You know that you’ll save calories and boost nutrition by adjusting what you eat. But how you eat can also have a huge impact on your health. According to researchers at Cornell University, we make approximately 250 food-related decisions each day. And while some of these choices (fruit or cookies? Fettucine Alfredo or pasta primavera?) have obvious impacts on health, other seemingly benign choices can have just as much of an effect. Below, seven tips recommended by Mira Ilic, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, to help you eat less without ever feeling deprived:
1. Pick petite plates. “Serving food in smaller bowls gives you the impression that you’re eating more,” Ilic says. Think about it: A healthful three-ounce serving of fish gets lost on a large dinner plate — so chances are you’ll serve yourself a heartier portion. Put it on a salad plate and your serving seems downright generous.
2. Turn off the TV. Distractions such as the television, music or even reading during a meal can lead to mindless eating, causing you to overdo it on calories. “I tell people to make eating a singular activity. In other words, put the focus on the food itself,” Ilic says. The process of eating — feeling the texture in your mouth, tasting flavors, chewing and swallowing — sends your brain the message that your stomach feels satisfied, which cues you to stop eating. If your focus is elsewhere, that message may never get sent.
3. Track it. The simple act of writing down everything you eat from your morning coffee to that extra scoop of ice cream can help you consume less. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, dieters who kept track of what they were eating lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Any tracking method works, Ilic says — iPhone applications, online programs or old-fashioned pen and paper.
4. Make time for the table. In our multitasking culture, who hasn’t eaten a meal in the car or while doing errands? But eating on the go can actually waste more time in the long run. “When you grab something to eat without sitting down, your brain may not even register that you’ve had any food,” Ilic says. Often, a person may feel even hungrier after she’s eaten on the fly and will need to stop for another meal or snack before long. So step away from the computer; let the errands wait for 10 minutes — sitting at your kitchen table will make your meal that much more satisfying.
5. Lighten up. Lowering the dimmer may help you set the mood for a romantic evening — but it can also cause you to overeat. “When you can clearly see what you’re eating, you make the visual connection with your food that tells you how much you’ve taken in,” Ilic says. But don’t go too bright — experts say that ultra-vibrant lights can overstimulate your senses, causing you to eat and run. Middle-of-the-road daytime lighting is the best option.
6. Pre-plate your meals. “If you serve a meal family style, then the food is within arm’s reach — people serve themselves seconds and thirds without even realizing it,” Ilic says. When you have to leave the table to take an extra helping, it gives you the chance to realize you may not feel hungry. There is one category of food that experts recommend serving family style, however: vegetables. Fill up on a nutrient-packed salad, for instance, and you’ll be even less tempted to trek to the kitchen for higher-calorie seconds.
7. Snack smarter. Eating foods like pretzels or crackers out of a large package can be a recipe for overeating, Ilic says. Pre-portioned snacks, however, still require some caution. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that dieters tend to see the portion-controlled bags as a license to eat more than one and down more than twice as many calories than when eating from a large package. Instead, measure out a reasonable serving size into a bowl and put the rest away.