There is a very important fact in the fitness and weight loss industry, emphasizing that you can never out-train your diet. Your losing weight goals are 80 % done in the kitchen and 20 % done in the gym.
Regular exercise is absolutely important and you have to do it if you want to be/look fit and gain some muscles, but for losing fat, an elaborate diet is what counts the most. There is some simple math behind it.
Here’s how many calories you burn (rough estimate) in 30 minutes of exercise:
- Walking: 150 kcal
- Weight training: 220 kcal
- Cycling: 250 kcal
- Swimming: 300 kcal
- Running: 300 kcal
And here are the calories in some relatively small meals and snacks (again, only rough estimates):
- Egg: 80 kcal
- Banana: 100 kcal
- One slice of pizza: 240 kcal (yes, one slice)
- Snicker’s Bar: 250 kcal
- Big Mac: 563 kcal
You can eat a Big Mac in 3 minutes, and then you have to go running for an hour to burn it. If we take a step further, 7,700 calories are roughly 1 kg of fat together with water (or 3,500 kcal equals 1 lb of fat). So if you eat 500 calories over your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), you will gain 1 kg of fat in two weeks.
Now, there is a lot of debating going on out there over how accurate these calculations are, but at the end of the day, if you eat more than you burn, you get fatter and if you burn more than you need, you lose weight. It’s a simple rule that can’t be avoided. And it’s much easier to dam up calories than trying to burn all the excess you consume with exercise.
It’s so easy to eat 500 calories. It’s so hard to burn 500 calories.
The main problem is that when you start to exercise, your appetite goes up. That’s why many people get disappointed when they start to take care of their bodies. They feel much better after exercise, they put in the hard work, but their appetite also goes up and consequently they eat much more and don’t see fat loss as quickly as they would desire.
And even if you stuff your face with healthy food, you gain weight. If you want to lose weight, you simply have to curb your eating appetites. There is no other way.
Tricks to eat less
If you want to lose weight, you have to control how much (quantity) and what (quality) you eat. You do that by making smart big and small eating decisions.
Big smart decisions are the decisions of how you design your eating pattern in general – the number of meals you eat, what time you eat them, the typical meals you like and their size. You have to know your macros and how you will meet them. Besides that you have to know your body very well and how it resonates with different diet approaches. You do that by testing.
Small smart decisions are all the small things that prevent you from eating that one banana or chocolate bar too many per day. They’re small tricks that help you keep the discipline and really stay within the bigger plan (macro calculations, eating pattern). Small decisions are the details you have to be careful about. As they say, God or the Devil are in the details. Diet is no exception here.
Now let’s look at 15+ tricks to eat less that will help you eat less in order to lose weight and be healthier. If you are prone to overeating as I am and your body weight fluctuates like the tide, these tricks may actually change your life.
How to lose weight? Portion control, portion control.
Be smart about shopping
There is a saying that fitness professionals repeat over and over again: “5 minutes of willpower in the grocery store is much easier than a week of willpower in the kitchen”. Make sure you aren’t hungry when you go shopping, and buy only healthy food.
Have a list of things you need to buy and don’t get tempted to buy anything that will lead you to a temptation later on. Have a rule to not have junk food or sweets at home at all!
Skip a meal or do intermittent fasting
One great way to eat less is to skip meals. If you ate too much at your last meal, skip the next one. From time to time, skip breakfast or dinner for a few times in a row. Not eating after 6pm at all may also help you a lot.
As an alternative, you can also do intermittent fasting and introduce periods in your days when you don’t eat at all. Test a few different approaches to skipping meals and find the eating pattern that works best for you.
Brush your teeth
When you crave a snack in the evening, go and brush your teeth. It’s a signal to your brain that the time to stop eating has come. Your hunger can go away like that. And if you are a little bit lazy, you know that after eating, you’ll have to brush your teeth again, and who wants to do that?
Drink plenty of water
If you get really hungry, drink lots of water. Well drink lots of water anyway, but when you are hungry, drink it even more. It can also be with a few drops of a freshly squeezed lemon.
Just know that if you do it before sleep, you will go to the toilet several times and that may disturb the quality of your sleep. Drinking a glass of water before every meal can also help a lot. As mentioned the good news is that drinking water is extremely healthy for you anyway.
Always have broccoli in your belly
Organic broccoli is the most awesome and healthy green food in existence. You can see how healthy it is even by only looking at it. Half a kilo of broccoli only has 170 kcal and 15g of protein.
