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Five Powerful Calorie Control Tricks to Help You Eat Less

Appetite control, weight loss, and healthy eating can all be influenced by your subconscious mind.  So why not play a few tricks on your subconscious?  You can use these five powerful calorie control techniques to trick your brain into wanting less food, make yourself feel fuller faster, ­ and resist the urge to eat more.  Here's how:

Calorie Control Trick #1: "Use Smaller Utensils & Dishes"

In the above video, I show you how the size of the bowl, plate, or spoon that you use can significantly influence how much food and how many calories you consume.  In the study Ice cream illusions: bowls, spoons, and self-served portion sizes, 85 nutrition experts at an ice cream social were randomly given either a smaller (17 oz) or a larger (34 oz) bowl and either a smaller (2 oz) or larger (3 oz) ice cream scoop.  After serving themselves, they completed a brief survey as their ice cream was weighed.  The researchers found that when nutrition experts were given a larger bowl, they served themselves 31% more without being aware of it.  In addition, their servings increased by over 14% when they were given a larger serving spoon.

In a study from the University of Pennsylvania, psychologists conducted an experiment in an upscale apartment building in which they left out a bowl of chocolate candies with a small scoop.  The next day they refilled the bowl with M&M's, but left out a much larger scoop.  When the scoop size was increased, people took 66 percent more M&M's!

The conclusion: use smaller plates, bowls and utensils, even if somebody laughs at you for eating your soup with a teaspoon.

Calorie Control Trick #2: "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind"

Whether you're eating dinner at home, at a party with snack tables, or out at a buffet, there is a simple rule that multiple studies have confirmed: the less exposure your eyes, ears and nose have to food, the less likely you are to eat too many calories.

For example, when my wife and I are eating, we will plate the food and bring it to the table, but leave any larger dishes, pots, pans or bowls full of food on the countertop or the stove.  That way we are less likely to reach for them and grab a second serving.  You can use this same trick in many other ways, such as:

  • At parties, don't park yourself next to the snack table, but instead socialize farther away from the grub
  • At buffet restaurants or regular restaurants, seat yourself farther from the kitchen, the bar, or other food displays
  • Keep any snacks or tempting sweets in opaque (non-transparent) containers or places where they're not readily accessible in your home
  • Shove any tasty, tempting, junk food to the back of the refrigerator or pantry, and bring the healthy food to the front

Any of my energy bars, sweet exercise drinks, or other sugary treats are kept in two inconvenient places: the garage, and a drawer in the bottom of my bedroom closet.  This ensures I'm much less likely to eat empty calories.  I talk about more tricks similar to these in my book, 100 Ways To Boost Your Metabolism.

Another good book for learning about how easily our minds are tricked is 59 Seconds, in which the author describes a series of experiments that compared the impact of putting chocolates on office workers' desks as opposed to putting the chocolates six feet away.  When the chocolates were placed on the desks instead of 6 feet away, each person ate on average six more chocolates per day.  In another similar experiment, the chocolates were placed inside either transparent or opaque jars. The chocolates in the transparent jars were eaten 46% more quickly than the ones in the opaque jars!

Calorie Control Trick #3: "Limit Your Options"

In a recent British study, research revealed that when kids were presented with a range of snacks that were similar to one another and not much different than the snacks they usually had, they ate fewer calories.  Not only does this mean that you might be able to get your kids to plow through slightly less Halloween candy this year by ensuring that they get many of the same types of candy, but you can also apply this theory to yourself assuming that this tendency doesn't change as we age.

Instead of heading to the supermarket and stocking up on three different types of cookies, several varieties of cereal, five different types of fruits, and several choice selections of deli meats and cheeses, you'd be better off simply choosing one or two options in each category.  In doing so, you'll reduce the selection in your pantry and refrigerator, and leave yourself less likely to overeat simply because you want to try a variety of new flavors.

Interestingly, this study reminds me of Stephen Guyenet's "Food Reward Hypothesis", in which he suggests that by eating simple foods and reducing our reward response to food, we can better control overeating and obesity.

Calorie Control Trick #4: "Slow Down"

Eating more slowly can help you to eat less.  Take your time with each bite, and fully chew and swallow (in many cases this means chewing each bite 20-25 times).  By doing this, you allow the fullness signal from your gastric hormones to reach your brain and shut down your appetite before you eat too much.

