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How to trick yourself into eating less
Eating environments have evolved to trick consumers into eating more calories. Here are a few ways to re-establish control and trick yourself into eating less. - photo by Allana Kerr
Being in control of your food choices can be a challenging task. Lack of willpower is often the assumed culprit behind poor eating habits, yet in actuality, unconscious cues may be largely responsible.

Consider how food portions have grown over the years. A bagel 20 years ago was just 3 inches in diameter and 140 calories, while todays bagel has doubled in size and boasts 350 calories. If you prefer to cook at home, even recipe books have gradually increased serving sizes, according to a 2009 study.

Making the healthy choice is no longer the easy choice. In fact, according to a study from researchers at Cornell University, consumers make roughly 200 instinctive food choices each day, such as choosing between fries or a salad. Have you ever opted out of the side salad at a restaurant because it was an extra cost compared to the fries?

Despite the tricks used on customers to consume more, it's easy to turn the tables. Here are a few ways to reestablish control and trick yourself into eating less.

Dont let size labels fool you

In attempt to make a healthier choice, do you choose small over large when eating out? A closer look at size labels reveals that small may be larger than you think. A small soda at Burger King is actually the same size as a McDonalds medium. With such inconsistency, size labels can be extremely misleading. Look instead at the actual visual portion in front of you to guide food decisions.

As an example, movie theaters have perfected the art of using size labels and price manipulation to reap profit. Since concession stands are transparently overpriced, the majority of consumers will purchase the largest size to feel as though theyre getting a deal. Yet is this monetary deal truly worth the extra calories? Believe it or not, a large popcorn at a megaplex is an astounding 22 cups of popped popcorn. Since one grain serving of popcorn is 3 cups, youll end up consuming over 7 grain servings in one sitting. To put this in perspective, USDAs Choose My Plate recommends only 5 to 8 grain servings per day for adults not to mention that youll devour over 1,000 calories and more than enough sodium for the day.

Using an empty plate (or, in this case, an empty bag) to indicate when youre done will almost always lead to overeating. Regardless of the size you choose, use your internal satiety cues to stay in control. Remember, eating is not a race. Stop several times while eating to assess whether youre still hungry, or simply eating because food remains on your plate.

Get back to the basics

A simple solution to avoiding the portion distortion found in food establishments is to cook meals from scratch. Keep in mind that certain aspects of your home environment can still trick you into eating more. Does your kitchen resemble a neglected, cluttered space rather than a clean area to prepare food? Picture dirty dishes overflowing from the sink, month-old newspapers on the counter, and a phone that never stops ringing. According to a February 2016 study published to the journal of Environment and Behavior, When 98 women were told to wait in a kitchen similar to the one described, they ate 50 percent more cookies compared to those in an organized kitchen. Being in a chaotic kitchen can actually illicit the need to fit in with the environment and thus adopt uncontrolled eating patterns. Make a clean sweep of your kitchen to create a controlled environment, and your eating patterns may follow suit.

If youre unsure how to go about organizing your kitchen space, consider the following strategies. After eliminating the obvious clutter culprits such as dirty dishes, take a closer look at what else is cluttering your space. Does a bag of chips or jar of cookies have a designated home on your kitchen counter? A 2015 study at Cornell University showed that women who stored sugary breakfast cereal on their kitchen counters weighed 20 pounds more than those who didnt.

Case in point: If you have less healthy food sitting on your counter for convenience, switch it to an inaccessible spot, such as at the back of the cupboard. If your counters are looking too bare, replace the less healthy food with a fruit bowl. Those who habitually kept a bowl of fruit on the counter weighed about 13 pounds less than those who didnt, according to the Society for Public Health Education.

How does your kitchen space shape up? Take the Is your home making you heavy? quiz to find out. By modifying your environment to make it work for you, the daunting concept of willpower to control food choices will no longer be at the forefront. You can get back in the drivers seat simply by heightening your awareness of subtle cues that push us to overeat.
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