And trust me, you feel very full after eating 0,5 kg of broccoli. If you’re feeling hungry, just eat some broccoli. Make sure you always have some broccoli in your stomach. It’s that simple.
The hunger test
Imagine a really healthy food you like, without sugars or fats (fruit doesn’t count, except for avocado). Preferably a green vegetable – broccoli, spinach, salad, whatever. If you feel real hunger, you’ll have no problem eating your favorite green vegetable.
But if you just go “no, no”, I want pizza, a chocolate bar, French fries, chips or whatever, you’re probably not really hungry. It’s emotional hunger.
If you are really hungry, slice some carrots and pickles and eat them with some hummus. No? Then you aren’t really hungry.
Go for a walk
Feeling super hungry? Distract yourself with a productive and healthy activity. Go for a walk and eat something healthy when you come back. Sometimes distracting yourself works.
Just make sure that you don’t overeat after you finish with the selected activity. There is a thin line when you go too far with hunger and you just want to eat everything afterwards.
Eat slowly, especially when you cheat
This is the hardest one for me, but it does wonders. There is a thing called mindful eating. It means that you eat really slowly, paying full attention to the food. You do slow bites and try to engage yourself in the eating activity with all of your senses.
When you do that, not only do you eat more slowly which is super healthy, you usually also eat less. You pay more attention to when you’re really full.
There are a few tricks you can employ to eat more mindfully:
- Closely examine every bite of food before you put it in your mouth – texture, color etc.
- Keep switching the spoon from one hand to the other or eat with your non-dominant hand
- Take a few bites with your eyes closed
- Eat with chopsticks
- Make sure you take one bite at a time
- Take a break during your meal
- Chew 25 times every bite
- Be thankful for the meal before you start eating – say a prayer or just think about how lucky you are
The signal to your brain that your stomach is full comes with some delay, so eating slowly helps that the signal doesn’t come too late, when you already eat twice as much as you should.
Always put your food on a plate
To better control how much you eat, always put your food on a plate. Never eat out of a bag. Never just take food out of the fridge and put it in your mouth. And never do it above the kitchen sink, stuffing yourself with fruit, for example (like I do sometimes and my girlfriend doesn’t like it).
On second thought, don’t just put food on a plate. Prepare it. Slice it, cook it, decorate it, whatever. Give yourself time to play with the preparation and while you do it, think about a reasonable portion size.
Always put your food on a plate and always eat only sitting at the table with no exceptions. Especially don’t eat in front of a TV. Eating in front of the TV is the opposite of mindful eating. You get lost in a TV show and just eat and eat, with no idea of how much you ate.
Using smaller plates may also be used as a psychological trick to not put too much food on a plate and to see small portions as big enough.
Under 200 calories snacks
Always have a few “healthy snacks under 200 calories” with you for an emergency if you are really hungry or your sugar levels drop. Never wait until you’re extremely hungry and then eat twice as much as you should.
Instead control your appetite with small non-caloric healthy snacks. Examples of those kind of snacks are:
- Small banana with a few almonds
- Greek yogurt with a piece of fresh fruit
- Carrot with hummus
- Cup of blueberries
- Cucumber salad
- Olives and a few slices of cheese
- Shrimp cocktail
- Protein bar
The number one thing weightlifters and gym rats usually regret is not paying more attention to their diet when they started exercising. Most weightlifters claim that tracking calories changed their life and the speed of progress.
Tracking calories significantly helps you stay within your macros (protein, carbs, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals intake), stay in a moderate deficit (if you are cutting) or surplus (if you are bulking), and it always gives you a chance for a second thought over whether you should eat something or not.
Now, I don’t track my calories daily, but I have a big spreadsheet with all the calculations for my typical meals that I usually eat in a day. Since I like to simplify my life, I have a few typical meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and I have a standard meal plan for high-carb and low-carb days.
I know exactly when I overeat, and I try to balance that by skipping meals. Going through the macros of my typical meals really opened my eyes as to why I had such big problems losing weight. Because food contains so much more calories than you think.
It’s so easy to overeat. A good rule that can help you eat less is: don’t put anything in your mouth before you log it.
Get enough sleep
Getting enough quality sleep is very important for your health in general. A lack of sleep causes stress, puts additional pressure on your body, you usually feel hungrier and it messes with your self-discipline. So if you want to eat less, go to bed early and make sure you get enough sleep.
