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How To Trick Yourself Into Eating Less

When it comes to controlling portion sizes, how much you eat, snacking habits, etc, your mind has far more influence than your stomach. New research is continuing to reveal psychological triggers with eating and you can be assured that food manufacturers and mega-chain restaurants are paying attention.

There are entire departments and corporate divisions which are responsible for figuring out how to get you the consumer to purchase (and eat) more of their products. This is big business so they’re going to use every trick in the book.

Unfortunately most people are unaware of their little tricks, but I say it’s time we shed some light on the subject.

In today’s post we’ll discuss some of the ways you can tilt the scales in your favor and help trick yourself into eating less.

More after the jump…

I recently learned of some of these tactics by reading the cover story in the April edition of the Nutrition Action Healthletter. This is a great little newsletter by the way and it’s very reasonable for a subscription, something like twenty bucks for a year. You may want to check out.

The cover story entitled “Fooled by Food” was focused on an interview conducted on Brian Wansink, author of the forthcoming book “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.”

Mr. Wansink is a Professor of Marketing in the Applied Economics Management Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject.

Here is some insight he provided during the interview and example strategies you can use to trick yourself (and your family) into eating less.

Think skinny over wide with serving containers

Wansink states that if you want to be skinny you’ll want to think skinny. He says we’re not used to looking at width the same way we’re used to looking at height. In essence we pay more attention to height. You’re more likely to over consume something in a wide bowl, cup, glass, etc, than from a taller, skinnier version.

We think we’re getting more when the container is taller. Bartenders have known this for a long time, it’s one of the main reasons why you’re often served a mixed drink in a bar from a tall, skinny glass. Coffee shops use the same trick. It’s all visual perception but it works.

What to do:

Invest in some taller glasses for the house. Same thing for more narrow serving bowls. This works equally well for kids. According to Wansink…

“If you let children choose something in a tall and skinny container versus a wide and fat container- even if the wide container holds a lot more candy or potato chips – they always go for the tall, skinny container because they think it’s got more.”

Establish a new “medium”

This one was particularly interesting. Research has revealed that the majority of individuals tend to want a serving size that’s labeled medium. Analysts have been quick to pick up on this and many chain restaurants have re-sized and renamed their servings to get you to purchase more from a “medium.”

The article referenced how Starbucks for example does this with their coffee. Since the smallest size (an 8 oz short) isn’t even typically on the menu board, the 16 oz (grande) is perceived as the medium. Consumers view the 12 oz (tall) as the small and the 20 oz (venti) as the large. In reality the 16 oz (grande) is the large and the 20 oz (venti) is the super-sized x-large.

It’s all in the perception!

What to do:

Do your homework and look at serving sizes in ounces and not the labeling or positioning.

Break up big packages into smaller containers

With the advent of bulk shopping at Costco, Sam’s Club,, etc, many household are looking to purchase food in larger quantities for the cost savings. This can obviously be savvy shopping and better for the household budget. However you’ll want to make sure you break down certain foods into smaller containers, especially those in which you might snack on.

This is a great trick that works well for any item in which you might be compelled to over-consume. Putting a favorite treat in a small baggie is way better than just snacking from a bigger bag. Common sense if you think about it, but how many of us do this. I for one will look to start doing this more often.

Be selective with what comes first at meals

Studies have indicated that what we “see” first has a lot of influence over what we end up eating in total. If you see fresh fruits initially for example at a buffet, you’re more likely to go for it first than the bacon and eggs. See the bacon and eggs first and you’re more likley to not do the fresh fruit later.

Use this strategy at home for family meals. Bring out the fresh fruits and vegetables FIRST before you do the main course. Don’t wait until after you’ve already had your fill on proteins and starches. Do this in reverse. There’s a lot of digestion benefits with doing this as well.

Optimize your environment where you eat

A lot of us, myself included, are guilty at times of eating in front of the TV. This is a bad idea for numerous reasons that extend the scope of this discussion. Let’s just say your relationships with your significant other and family members will likely benefit from returning to the dinner table for supper.

Eat in front of the TV and research show you’re likely to eat more than you would at the dinner table. We tend to gobble down our food when eating a meal while watching the nightly news or whatever. You’re not relaxed, the mind is engaged with something other than eating. You need to slow down.

What to do:

Eat supper at the table. Use candles or soft lighting and set a relaxed environment. The more relaxed you are, the slower you’ll eat, which gives your body the time it needs to send hormonal signals to the brain indicating satiety.

Additional tips to trick yourself into eating less…

- Keep candy dishes and snacks off your desk.

Better yet, get in the habit of not eating at your desk period. Don’t tempt yourself with mindless eating. Out of sight, out of mind.

- Take serving dishes OFF the table and place on the counter.

Men ate about 29% more and women 10% more if the serving dish was left on the table and not on the counter.

- Leave the damage in your line of sight.

People ate fewer chicken wings if they could see the bones of wings they’d already eaten than if the bones were off the table. Use this same strategy for spare rib bones, pizza crusts, etc. Keep track of how much you’ve eaten instead of waiting to be full.

Hopefully you’ve picked up a trick or two here that you can put into practice. If you have any other ideas that you’d like to share with the readers, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Nutrition.