Making a few simple changes may be all it takes to lose weight.
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Do you find yourself continually reaching for that second helping, filling dinner plates to the rim, or finishing meals in record time? Many unhealthy eating behaviors are simply bad habits, inherited from our parents or influenced by our environment. But these little habits can have a huge impact on how many calories you eat each day -- and ultimately, how much you weigh.
Being able to eat anything you want while still controlling your weight may sound like a dream come true, but it really is possible. Sometimes, all it takes is making a few little changes -- like putting down your fork between bites, using a smaller plate, and turning off the TV during meals.
Experts who spoke to WebMD shared five painless tips and tricks that can help you shave calories, feel satisfied on less food, and ultimately, lose weight.
1. Slow Down
By simply slowing down and taking the time to truly enjoy your meals, you can trim calories, says American Dietetic Association spokesperson, D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD.
"Eating slower helps you eat less, and if you add in an element of fun, like eating with chopsticks, you won't even realize you are eating less," Stokes says.
Weight loss expert Katherine Tallmadge, RD, says she advises her clients to "relax, take a few deep breaths, and focus their full attention on the food while eating."
Putting your fork down between bites, engaging in mealtime conversation, and savoring every bite of your meal will help you slow down and feel full, and keep you from reaching for second helpings.
Choosing foods that require utensils -- such as a salad instead of a sandwich - means your meals take longer. And when you stretch your meals to 15-20 minutes instead of five, you'll feel full sooner, and end up eating less, says weight loss expert Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD.
Her strategies to stretch mealtime include putting less food on each forkful, chewing food well, using smaller utensils, and checking the clock when you sit down.
2. Choose Dainty Dishware
Using smaller plates, bowls, cups and serving utensils is a sure way to cut calories, says Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD.
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Wansink and other researchers found that the larger the bowl and serving scoop people used to serve themselves ice cream, the more they tended to eat.
"It is the eyes that predict how full you are going to be, and ultimately, how much food you eat," Wansink says. So we tend to feel more satisfied with a 4-ounce portion of pasta when it's served on a luncheon-size plate instead of a dinner plate.
Stokes recommends throwing out those Texas-sized dinner plates and replacing them with smaller plates, bowls, and cups.
But even with smaller serving plates, it's important to keep second helpings out of reach so you don't keep eating once you're full.
"Serve food from the kitchen, and keep the pots, pans and casserole dishes out of sight so you won't continue eating because it is in front of you," says Stokes.
3. Sit at the Table
A chair, table, and plate are three essential tools to help you become more mindful of how much you eat.
"So many people multitask while eating, pay no attention to the amount they are eating, and ultimately eat much more than they realize," says Blatner.
Some of the mindless eating behaviors that can lead to overeating include eating out of a bag, eating on the couch, while driving, or standing.
To control your portions, always eat sitting down, at a table, and using a plate, Blatner says.
Serve the food onto your plate, then store the containers. To enhance your mindfulness, turn on some soft music, set a lovely table, and eliminate any distractions such as the phone, TV, or computer.
4. Measure Up
Frozen dinners can be a real eye-opener: "Most are around 300 calories, and remind you of the perfect portion of meat and starches" says Blatner.
Aside from using frozen dinners as a visual guide to correct portion size, Blatner recommends randomly measuring foods to see how much you're really eating. Compare the portion you're eating with the portion size listed on the food package.
"You may be surprised to learn that you are eating twice as much of your favorite cereal," as you think, she says.
If you find you're still hungry after eating the downsized portions, fill up on low-calorie, fat-free, high-fiber vegetables. Try them in a salad, or served raw with low-fat dip.
5. Deliver Yourself From Temptation
It's hard to eat a bag of cookies if they're not in your pantry, says Stokes.
"Keep danger foods and beverages out of the house, out of reach, and out of sight," Stokes says. That way, when you arrive home starved, you won't grab the less healthy options.
His advice: Stock your kitchen with plenty of healthy, readily available foods, such as washed and cut-up fruit and veggies.
Published August 15, 2006.
SOURCES: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, September 2006; vol 31. D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association; chief dietitian, Saint Barnabas Hospital, New York. Brian Wansink, PhD, researcher, Cornell University; author, Mindless Eating. Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Diet Simple. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute, Chicago; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.
©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.