6 simple psychological tips to avoid overeating at your next meal

It’s annoying to sacrifice taste for health at each meal. Instead of settling for bland vegetables, these serving strategies and preparation techniques can help you control excess calories by preventing you from overeating.

Choose coloured plates that contrast with your food.

Blue bowl with pumpkin soupwww.shutterstock.comSergiy Artsaba/Shutterstock

If your goal is to eat less in order to save calories, then choose a coloured plate that has a high contrast to the foods in your meal. This tactic is based on research from Brian Wansink, of Cornell University, and Koert van Ittersum, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who found that people serve themselves more food than they realise when the colour of the plate matches the colour of the food. Their study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

So, if you want to eat more green beans, then it would be a good idea to use a green plate. But if you want to control your portions of high-calorie starchy foods, like bread, pasta, or rice, then stay away from white, yellow, or orange plates. Since buying multi-coloured plates is not ideal, you might consider buying plates in one shade, like blue, that is not likely to blend in with most foods.

Eat on red plates.

If blue plates aren’t your thing, try scare tactics. Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University and author of “Gastrophysics, The New Science of Eating,” says that red plates lead us to eat less because it seems to trigger some sort of danger or avoidance signal.

“What you serve food on turns out to have more of an impact on our taste and flavour perception then I think any of us realise,” Spence told Business Insider.

He also cited research conducted with the Alicia Foundation in Spain, which found that strawberry mousse was rated as 10% sweeter and 15% more flavorful when eaten from a white plate than from a red plate — despite it being exactly the same dessert.

Use smaller plates.

It’s not just the colour of your plate that affects how much you eat. Size also matters, according to Wansink and Ittersum. Their study is based on what’s known as the Delboeuf illusion — the idea that when one looks at concentric circles, the size of the inner-circle appears smaller as the outer-circle gets larger.

When we apply this bias to plates, a larger plate makes a serving of food appear smaller (there is more white space around the “inner-circle” of food) than if the same amount of food was dumped onto a less big plate. The researchers explain that a large plate not only causes us to put more food on our plate — leading us to eat more — but it may also trick us into believing we have eaten less than we think.

Buy a smaller bird.

Cooking a Sunday roast? Small turkeys or chickens roast more evenly than large ones, so there’s a better chance that your bird will come out moist and juicy. Tender, perfectly-cooked meat requires fewer add-ons, like gravy or butter, which tend to be high in calories.

Drink red wine instead of beer.

Alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with a special meal, and you shouldn’t have to cut it out entirely. But some drinks have more positive health benefits than others, at least when taken in moderation.

From a caloric standpoint, a five-ounce glass of red wine has around 100 calories, compared to 150 calories for an average 12-ounce serving of beer. Most red or white wines are also lower in carbohydrates than beer.

Make mini desserts instead of one whole pie or cake.

Instead of saving precious calories by finding creative replacements for butter, sugar, or heavy cream, just eat smaller amounts. Mini pies or cupcakes are one way to control dessert portion sizes. These help to gauge the amount of food in a single serving and prevent mindless picking after the normal slices are served.

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