Welcome back Jessica Penner, RD, with a post on ways to tweak your eating habits into eating less. She also is the founder of the 10 week online program I Quit Overeating.
Our brains are tasked with many decisions every day. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, has estimated through his research that over 200 of those decisions are food-related. Does that surprise you? It should, since most of those decisions happen so quickly you don’t even notice them!
Carefully evaluating each decision we make would be too overwhelming and time consuming, so our brains like to create shortcuts. That’s why humans develop habits, to cut down on inefficient decision-making with a more subconscious and automatic process.
Unfortunately, habits tend to work against us when we try to make changes in our lives, like trying to eat less. There’s good news though: by being more aware of this, you can make your brain’s shortcuts work for you instead of against you! Let’s hack those habits.
1) Divide and conquer
A universal habit that people tend to develop is eating in pre-determined numbers. When I was a kid I was allowed to have two cookies for an after school snack. This number is now ingrained into a habit. When I indulge in cookies, I instinctively reach for two. It just feels like the right amount! It’s simple to hack this eating habit, by simply making smaller cookies!
When I make a scrumptious batch of soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies, I use a small cookie scoop. Some might complain that it’s a tiny cookie scoop, but it helps me to eat less without feeling as though I’m restricting myself. I still instinctively reach for two cookies but now my cookies are half the size so I’m really only eating the equivalent of one larger cookie.
Sandwiches are another great example. By definition, a sandwich is always going to have two slices of bread, right? So just make those slices smaller. When you’re grocery shopping, look for bread with smaller pieces. You might be surprised to find that your hunger is just as satisfied with a slightly smaller sandwich.
This can work for many other foods, like muffins, pizza, etc. For example, most people have a typical number of pizza slices they will eat at a meal, regardless of size or thickness of crust. Habits reign supreme. When you order a pizza, get out your pizza cutter and cut each slice in half. Or, ask for it on thin crust instead of thick crust. You can eat less calories without making your brain feel like you’re being restricted from eating what feels right.
2) Always order a small
People tend to finish the amount of food served to them, regardless of whether they’re actually hungry for it. Be aware of this habit in order to cut down on overeating when ordering food products.
Food companies strategically price their items so that the value increases with increasing size. The thrifty side of you might be drawn to order the medium, since you get SO MUCH MORE for only a little bit extra. But do you really need those extra calories? Most people don’t. Plus, your instinct to save money by going for the value-priced item is actually working against your wallet. You’re not saving any money by ordering the larger size; it still costs you more, and you’re purchasing something you probably don’t need. If you get the medium, you’re likely to finish it even if you’re not hungry for the whole amount.
So do yourself a favour, and make it your policy to always order the small.
3) Share a meal
Most restaurants serve gargantuan portion sizes, in order to make you feel like you’re getting great value for the price. The primary exception to this rule is at fine-dining restaurants, where value for the price is not the biggest consideration! It turns out that fine-dining places are doing it right, because the perceived “value” of a huge meal comes at a huge caloric price, and once again you are probably going to eat everything on your plate out of habit, whether you like it or not.
The way to circumvent this habit is to avoid the huge full entrée. Ask for the entrée of your choice in the half-size version, or better yet, if you’re out with another person, convince them to share an entrée with you. It’s hard to match that kind of value, a half-priced entrée! The best part is that you won’t leave the restaurant feeling like a stuffed turkey.
4) Load up on veggies
It’s no secret: veggies are good for you! They also happen to be full of water and fibre: two nutrients that are filling and have zero calories. Make this a new habit:
a) fill up half your plate with veggies
b) eat your veggies first and then use whatever room you have in your stomach afterwards to eat the caloric portion of your meal.
If you’re making a one-dish meal where all the ingredients are mixed together, make sure to add in a ton of produce so that half of each mouthful is composed of veggies.
5) Be the last person to start eating
When people eat in a group setting, they sometimes take their eating cues from other people. Slower eaters eat faster. Faster eaters eat slower. People with large appetites eat less. People with small appetites eat more. What you end up with is a bunch of people with medium eating habits! This herd effect can be good for some people; for example people who tend to overeat will eat less. But it’s not good for those with smaller appetites.
I don’t advise people to eat alone since there are social and other benefits to eating with others. But one simple trick I like to tell people is to be the last person to start eating. This helps in a couple of ways:
a) this waiting period can help you to refocus and remember to listen to your own internal cues for fullness
b) you inherently eat a little less because everyone has started the “race” ahead of you.
Unfortunately you can’t tell all of your friends about this tip, or your meals together will never get eaten!
I’d love to hear from you! What little tips and tricks do you use to help you to eat less?
How do you feel about your eating habits? Do you wish you had more control over them? Do you wish you had a more peaceful relationship with food?
If so, I understand because I’ve been there too. But through my own personal journey and my professional experience as a dietitian, I’ve learned the way out of this negative relationship with food and have developed a passion of helping other people discover freedom too! To learn more about the 10 week online program I’ve developed called I Quit Overeating, click here.