If you stay up late, you will want to eat more, especially unhealthy snacks. Who likes to cook at midnight? If you’re tired because of a lack of sleep, you will want to eat even more the next day.
Because your self-discipline will be poor, you’ll have no problem eating lots of unhealthy food. You have to be smarter than that. Get enough sleep and your appetite will go down.
Your picture on the fridge
You can also go a big step further to stop yourself from overeating. You can take a photo of yourself in a swimming suit, nicely showing your excess of fat. Make sure that the picture is as unattractive as possible. Stick a photo of you clearly showing the excess of fat to the fridge and it’s going to be a nice reminder to walk away.
Make yourself a cup of green tea
Interestingly, I often overeat because I feel a lack of energy. I want to operate at 100 % capacity all the time, which is ridiculous. My underlying assumption is that if I eat more, I’ll immediately have immediately more energy. It doesn’t work that way, except maybe with sugar, but soon a sugar crash comes and that makes you even more tired.
If you’re like me and you want to eat only because you’re tired, get yourself a cup of green tea or coffee instead, if it’s not too late. A piece of dark chocolate also picks me up nicely and the desire to overeat slowly goes away.
Many people also reported that a chewing gum helps a lot when they’re hungry. Find one caloric acceptable snack that picks you up when you’re tired. Assuming you are already following a healthy diet throughout the day.
My wrong underlying assumption is that I will have more energy if I eat more. What are your false assumptions and beliefs?
Wire yourself to enjoy hunger
If there is one thing I hate, it’s being hungry. Nevertheless, I try to rewire or reprogram myself not to hate it. Much like I hate hunger, I also used to hate broccoli and olives, and now I love them.
Fasting has always been an important part of a healthy lifestyle and even spiritual life. There are many physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual benefits of fasting, if you do some research on it.
With intermittent fasting, I’m slowly learning to love being hungry and enjoy it. I focus myself on feeling light, I can feel how my discipline is building up, and at the end of the day I am very proud of myself for having stayed in a caloric deficit.
If you learn to enjoy hunger, you can always control your portions and how much you eat throughout the day.
Minus 20 % rule
A good trick you can use that will help you get in that 500 kcal deficit is to serve yourself 20 % less food. When you have food on a plate, cut away 20 % and throw it away, give it to your dog, share it among others or whatever. At every meal, prepare yourself a full portion and then cut off 20 %. Be proud of yourself when you do that.
If your TDEE is 2500 calories and you do that, you will eat 500 calories less. A 500 calories deficit every day will lead you to losing 2 kg (4 lbs) in a month. That’s the healthy limit of losing weight.
When you do the “minus 20 % rule” just make sure you don’t add additional meals to your eating pattern or somehow else compensate for the food you cut off.
Eat foods that fill you up first
As we said, drinking a glass of water before a meal may help you eat less. Similarly, you can eat a salad or a soup before the main meal. They are both light in calories and fill your stomach quite a bit. Foods with lots of protein and fiber also keep the hunger away for longer.
Avoid empty calories
Last but not least, avoid empty calories at all costs. Empty calorie foods are all foods that contain high amounts of calories and sugars, but have zero nutritional value (protein, vitamins etc.).
They are also very easy to consume as main meals or snacks, and you can almost eat unlimited amount of them. One bite like that too many and you can already be in a caloric surplus. Make a rule to simply not eat foods and drinks with empty calories.
- Drink water or herbal tea instead of juices, sodas and other sugary drinks
- Don’t eat fast food at all, or only do it on rare occasions
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Be really strict about how much sweets and desserts you eat
- Watch out for unhealthy salty snacks like chips and pretzels
People really use these tricks to eat less
You may be thinking that this all sounds nice, but these eating tricks are only in magazines to entertain people. That isn’t true. Go to the gym, talk with athletes, join online health and fitness communities, and you will soon realize that people who are fit or lost weight really employed these kinds of tricks. They work, you just have to do it.
I do most of them and they help me lose weight nicely. So pick a few tricks to eat less you like the most and start them doing immediately. Don’t wait for tomorrow or next Monday, don’t wait for the next summer or the perfect moment, do it with your next meal.
Your next meal is an opportunity to make smarter eating decisions and to be more kind to your body. Just do it and good luck. Now you know all the major tricks to eat less.