There's more to it though.

At Pennington BioMedical Research Centre, 48 participants were studied in a lab as they ate three meals at lunchtime on different days.  Each participant was asked to avoid eating or exercise for 12 hours prior to lunch.  They then ate a meal of fried chicken cut up into bite size pieces.  Participants were instructed to eat at their own rate, at half their normal rate (paced by a beeping noise), or at a mix of their own rate followed by eating at the slower rate.

The finding was that the combination of beginning the meal eating at one's own eating rate, and then dropping to a slower eating rate, had the biggest reduction on appetite for both men and women ­ more so than simply eating slowly all the way through.  So to reduce appetite, it may make sense to eat at whatever pace seems natural at first, and then about halfway through your meal, consciously slow down and begin to savor every bite.

Of course, I always look at studies like this with a wary eye, because how often do you eat lunch after a 12 hour fast with no exercise?

Calorie Control Trick #5: "Remove Distractions"

Multiple studies have found that you eat more when you are distracted by TV, movies, phones or games.  In the same book 59 Seconds, people who were paying close attention to a movie ate significantly larger amounts of popcorn compared to those that were paying less attention to the movie.

In another experiment in that book, people who actively listened to an engaging detective story being told to them during lunch ate 15% more than those who had no story to listen to.

In yet another interesting study, researchers at University of Southern California gave moviegoers either fresh popped or stale popcorn and monitored how much they ate.  They found that taste of the popcorn was not the primary motivator for how much people ate.  People ate the same amount of popcorn while watching the movie whether the popcorn was stale or fresh.  But when people watched the movie in a meeting room instead of a theater, they ate more of the fresh popcorn than stale.

This study suggests that when you are engaged in an entertainment-geared environment, like being absorbed in a movie on your iPad, you're likely to eat more food whether or not you even like the food!  It seems that distractions not only make you eat more, but can even make you eat more food you wouldn't normally eat.

What do you think?

If you liked this article, be sure to check out these other articles from Ben Greenfield Fitness: 5 Ways To Suppress Your Appetite Without Taking Any Special Pills or Capsules, 12 Dietary Supplements That Can Massively Control Your Most Intense Carbohydrate Cravings, and A Simple Six-Step System for Eliminating Food Cravings.  To view Ben's available plans on TrainingPeaks, click here

TrainingPeaks contributor Ben Greenfield, M.S. PE, NSCA-CPT, CSCS, is recognized as one of the top fitness, triathlon, nutrition and metabolism experts in the nation.  For more information on coaching and training with Ben, check out his blog/podcasts, follow him on Twitter, or visit his Facebook page

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Reader Comments (3)

These do not work on the people that it is directed at. People, like myself, with huge appetites and low will power will not stop eating large portions with these 5 tips. Trust me, I have tried and they have all failed. Sorry.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlarry bradley

I totally disagree with trick #3 and number #5:
Limiting your options will cause you to crave to forbidden foods even more then before, especially if you are used to having them. I think that the main problem with a healthy diet is the lack of variety in foods and falvours. This trick only reenforces that problem and will ultimately make you crave even more.
As for distractions, from my perosnal experience, if I don't sit down to watch a movie or any engaging activity with out any food, time will usually fly by without me noticing or feeling the hunger. The more distractions you have from food the better. The point should be, not to engage in an activity with food ready ahead of time but to engage in the activity without food.
As for the others...

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRon Bartlett

I hate to tell you but no "trick" will work on someone who doesn't want to change. If someone wants to eat less and eat healthier, they would. When they fail, it's a matter of not really having desired to do it in the first place. Obviously there are medical conditions that would play in here - but for the majority of people who claim they want to lose weight and can't, they really just don't want it enough to actually do it.
Unfortunately most people only find motivation after they hit their own personal rock bottom. For some it's seeing a large number on a scale, or their spouse asking them to lose weight, for others it's a diagnosis of obesity or diabetes etc. One way I've seen people get motivated is to keep a diet diary, go to a nutritionist, and have them show all the deficiencies and the diseases that they cause. It's sometimes enough of a shock to get them moving.

December 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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