Jessica is a Canadian girl with a passion for traveling and food, in that order! She grew up as a picky eater, but her love for travel forced her to meet the challenge of accepting new foods, and she now loves exploring new flavours in the kitchen. All of that delicious food posed a different problem at first, overeating, but her nutrition education and experience as a Registered Dietitian has brought insight and balance to her eating habits. She loves to share what she’s learned with others to help them get the most out of food!
Katie @ Talk Less, Say More says
Definitely some great tips! I’ve really been focusing on slowing down my eating, especially when I’m with other people but I really like the idea of being the last to start eating too. I guess sometimes I do that without necessarily realizing I’m doing it! 😉
Awesome! Eating slow is essential to be able to read your body’s fullness cues! Sometimes it can be difficult in a room full of people… cue the tip to be the last person to start eating.
Thanks for xour article – I’m sure you have the best intentions! But this is the kind of advice I used to follow for years… restricting, moderating, ocassionally overeating and wordt of all: constantly overthinking my food choices.
It all changed when I ditched sugar and grains and started to focus on nutritional value (vs. caloric content and/or macronutrient ratios). Now I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. There are no cravings and I get to eat lots of tasty, filling and nutritious food (at least 50% of which is veggies – we’re on the same page here!).
There is NO need for cookies, bread or ice cream any more. Literally, it doesn’t even taste good to me any more. And this comes from a former pasta-addict who used to binge on everything sugar: chocolate as well as on “healthier” alternatives like fruit (yes, fruit of course is healthy, but as a sugar addict one can binge on fruit, too…). Now I don’t crave sugar any more. And the best: I can easily skip a meal or work all day without the need to snack in order to fill that sugar-infuced hole. I feel relieved, more satiated and energetic. Bonus: I have lost a couple of minor health issues that I thought were “just the way I am” (frequent headaches, skin eczema, allergies).
Anyone reading this, check out Chris Kresser, Marks daily apple, Dianne Sanfilippo, the Paleo mom or Robb Wolf if you are interested in the benefits of a micronutrient-dense diet.
All the best,
Thank you for taking the time to write a response. I’m completely on board with you: I’m a HUGE proponent of ditching the psychological restrictions! (spoiler alert: this is a big focus in the I Quit Overeating program. There’s also a week long calibration exercise to help participants get back in touch with their hunger and fullness cues).
Glad to hear you’ve gotten back in touch with the cues your body has been giving you! This skill will serve you well the rest of your life.
I understand what you mean about certain foods no longer tasting good anymore. Now that I’m in touch with what my body needs, l’m all about quality! No more Oreos or fake food for me. That sort of stuff tastes like cardboard to me now! Just give me the dark chocolate and rich ice cream. I am happy to enjoy it, savor a small portion, and be very satisfied!
Good tips! I also almost always order appetizer sizes (if I am not sharing) and eat SLOW and drink lots of water between bites. It helps!
Yes, my husband loves using water in between bites to help slow him down!
Alyssa @ Life of bLyss says
I really like these tips! And I’m a BIG advocate for making smaller cookies. That way, I can (seemingly) have more. 😉
Haha… I know, right? It’s just more satisfying that way.
Great tips! I am suuuuch a slow eater. I always find myself trying to catch up with the rest of the group when I go out to eat.
That’s awesome! Don’t try to change. Get everyone else to slow down with you 🙂
I often wish that I eat eat a ton of veggies all the time, because they are lower in calorie, and plain good for you. But I find that the fiber, even if I eat just a little, is very hard for me to digest, and then I feel uncomfortable and bloated. Additionally, even when I do go through with the veggie-heavy meal and deal with the discomfort, I’m hungry again very quickly! They don’t stick with me! Any suggestions or ideas?
If someone’s body is not used to a large amount of fibre, it can be painful to jump in and eat a lot! I would recommend increasing your veggie intake slowly. Start with half a serving at a meal. Do that for a week and then increase from there. Slow and steady!
Samantha @ThePlantedVegan says
Thanks for all the tips! I definitely abide by the load up on your veggies rule!
Awesome! I feel like a lame Dietitian when I say this but… I LOVE veggies!
I always order appetizers for my meal, since restaurant portions have gotten out of control. Great tips and tricks!
It’s a money saver too, eh?
Kelsey @ SoMuchLifeToLive says
Thanks for all of these! Great advice!
I can speak highly of the “order a small” tip from my month in Europe this summer. I ate ice cream pretty much every day for a month, but I still lost weight while I was there, and I’m pretty sure that’s because it was expensive, so I ordered the smallest size possible! It was a small, cold, sweet treat at the end of the day, but I didn’t eat a huge amount of ice cream like I do in the states. I’m trying to keep that habit now that I’m back in Texas!
Life lessons from traveling to Europe! I love it!
Leah Finn says
My #1 hack is to PLAN AHEAD!!! I used to always plan out breakfast and dinner but never lunch which led to snack foods as a meal and I never felt full or satisfied….I will now make a healthy soup or crockpot dish that both me and my little one like and make it last for 3 or 4 days each time. If I don’t, it inevitably leads to me cramming what ever I can get into my mouth while my 2 year old is running circles around me :0)
These other hacks are great too!
