Strive to be a "light eater" ?

Tips on Appetite Control

Ilana Katz MS, RD, CSSD

Are you a light eater? In other words, when it gets light do you start eating. This is probably as amusing as being on the seafood diet.   “See” food and eat it. As much as we make light of appetite control, these jokes certainly have a darker truth to them, namely those devilish nutrition challenges that take control of the human brain.

“I cannot resist temptation” and “I have no will power” are probably the two most common phrases that my office walls hear. And most people start their confessions by stating that they may be unique to my client base in that they just cannot put a handle on this. Believe it or not, they are amongst friends, me, yes me, the food police, included. Research in fact, has consistently shown that this is a normal human behavior. People have been found unable to resist temptation when presented with delicious foods, and often even at times when we are not hungry. Large portions are more than likely going to be eaten until the last bite. It is also not rocket science that junk food advertisers are the most successful at making their target market “bite”.

Wansink, a researcher from Cornell University wanted to prove that the “see food” diet is not just a joke. The results behind this study highlight the phenomenon that human appetite is literally impossible to control. The study involved observing humans eating either with the dishes of food in front of them or with them serving themselves and eating at a different table to where the dishes of food sat. The latter creating an environment of less temptation because the food was not right in front of them. The subjects ate between 20 to 29% less when the dishes of food were not constantly chirping “eat me, eat me” right in front of their eyes.

“Serve here, eat there” is just one of many recent studies which show that environmental food cues are extremely powerful. Another interesting study done by Warsink involves a self refilling soup bowl.  Subjects were invited to enjoy a bowl of soup, eating as much or as little as they liked. Half of the bowls were fitted with a device that slowly and unnoticeably kept the bowl filled with soup as the subjects ate. On average, the subjects eating from constantly filled bowls ate 73 percent more soup than the others without realizing it and without feeling any more satisfied afterward.

This research does tend to add a negative consequence for those struggling with nutrition challenges over and above will power or uncontrollable temptations.  I say, the first step to getting a handle on appetite control is to recognize those neurological pathways behind what you are experiencing. Knowing that appetite control is almost impossible to control with the environmental cues screaming at you, fight back. Here are some tips that can help you eliminate the cues that have such power to control you.

Use small plates and bowls

Dust off the appetizer plates, and throw away the large serving platters that Bobba gave you as a wedding gift.  Moreover, don’t eat your morning cereal out of the Mixmaster bowls  and start eating them out of a small salad bowl. Jokes aside, I am merely suggesting you eat your main meals off a smaller plate.  Since research shows that when we use larger dishes we automatically eat more.
The idea here is not to go hungry but to eat from the small dishes that will fit enough food to satisfy your appetite.
Clean up the grocery list

As a nutritionist (aka the food police), I have always been tempted to visit any new clients homes and empty their cupboards and refrigerators of all the junk. When both junk and healthy food are available in your kitchen you will lean towards the path of most temptation. I have cured many bad eating habits by simply not allowing those trigger foods in the house. Try it. Five to ten pounds later you will be thanking me!

Portion Distortion

Restaurants these days serve more than 3 to 4 times a recommended portion in one meal. Never forget those environmental cues that control your neurological pathways to make you eat more (there is no appetite control when you are being hypnotized by environmental cues).  If you are served more than what will satisfy you at a restaurant, you will probably eat it. Ask about portion sizes before ordering and request half portions when appropriate, or put half in a take out box before you even take your first bite. Main goal here is to avoid overeating, in other words, do not be a puppet to the environmental puppeteer.

Keep fruit visible

Many studies in nutrition have shown that subjects eat more fruit when it was kept in a highly visible place, such as the kitchen table or the break room in the office. Do that. Make sure there are no candy bowls competing with the fruit, because we all know how that will end.

Plan for travel days

Do you notice on the days that involve running errands and being away from your normal environment that before you have had a chance to think about food, the next fast food billboard you’re passing by reminds you that you are ravenous. To avoid becoming hungry when the nearest foods are burgers and fries, get in the habit of having healthy snacks handy (such as yogurts, snack bars, fruit and nuts)  wherever you go. Stash them in your car, at your office, and in your laptop bag. If you travel for work, remember to take some of these snacks along with you in your luggage too. (see my article on “Surviving the travel challenge” to give you some great ideas for travel).

Closing statement

Knowledge is power. It is a lot easier to control your appetite when you know what the environmental cues are so that you can avoid them controlling it for you.


  1. powering muscles website. Article on the See Food diet. Accessed october 30, 2010.
  2. Vartanian, Lenny R., C. Peter Herman, and Brian Wansink (2008), “Are We Aware of the External Factors that Influence Our Food Intake?” Health Psychology, 27:5, 533-538.
  3. Wansink, Brian, Collin R. Payne, Pierre Chandon (2007), “Internal and External Cues of Meal Cessation: The French Paradox Redux? Obesity, 15 (December), 2920-2924.
  4. Wansink, Brian and Koert van Ittersum (2007), “Portion Size Me: Downsizing Our Consumption Norms,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107:7 (July), 1103-1106.