5 Simple Tips to Cut Calories Without Feeling Deprived

Lower Your Intake Without Really Noticing

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If losing weight were easy, everyone would be doing it.  But the fact is, your body and your mind want very much to retain the status quo as you age – even if that means hanging on to a few extra pounds.  Is it possible to cut calories in a way that flies under your appetite’s radar?  Yes! 

Nutrition researchers have found that some little tweaks to what you eat – and the way you eat – can make a significant difference to the amount you eat every day.

  Here are some simple tips to get you consuming less without really noticing.

1.   Eat Your Water

Nutrition science pioneer Barbara Rolls' research shows that people who eat foods with a higher water content tend to take in fewer calories overall. Rolls tells me that researchers are just beginning to understand that water in food is processed (and perceived) differently than water consumed with a meal.  Studies in which subjects were offered either soup containing meat and vegetables, or the meat and vegetables plus a glass of water as separate components of the meal showed the soup-eaters consumed fewer calories, and said they felt fuller and more satisfied.  Perhaps more significantly, they ate less at subsequent meals, showing they didn't compensate for the fewer calories later in the day.

The message?  Water-heavy foods like fruits and vegetables will help you cut down on calories, without feeling deprived.

  And they're great anti-aging foods, too.

2.   Add Air

This one is surprising: just aerating your food can help you eat less without noticing!  In Rolls' food lab at Pennsylvania State University, subjects were served three different versions of a strawberry smoothie.

  The formulations were identical in the ingredients and calories they contained, differing only in the amount of air whipped in, which altered their volume.  Sure enough, people drinking the biggest smoothies - containing the most air - reported feeling full.  Indeed, they ate less at a subsequent meal. 

In her book Volumetrics, Rolls recommends choosing air-filled foods like air-popped popcorn, puffed cereals and smoothies as a strategy to consume fewer calories while still feeling satisfied.

3.   Eat More Protein

Studies have shown that subjects who eat more lean protein lose more weight, even when the same number of calories overall are consumed.  Protein seems to promote a higher metabolism and better body composition. In one study, subjects who ate more lean protein lost a greater amount of weight than those on either a low-protein, or high-dairy diet - and you also need to consume more protein as you age.

But remember, sedentary lifestyles tend to mean people require fewer calories as they age.

  If you take in more calories than you expend as energy, you will gain weight.

4.    Eat More Fiber

Fiber has been shown to boost longevity, help keep your digestive tract working, and avoid age-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes. People who eat more fiber tend to weigh less and gain less weight as they age, according to Barbara Rolls. In addition, fiber may boost satiety and help dieters eat less.

But be careful: recent diet programs based on popping fiber supplements may not work in the long-term. Studies on chia seeds in which subjects consumed more than a quarter-cup of chia each day - increasing their daily fiber intake by almost 20 g - didn't result in any significant change in body mass or composition. The researcher tells me that people simply seem to adapt to the higher fiber intake, and then resume eating as they always did.

Barbara Rolls write that while eating more fiber can probably help you feel full faster, increasing the water content of your food will likely make a greater dent in your overall calorie consumption.

5.    Change your tableware

You've probably heard of people trying to eat less using smaller plates, because a meal looks like more on a 7" plate than a 12" one.  The idea of changing your serving plate size has been researched by Brian Wansink, head of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab.  Author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Wansink also recommends swapping short glasses for tall ones, citing studies on both adults and kids.  Subjects were inclined to pour almost twice as much of a beverage into a short, wide glass than they were when offered a tall, slim glass. 

Wansink's research shows that even nutrition researchers served themselves more in certain lab experiments, suggesting that almost everyone can be fooled by tweaks to their eating environment.  It seems that visual cues play a pivotal role in how much we choose to eat, and whether we feel satisfied or deprived afterwards.  Whether we're dishing up a big helping of soup, a casserole or a smoothie, the more we see, the more food we feel we've enjoyed - even if we're actually eating less.


Barbara Rolls, Nutrition Professor. Pennsylvania State University. Interview conducted April 30, 2013.

Rolls, B.J., Bell, E.A., Castellanos, V.H., Pelkman, C.L., Chow, M. and Thorwart, M.L. (1999). "Energy density but not fat content of foods affected energy intake in lean and obese women." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69:863-871.

Barbara Rolls and Mindy Hermann. The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet Harper Collins. 2012.

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