Oh yes… a little planning can reap HUGE benefits! Yesterday I spent a little extra time prepping dinner and I now have 6 meals of soup and pasta sauce in the freezer!
Erin @ Her Heartland Soul says
Thanks for all the great tips! I need to incorporate some of these!
Great reminder to make veges the biggest part of your meal & that picture! It makes vegetables look so appealing. I’ve come a long way over the past year to reduce my snacking and incorporate treats into my mealtimes instead of eating them in isolation (I find that helps me to stop at just a little bit of something sweet if I’m already quite satisfied with something savoury), but vegetables is still something I struggle with. I’m going to look for some interesting ways to prep them now so I can start to love them instead of tolerating them! Thanks, your article has had a positive effect on me, at least 🙂
Oh wow, that’s awesome! That’s a great idea to include sweets and treats at mealtimes… definitely helps not to overeat on them when you’ve already eaten a whole meal!
Veggies are great, once you start in on them! My advice would be to set some time aside to prep them ahead of time. That way, when you’re hungry, they’re an easy choice!
I really got so much out of this post. I’m happy to say that I eat at minimum 70% veggies, the rest protein and healthy fats. I avoid carbs and sugar as much as I can. My problem is portion control. If I stop eating when I feel hungry, I’m usually feeling hungry again in an hour or two. I know that’s just an emotional thing because it simply can’t be possible. I know that the smart thing to do would be to have a healthy snack later but I can’t seem to get it out of my head that I really have to consume a lot at mealtime to keep hunger at bay. Potion control is keeping mw from losing weight for sure. Help!
You should definitely listen to what your body is telling you! If you’re still hungry at the end of a meal then you probably haven’t eaten enough… or maybe you’ve eaten too fast and your body hasn’t registered its fullness yet! If you’d like to develop more eating intuition and other tricks for helping to curb overeating, please take a look at my online program linked to in the article!
Hi Jessica and Kath,
I appreciate these tips and really enjoy hearing from nutritionists on this blog. It does, however, seem like a fine line between following these tips and veering into potential eating disorder territory (restricting food, watching what others are eating before you eat, etc.). How do you make sure to always stay on the safe and healthy side of this challenge?
Unfortunately, I have second hand experience in eating disorders through my partner and when you are eating disordered, like my partner is, you see any “chance” you can get to try something that will bring you further into eating disorder territory. Even good healthy advice intended for the general public I assume, therefore it would be hard give advice to somebody who is sick (and that what eating disorders are, diseases in mental health). I say this not to judge but just to say that those with eating disorders should seek professional help and verify with their caregiver before starting anything “new” even if it seems like a great idea. As for the rest of us on this blog, eating mindfully never hurt anybody when it’s not obsessive. Anything in moderation is great advice. I like the idea of small cookies, like small cupcakes which I find soooo adorable 🙂 As for myself, I eat so slow it’s almost annoying.
Good to hear from you. Some of these tips are what I might call “beginner” tips for helping people to become more aware of their eating habits. Once people start to adopt more intuitive eating habits, there’s less “thinking” involved and eating the right amount at the right pace becomes more automatic. Does that make sense?
Beautifully stated Jessica.
Thanks Kath. I’d also like to add a response to Allison’s kind comment. Yes, these tips are for the general public! If someone has an eating disorder, they require a team of specialized professionals to help them 🙂
Melissa | HerGreenLife says
I almost always eat my sandwiches open-faced (so just one slice of bread). I find it makes for a better bread to sandwich topping ratio, so it’s a win win!
Yes! What a great tip!
Re your “share a meal tip”, Kath and Matt are the master meal sharers! I wish I could convince my partner to do the same, but he would think I was crazy (and even more so if I suggested we split a drink, lol). He likes all the food and all the booze!
Haha… that’s certainly more challenging if you have a partner with a much bigger appetite than yours!
Heidi Kokborg says
Loved this post. The tips are great. I’ll try to think about them and practise using them in my daily life 🙂
Awesome! I’m so glad the tips resonated with you!
I’m late to the posting (reading two helpings of KERF today haha!) but thanks for the great advice (and love that it comes from a fellow Canadian :)). My biggest thing is ALWAYS taking home half of my meal when I’m dining out. After I have eaten half of my meal, I will ask my server (politely) for a box or container, and take the other half home. I get to enjoy the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next night, and I can justify the higher restaurant prices (because I’m getting 2 meals for the price of one).
Saving calories AND money! You speak right to my frugal dietitian heart 🙂
Similar to the cookie concept…at Mexican restaurants I only eat the smaller, broken chips. The reaching for chip and dipping again and again is so dangerous but I have a hard time just pushing that basket of chips away! So now I just eat smaller chips to compensate!
Great idea! Then you get a higher salsa to chip ratio too!
I love the first tip. Never tried that one! I usually keep my portions at hand when eating, but I never realized they can be cut into half size! Will apply this tip! Thanks!
Glad you found a tidbit that you can try out!
Tommysober Salmon says
Very healing thoughts thankyou . Have started rereading to reremember