We are a nation of overeaters. We are continually exposed to an abundance of food that tastes good, is inexpensive and is actively advertised. There are lots of reasons why we eat too much: we stress eat, we eat out of habit, we eat without thinking, we underestimate how many calories we need and how many are in the foods we eat, we distort portion size, and many other reasons. Whatever the rationale, the fact is most of us simply eat too much. Fortunately, there are tricks that can help us eat a few less calories and never miss them.
One way to eat fewer calories is to eat more food. That is, eat more foods that provide few calories with a lot of volume. Vegetables are a perfect example. A cup of most vegetables ― except starchy ones like potatoes, beans or corn ― have just 25 calories to 50 calories. But, they have a lot of volume and that helps you feel full. Try adding veggies to your sandwich and cutting back on the meat and cheese. Stir some mushrooms, spinach, carrots or onions into your pasta sauce and use less meat. Snack on raw veggies or fruit. Add asparagus, tomatoes and mushrooms to your omelet. Start your meal with a large salad. Toss some fruit in with your cereal or yogurt.
Another trick is to drink two large glasses of water 10 minutes before a meal. This will help you feel full, and you will eat less food. Some say to drink ice water to rev up your metabolism; others contend that warm water is more filling. Either way, drinking water can help you eat less.
The company you keep can influence how much you eat. Studies show that you will eat more if you dine with a thinner friend who eats a lot or with someone who eats quickly. Women tend to eat less when dining with a man than with their girlfriends. Conversely, men tend to eat more when eating with a woman.
Cut your food into small pieces, take small bites and sips, and be sure to chew each bite for several seconds before swallowing. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to recognize that our stomach is full, so slowing down how fast you eat allows fewer calories in that crucial 20 minute period. If you are still hungry and want more to eat, wait 20 minutes and see if you still want seconds.
We all know that the best bite of dessert is the first, so try to stop there. Once you’ve swallowed something, the residual taste lasts a while. You remember that the food tasted good, but not how many bites you took. Distracting yourself before taking that second bite can help you resist eating more. So put your fork down and wait at least 15 minutes to see if you really want that next bite.
Page 2 of 2 - After eating, give your mind a signal to indicate the meal is over and you are done eating. This might be ending your meal with a cup of coffee, brushing your teeth or using mouth wash, or chewing a piece of gum. Don’t let that last taste of dessert linger in your mouth, prompting you to want another bite.
Don’t grocery shop when you are hungry. It’s estimated that as much as 60 percent of the groceries we buy are impulse buys, not needed items on the grocery list. And, we all know broccoli is seldom an impulse buy. Be aware of manufacturer advertising ploys. Just because a food claims to be “fat-free” or “organic” or “natural” doesn’t mean that it is good for you or that those calories don’t count. Studies show that almost any food with a healthful claim makes people think that the calories are lower, even if the claim has nothing to do with calories.
When snacking, don’t eat directly from that package ― it is way too easy to eat more than you intended. Portion out a single serving, and stop at that. If candy is your weakness, buy the individually wrapped bite-size pieces rather than a bag of unwrapped mini candies. Unwrapping them helps you think about how much you are eating, instead of grabbing a handful. Dinnerware matters, too. Using smaller plates or bowls; tall, skinny glasses; or a plate with a large border can help you eat less.
All these little tricks can help you to eat a little less. Maybe you won’t lose weight, but at least it should stop the gradual weight creep that haunts us all.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.