5 Strategies to Eat Healthy Without Thinking
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just kick back and relax and without thinking eat healthy? Sound too good to be true? Almost. But there are some simple things you can do that can make it a whole lot easier to eat healthy in autopilot, even with the odds stacked against you.
How many times have you caught yourself saying, you will eat only a handful of chips and ten minutes later realize over half the bag is gone? Or not eat any of the leftover pizza that is staring at you every time you open the fridge and finish three slices? Eating healthy is hard. Or not?
If you rely on willpower, then yes, it is really hard. But if you are strategic and setup your day to without thinking to eat healthy, then it becomes much easier.
I want to share actionable strategies that make it much easier to eat healthy and not have to think, you just DO eat healthy. Each of these strategies alone can result in big changes in how you eat over time and all together they really add up to making a difference in your eating.
At the end of each strategy I suggest an action step. My aim is to make it as easy as possible to eat better and achieve the health you want.
1. Use a smaller plate.
Yes, the optical illusion of your plate looking like it is fuller works. A smaller plate makes a serving of food appear bigger. Just give it a try for yourself.
Below you see two circles with smaller circles inside. Which of the inside circles do you think is bigger? People perceive these inside circles differently, the one on the right people believe is larger. This is false, the circles in the center are identical in size.
This applies to the size of plate you use to eat off of. I don’t use regular dinner plates. I instead use smaller, salad plates for dishing out portions to eat for everyone in my household, even if I have guests over I use them too. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Going from a 12 inch dinner plate to 10 inch dinner plate can change how much you eat by a lot. In one study they found participants ate 22% LESS when eating off the smaller plates. Do the math, this will make a big difference in a short time.
Action Step: Reorganize your dishes so you use smaller plates for eating off of. Set the traditional dinner plates out of quick reach and use instead as serving dish platters.
While you are looking through your dishes, check out your spoons too, look for any oversized ones. Take them out. Bigger spoons means eating more in less time.
2. Halve Your Serving
Before you start eating, cut the food on your plate in HALF. Eat only one of the halves on your plate. Once finished with eating half, put your fork or spoon down then and ask, am I still hungry?
If so, cut the food left on your plate in HALF again. Put your spoon or fork down and ask, am I still hungry? If not, then that is your cue to STOP and the plate goes back to the kitchen. If you are still hungry, cut the food on your plate in HALF again.
Continue with this until you are no longer hungry, you feel full. This is not a stuffed full, but a comfortable full.
If you find after trying this a couple times your mind tends to drift off while eating, you might want to put the half you are not eating on a different plate. That way you don’t accidentally start eating into the wrong half.
As you can see, this is really about listening to your body. Using this technique helps to prevent overeating and taxing your body with extra digestion that it will store on your body as fat. A big part of healthy eating is eating that is connected to your body – that listens to its hunger and fullness cues.
This strategy works wonders for highly driven people that often have their mind racing on all they have to do while downing too much food quickly. Your health is an investment, invest a few moments to slow down while eating and pay attention to your hunger and fullness.
Action Step: Get a paper plate and draw a line down the center of it and place it on top of your real plates in your cupboard to remind yourself to start practicing the half rule every time you eat from now on.
3. See it before you eat it
Put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating: snacks, dinners, ice cream, and even chips. Also, instead of eating directly out of a package or box, put your snack in a separate dish and leave the box back in your kitchen while you enjoy the food out in the dining room. You’ll be less likely to eat more food and slow down to ask yourself if you are hungry before heading back into the kitchen.
One step better, practice “the halve your serving strategy” when eating these items. Cut the portion you were going to eat in half, and ask if you are hungry. Continue to eat another half only if your body cues are telling you it is hungry.
Action Step: Make a note for a week and post on your kitchen counters “See before you eat it” or set out your smaller dinner plates on the counter to remind yourself to place everything on a plate before you start to eat. Do this for a week or two until you get into the habit of reaching for a plate before you start eating.
4. Use a contrasting plate color
This may sound odd, but the color of your plate makes a difference in how much you eat. If the plate color and food are similar, studies find you will serve 18 – 30% more food than if the plate is in a contrasting color.
The reason behind this drastic difference in serving size is that when the color of your food blends in with the color of your plate, then the amount of food doesn’t appear to be as large. Check for yourself. The photos below are the same, but most people would dish out more food given the lighter plate on the left. Keep in mind when you are dishing food out, most of your decision-making is intuitive and not reasoning.
For most people, when they dish out food they are not thinking only about the food but about their day, what happened and what is coming up later in the day.
The color of your food tends to blend in with the white plate on the left, while it stands out clearly from the red plate on the right. You are more likely to scoop large portions onto the white plate because the food blends in with the color of the plate and doesn’t appear to be as large.
I actually replaced my white plates recently with darker blue-gray plates. It really works. I dish smaller servings onto the darker plates. Dark blue, green, red and orange plates work well. I realize green plates match dark leafy greens. This is still works because you want to eat MORE of these phytonutrient packed foods and less of refined foods like white rice, potatoes, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.
Action Step: Try out dark colored paper plates for a week to see if you dish out more or less food. If you dish out more food, look into getting a new set of darker plates.
5. Make healthy choices visible
What you see is what you want. How many times do you pass a cookie on the counter before you finally give yourself permission to eat it? One, two or three times? That is a lot of willpower you are using up to resist them. Instead, put foods out visible you WANT to eat more of.
Every morning when I heat my tea in the microwave I get out a small bright colored bowl and put one serving of vegetable in it and leave it out in plain sight throughout the day. Usually, well before lunch I have eaten it all. Do the math – one extra serving a day of vegetables is 7 servings a week and yes, 365 servings a year. That will make a difference in your health.
I most often do grape tomatoes – they are sweet and easy to prep. Other vegetables that work are carrot sticks, red pepper sticks, snow peas, edamame (green soy beans), broccoli florets (can set a small dish of dip or dressing next to it), cucumber slices, seaweed, or a regular tomato sliced up.
Action Step: Find a small, pretty bowl to set out a vegetable you like at work or at home. Set it out the first part of your day in your work area or visible on the kitchen counter. I am betting it will be gone well before noon.
All these strategies are meant to be easy to put into practice and make big differences in what you eat. This way you can relax and focus on the other important things in your life like spending time with family, friends or outside with mother nature.
Eating healthy is serious business. Start now making changes that count and happen without thinking.