Training your brain to eat less is often a struggle for people trying to lose weight.
So, how can you eat less and have better portion control?
You can eat less by swapping to higher volume foods. These are types of food that ‘fill you up more’, even though they are still low calorie. As well, meal planning and eating more frequently can help minimize hunger attacks that leave you being ravenous and eating everything in sight.
Below, I’m going to discuss 12 tips to help you eat less if your goal is to lose weight.
Rest assured, these tips do not include “crash dieting” principles. So, what I recommend below should lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss, without having you feel hungry 24/7.
12 Tips To Help You Eat Less Without Leaving You Starving
My top 12 tips for eating less are:
- Avoid Liquid Calories
- Swap for Lower Calorie Versions
- Cut Out Condiments
- Use Smaller Plates and Cups
- Avoid Buffets and Family Style Eating Situations
- Eat Meals Throughout the Day
- Fill Up on Low Calorie, Nutrient Dense Foods
- Stay Hydrated
- Get Enough Sleep
- Say No to Appetizers and Freebies When Eating Out
- Prepare Your Own Meals
- Weigh Your Foods for Accurate Portion Size References
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1. Avoid Liquid Calories
This is often a no brainer, however many people still are drinking soft drinks, juices, and smoothies that are packed with calories, fats, and excessive sugars.
Rather, you should squat these drinks for diet options, such as diet coke or pepsi.
Multiple studies have shown that diet drinks do NOT contribute to weight gain, which is often a reason people think drinking regular soda is better (it’s not).
With that said, the majority of your liquid consumption should come from water, low calories drinks such as low fat or skim milk, almond milk, and calorie free drinks.
The only exception would be protein shakes, which should generally provide at least 20 grams of protein and be under 150 calories per serving.
If you need to know how many calories you should be eating every day to lose weight, then check out my article on Does IIFYM Work For Weight Loss?
2. Swap for Lower Calorie Versions
In addition to swapping for lower or no calorie drinks, you can do the same with foods and condiments as well.
If you are struggling to find a lower calorie tortilla or bread option, opt for light wraps or light bread.
You can get creative with finding healthier options that still provide nutritional value yet have less calories per serving.
That said, be careful that you are not eating highly processed “low calorie” food choices, as often those foods are pumped with ingredients that are not digestible by the body or can cause issues with digestion and absorption.
Read the labels, and if you find something that has a plethora of ingredients and words that are hard to pronounce, it’s a good idea to stick with something a little less processed.
Curious to know how to lose weight fast? Then check out my article: How To Lose 5lbs In 1 Month (The Healthy Way).
3. Cut Out Condiments
If you aren’t measuring out how much mayonnaise, ketchup, and extra sauces you put on your meals, there is a very strong chance you are consuming hundreds of calories that you are unaware of.
Start by swapping out full fat and full calorie versions of condiments for lighter calorie swaps (mayo vs light mayo). If you can’t find one, then I suggest you start swapping for lower calorie or no-calorie alternatives like hot sauce or salsa.
You can also get creative with spices that are low in sodium and still provide intense flavor.
4. Use Smaller Plates and Cups
This is an easy way to load a plate up and “trick the eyes” into feeling full.
If you are used to eating off big plates, cups, and bowls, there is a strong chance you are filling that up to 80%+ capacity on most occasions. Even if you don’t go back for seconds, the fact is your first plate most likely still has you over eating.
Swap your plates, cups, and bowls in for something smaller, and fill that up to the 80% mark. The eyes will still see that your new plate is brimming full of food, however the actual amount will be less than what it was before.
5. Avoid Buffets and Family Style Eating Situations
If you are frequenting these places to eat family style (meaning you can simply add more food to your place without getting up), I suggest you avoid these typing situations.
No matter who you are, willpower can fade the longer you are subjected to something enticing. Instead of putting yourself in situations that you have a higher probability of giving in, simply avoid those temptations all together.
If you and your family eat dinner in the evening where family style meals are used, try to serve yourself in the kitchen so that you can stop yourself from overeating (getting up and going back for seconds and thirds is more recognizable as you are actively having to get up).
I will say that eating family meals together is awesome, so try to maintain those cherished items together. You can have both (family meals and portion control), however you will need to own your actions as well.
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6. Eat Meals Throughout the Day
Once of the biggest things you can do to help you not overeat or feel helpless and starving later in the day is to eat meals during the day, typically every 3-4 hours.
By eating more frequently, you can help minimize blood sugar crashes, and late-night binges. If you are someone who skips meals or breakfast, start by adding in a few smaller meals before lunch and in between dinner.
The hope is then to eat less at the meal in which you normally would eat uncontrollably, since you had some food during the day to help curb your hunger at dinner. Not eating for prolonged periods of time can wear down your willpower and motivation to eat healthy, which is a normal issue many people deal with (hunger).
