Do you have issues with cravings? Or do you often find yourself eating more than you want to? Be honest…
If so, you are not alone. Overeating is one of the biggest reasons why people fail to lose weight. It is really a matter of simple math.
I know I’ve shared dieting advice and nutrients that help you eat less, but today I want to share some scientifically proven tricks that work at the brain level.
Yes, the brain level. Below you will find three “mind” tricks that are scientifically proven to help you eat less. They might sound strange, but they work.
#1 Imaginary Eating
You don’t have to actually eat a fattening food to enjoy it. While you might think that picturing a juicy steak or a creamy hot fudge sundae would make you crave that food more, a study published in Science found that repeatedly visualizing yourself eating the food actually makes you eat less of it.1
The watchword here is repeatedly. Researchers found that those who pictured themselves eating 30 M&Ms ate fewer of the chocolate candies afterwards than did those who pictured themselves eating three M&Ms… about 50 percent less candy. And the trick is not just for sweet treats.
The researchers also tried this with cheddar cheese, and found that those who pictured themselves eating 30 cheese cubes ate over 40 percent less cheese afterwards than those who imagined eating only three cubes.
Lesson learned: Instead of immediately digging into that hunk of red velvet cake, picture yourself eating it, bite by bite, and then take a sliver and see if that satisfies you.
#2 Color Yourself Thin
Did you know that coloring your dishware right can actually help you gauge portion size?
Researchers at Cornell University split 60 party attendees up and directed them to buffets serving pasta with either tomato (red) or Alfredo (white) sauce. Diners were randomly handed either red or white plates, and told to help themselves.
When portion sizes were weighed, turns out the diners who had low contrast between their food and the plates colors (like Alfredo sauce on a white plate) dished up 23 percent—or 42 grams— more pasta than participants with high contrast between their food and the plate (like pasta with tomato sauce on a white plate). That’s up to 130-calorie savings!2
Why does this happen? The color contrast between the food and the plate creates an optical illusion known as the Delboeuf illusion. The idea is that the perceived size of a circle depends on the size of the circle that surrounds it. So, when you serve yourself on a plate that has a similar color to the food, your brain has to work harder to figure out exactly how much to serve and you end up dishing out too much.
Lesson learned: Make sure your dishware is a different color than your food.
#3 Eat Less With Smaller Chunks
Sometimes just chopping your food into smaller bites can not only help you eat less at that meal, but also keep you satisfied for a longer period of time. Researchers at Arizona State trained animals to run through a maze, then offered them a reward for running quickly through it. For 20 rats, the reward was a single chunk of food. For another 20 rats, the reward was 30 small pieces of food weighing the same as the large piece offered to the other rats.
After 12 trips through the maze, rats preferred—and worked harder for—the same amount of food served in smaller pieces.
Unimpressed? Well read on to see what happened when they tried it with humans. Researchers split over 300 students into two groups. One group was offered a whole bagel covered with cream cheese. The other group was offered the same kind of bagel, cut into four pieces and covered with the same amount of cream cheese.
The group that got the whole bagel ate a bit more of it than those who got the cut-up bagel. But the impressive part came later. Students were offered a free lunch. And if you think college students can’t pass up a free lunch, think again. It looks like after they’ve eaten a cut-up bagel they can. Even though those who’d eaten the cut-up bagel had eaten a little less 20 minutes earlier, they still ate about 25 percent less of the free meal than the students who’d eaten the bagel whole.
Lesson learned: Cut up foods into several bite-sized portions.
I love finding novel ways to eat less without feeling the slightest bit deprived. Have you heard about any easy ways to cut down on portion size? I’d love to hear it. And, if you try any of these, I’d love to know how you did. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write your comments below.
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Morewedge CK, Huh YE, Vosgerau J. Thought for food: imagined consumption reduces actual consumption. Science. 2010;330(6010):1530-1533. PMID: 21148388.
2. Van Ittersum K, Wansink B. Plate size and color suggestibility: the Delboeuf illusion’s bias on serving and eating behavior. J Consum Res. 2012;39(2):215-228.
3. Multiple pieces of food are more rewarding than an equicaloric single piece of food in both animals and humans. Zurich, Switzerland: The Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior; July 10, 2012. Available at: http://www.ssib.org/web/index.php?page=press&release=2012-1.