Trick Your Brain into Eating Less

Sara Suchy Aug 30th, 2012 (updated Apr 22nd, 2016)
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Eating less does take will power, but there are little tricks that can help along the way.

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Eating with your brain
Eating with your brain

Most dieters can easily rattle off some of the better known diet ‘tricks’: eat mostly vegetables, drink more water, walk 30 minutes each day, etc.  But research is uncovering more creative ways to trick the brain and the body into healthy eating.

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Small plate, small portions
Small plate, small portions

The finding: Researchers at Cornell University found that large bowls and plates can make portion sizes seem smaller than they actually are.  And that can cause people to serve themselves more food than they normally would and consume more calories than they mean to. 

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The fix
The fix

Serve food on smaller plates and in smaller bowls, preferably in bowls that measure out a single servings size, and do not go back for seconds.  This will take the guesswork out of serving sizes. 

Source: The Atlantic 

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Contrasting colors
Contrasting colors

The finding:  Another study from Cornell University found that serving food on a plate or bowl that contrasts with the color of the food being served will send a kind of ‘wake-up call’ to the brain, making it more aware of portion sizes. This happens because the contrasting colors of the food and the plate help the eater see more clearly how much food they put on their plates.

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The fix
The fix

Use contrasting colored plates and bowls when serving meals.  For example, if you are serving pasta with marinara sauce, set out white plates. If Alfredo sauce is on the menu, use a bold colored plate. Researchers also found that using colored tablecloths or napkins can enhance this effect. 

Source: The Atlantic 

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What Vietnam taught us about bad habits
What Vietnam taught us about bad habits

It may seem a bit odd, but the Vietnam War provided a powerful example of how to change bad habits.  At one point, it was estimated that 15 percent of U.S,. Servicemen were addicted to heroin. But instead of shipping them home, the military placed them in treatment programs in Vietnam. Ordinarily, the relapse rate for heroin addicts is very high, but only 5 percent of servicemen in the treatment program became addicted again when they got home.

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A product of the environment
A product of the environment

According to psychologists who studied the returning servicemen, the unusually low rates of relapse sheds light on how to effectively change patterned behavior, such as smoking or eating. When people perform any behavior repetitively, especially in the same environment, the behavior patterns become associated with the environment.  But when people are removed from that environment, it’s easier to break free of those habits. 

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The fix
The fix

Dieters can achieve the same kind of results by recognizing and eliminating visual and environmental cues that cause unhealthy eating patterns. For example, if you are always getting a milkshake on the way home from work, take a different route home. Researchers say that even little things, such as eating snacks with your non-dominant hand can disrupt the sequence of physical actions that drive an unhealthy behavior. 

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Give healthy foods a spotlight
Give healthy foods a spotlight

Conversely, another study from Cornell found that giving healthy foods prominence among a selection of foods could prompt people to eat more of the good stuff. In a yearlong study, researchers measured the effect of moving a salad bar in an upstate New York cafeteria from against a wall to near the front cash registers a  distance of four feet. Over the course of a year, salad bar sales increased by 250 to 300 percent.   

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The fix
The fix

Give the healthy foods a place of honor in the kitchen or on the table.  This can be as simple as replacing a cookie jar with a bowl of fruit or having water on hand instead of soda. 

Source: The doctor will see you now