By not eating (which is what a lot of people try to do to lose weight), you actually are setting yourself up to overeat later in the day.
This can not only derail your weight loss, but also derail your motivation and willpower to stick to a more balanced, and conservative diet plan for the long haul, which will help you lose more weight and keep it off in the long run.
7. Fill Up on Low Calorie, Nutrient Dense Foods
All foods have calories, however, some foods have more calories per volume, which means that some foods take up more space in your stomach than others.
For example, a large full handful of almonds (or two small handfuls), which is thought to be a healthy snack (and don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad for you in moderation), can top out at 400+ calories for a quick handful of nuts.
For the same amount of calories, you could have roughly 6-8 ounces of grilled chicken over 1.5 cups of cooked white rice, with a low-calorie condiment like hot sauce.
The almonds have fat which can keep you full, but the amount of space they take up in the stomach when compared to rice and chicken may leave you feeling empty (it’s a food volume thing).
So, if you can focus on pairing nutrient-dense foods with foods that can also take up space in the stomach (leafy greens, water, rice, fruits, etc) you could also feel fuller on less calories.
Quick Note – Weight loss comes from being in a calorie deficit. A low level of hunger during your weight loss phase is a normal thing. I often tell people that if they eat to where they are 80% full, and are always, “kinda hungry or could eat, but not starving”, they are most likely in a good place for weight loss.
8. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is key for cognitive function, performance, and energy (just to name a few). Often, when people are hungry or low on energy, they tend to turn to food, which may not necessarily be what the body is asking for.
By increasing your water intake to 96-128 ounces per day, you can stay fuller longer by drinking more water, improve energy levels, boost recovery, and aid digestion.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Research suggests that as little as one night of sleep deprivation can result in increased ghrelin hormone levels and hunger in normal, healthy individuals.
Not sleeping enough can directly contribute to increasing hunger and weakening your ability to have better portion control.
Additionally, research has seen a correlation between increased daytime sleeping (naps) caused by lack of proper sleep at night to increase overall food cravings and obesity risks in adolescents.
The takeaway is this – get at least 7 hours of sleep, or more to help get your hormone levels and appetite on track. If you have children, this also applies to them.
10. Say No to Appetizers and Freebies When Eating Out
When eating out in restaurants, it can be tempting to reach for the breadbaskets, tortilla chips and salsa, or get a few apps to share before the meal.
If you are trying to lose weight, and find yourself in this situation, have the willpower to say no to the empty calories and filler foods. These are often low in nutritional value, and are there to have you eat more so that when your meal comes you will feel stuffed and satisfied (especially if the meal itself isn’t the largest serving).
As far as appetizers go, they are a quick way to increase the amount of calories you eat and can rack up the calories quickly over the course or the meal. If there is an appetizer you really love and want, and it’s not large, maybe just make that your meal and get a side salad to go with it.
Quick side note: if you are having issues with weight loss and portion control, and are frequently turning towards fried foods, or foods that are rich in fat and flavor, there is a strong chance you are overconsuming calories without getting full in the process. Stick with eating a healthier meal option, and enjoy the conversation instead of eating a 3-4 course meal.
11. Prepare Your Own Meals
To accompany the above tip, if you are always eating out or on the go, you are already making it increasingly more difficult to control portion sizes, added fats and oils, and food quality.
When you eat out, it is common for people to eat the entire meal, since that’s exactly what you paid for. If you didn’t eat it, it may seem like a waste of money. On the flip side, if you order a more sensible meal that is lower in calories, most of the time they lack volume (since the portions are smaller). This leads to the idea that “portion sizes are small”, or that you overpaid for meals.
By preparing your own meals, you can monitor any added additions to the meal that can add unwanted calories (oils, butter, salts, sugars, sauces), and also save money (if you are concerned with getting “your money” worthwhile while eating out.
I cover this concept more in my article: Can Eating At Home Help You Lose Weight?
12. Weigh Your Foods for Accurate Portion Size References
This is a FUN…Lol, it’s not fun.
But, it is a very eye-opening and useful exercise you can do to re-educate yourself on actual serving sizes.
When you do this, you can take the scale weight (grams) and measure out some of your food, and put them out in a place, bowl, or cup. This is a great way to help you visualize how much rice is a serving, or how many more calories you are eating when you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Regulating hunger and recognizing hunger before it hits you hard is half the battle when dieting.
If you are struggling with portion control, there is a strong chance one or more of these tips could make a big difference in your efforts. If you are doing all of these things and are still hungry, understand that it is a fine line you walk.
You should be slightly hungry but not ravenous when dieting. If you are ravenous, you are most likely cutting back food too much, too rapidly (an issue with losing weight very fast). If this is the case, I suggest you go back and look at your calorie and macro needs.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.