you'll stop when you're halfway done and still have leftovers for tomorrow. It works because it's a clear "stop sign" in your meal (like #3 above) and most people aren't likely to dig into their doggy bag or take-out box before leaving the restaurant.

9. Eat breakfast.
People say breakfast is the most important meal of the day for good reason. Studies show that people who eat breakfast have a lower BMI (body mass index) and consume fewer total calories each day than people who skip breakfast altogether. A professor at the University of Texas found that eating earlier in the day leads to lower total intake throughout the day. A common explanation is that eating breakfast allows a person to feel less hungry throughout the day. Another is that those who skip breakfast allow for “extra calories” later in the day because they skipped a meal, but in reality end up overshooting their energy goal. Whatever the reason, eating breakfast IS part of a healthy lifestyle and an important factor in healthy weight maintenance. ACTION TIP: Many people simply don't "feel hungry" in the morning or don't like how breakfast makes them feel. Start small. You CAN retrain your body to feel hungry and enjoy breakfast. Soon, you'll wonder how you ever skipped breakfast in the first place! Start with these quick and healthy breakfast ideas.


With these tools as your defense, you’ll be on your way to a healthy weight in no time! Jot them down in your journal or keep them on a small sticky note to refer to when you’re out. With a little practice, you’ll finally be able to control your calorie intake without feeling deprived—or hungry!

Selected Sources
De Castro, John. "When, how much and what foods are eaten are related to total daily food intake." Br J Nutr. 2009 Aug (4): 1-10.

Westerterp-Plantenga MS. "The significance of protein in food intake and body weight regulation." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2003 Nov (6): 635 - 8.

Wansink B, Van Ittersum K, Painter JE. "Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons and self-served portion sizes." American Journal of Preventitve Medicine. 2006 Sep 31 (3): 240-3

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
5.7KSHARES

Member Comments

  • Great tips on tricks to eating less. I've often read the suggestion to ask for a doggie bag when the food comes. We bring our own plastic container--freeze
    r and microwave safe. No more "disposable" containers in the landfills on our conscious and no more leaked food in our purses.
  • Don't criticize your server for not bringing a leftover container up front. Their job is hard enough. Many good restaurants (? not sure who determines THAT) won't even leave something off your plate because "it ruins the plating" and they are concerned about the look.

    When your meal comes, cut it in half - not so hard to do - if you have a bread plate use it to put what you are going to eat on...and then leave the rest to bag. If that doesn't appeal to you bring a paperplate to the restaurant with you - then you don't have to worry about bringing it home.

    Sometimes the answers are simple ... sometimes not so much.
  • Excellent ideas! Thanks for giving me some ways to combat and avoid temptation. I already knew about a few, but others were new ideas.
  • Long ago I thought asking for my doggie bag when I get my meal. As yet, the servers never bring it with my meal and I request it again when they bring the meal, then, if I'm lucky they bring it. We should bring our own I think.
  • Having a large selection of containers and plastic bags helps, along with a digital scale, especially if you're the only human in the house. (People who live with other people don't have the same problems since food can be eaten up by the others right after preparation, although if they need to eat differently then my approach can help.)

    The cups from Mott's natural applesauce are perfect for reuse. They have straight sides so they are easy to clean. I can spoon ice cream loosely into them and get the portion size I really do best with, about half the indicated serving size. Just put the container on the scale, tare, and stop adding when I reach the grams I actually want to eat. They're great for other things as well, such as various types of chips or nuts or seeds or dried fruit or cereal. I also have some ceramic bowls with about the same capacity, but can't beat the price on the recycled applesauce containers... Having small containers makes it easier to learn how to eyeball your servings of such things also when you don't feel like weighing.

    Sometimes I'll actually preportion ice cream into 2oz freezer containers sold for baby food. But I don't need to do that with nondairy ice cream (thank you Ben & Jerry for now making it!) because without the allergenic dairy trigger, I am not stimulated to go overboard on it. So what you need to preportion also depends on your particular eating habits.

    I use cheapie sandwich bags to portion out cookies, parts of bars or donuts or pies etc. , candy, popcorn-type snacks etc. before I eat any. Most of it goes into the freezer, those that don't are kept fresher that way, reducing the feeling of "gotta eat it before it goes stale". For example, 1/2 or 1/3 of a serving might make more sense for me so I just fill the bags accordingly and twist and knot the bag to seal. Then when I do want something, I just grab the small bag. Huge cookies or similar things in individual packages get broken into pieces in the package and put in the freezer before opening and might be repackaged when I go to eat t...
  • @RWOMMACK Lol, you made my day with that time zone thing :) This verified forskolin you have mentioned really helped me. i lost like 35 pounds in three month and 100000 pounds to go, lol.
    Speaking about garcinia, donít even spend your money on that. I tried it 2 years go with literally 0 results
  • RWOMMACK
    I've been size 10 all my life without even trying a lot. Recently I hit my 40th birthday. And now i can see that iím starting to gain weight. Soon i will need my personal time zone. My metabolism is getting slower i guess. i hate working out so decided to give weight loss supplements a shot. But there are so manyÖ. My friend which is a dietitian said that www.verified-fors
    kolin.com is the best since it's verified by a lot of studies. Maybe somebody tried it? Or should i try garcinia?
  • Am guilty of eating too much, sometimes because I do not want to waste the food or something, but i really enjoyed reading this article. I will make some changes henceforth.
  • TORBITCHARISSE
    I eat backwards, working nights I eat at night, and sleep during the day. I work out just 20 minutes when home, but do mall walking at work. 6 times around is a mile, and walk at school 3 times a week with a book bag. I also drink a lot of fluids. I don't seem as hungry.
  • LCERTUCHE
    I think portion sizes are really important. I ask my sons all the time what the portion size is when they offer me a cookie or piece of candy. Anymore they just tell me what the portion size is and ask if I want the treat. I hope they carry this on to adulthood and not battle weight like I have over the years.
  • MICHAELLEARNS
    Hi Sarah. Thanks for sharing this great article. Eating on a smaller plate is the one that works for me, and eating my breakfast allows me not to take other small meals in between...hehehe. I hope your readers will benefit from this too. http://bit.ly/hea
    lthy_diet
  • MOBYMOBY
    The pitfall list is great idea. I would add certain moments during routine day that trigger hunger/eating. My pitfall moments are procrastinating a task and coming in the door. "A well-defined problem is half-solved."
  • Great tips here, thanks! The article could use a little proofreading, I spotted an error. It was two sentences mashed together, and that didn't make sense. But other than that, great! These are the top tips that nutritionists and fitness trainers give their clients!
  • I have been utilizing 100-calorie protein shakes. I sip on one in the afternoon, and it keeps me from snacking.
    I know some people avoid anything processes, including shakes and bars, but my doc told me to keep my caloric intake below 1100 and these shakes have been helpful.
  • DISNEY_QUEEN
    When I was losing my 40 lbs two years ago, I followed most of these tips, but my best tool was water. I drank 8-16 oz glasses of water a day. I made sure I drank on before every meal, then I was less likely to load up my plate. Also many times when you think you are hungry, you are just thirsty, so every time I felt a hunger pang, I drank another glass of water. It works!
    Of course it goes without saying that you must exercise along with adjusting your diet.

About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by June 7! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.