Eat less is one of those phrases so vague as to be almost meaningless. Everyone who knows that you are trying to lose weight trots it out—trainer, nutritionist, even the random passerby. The problem with this instruction is that it is hard to implement. Of course, I want to eat less. I just don’t know how to. If I did, I would be about 7kg lighter.
Over time, many of us come up with a blueprint of how to eat less—whether it is using an app such as MyFitnessPal or getting a weighing scale and counting calories religiously with every meal. All of this requires a lot of work and discipline. I, however, have a slightly easier approach.
Whenever you eat something that is highly calorific and tasty, stop after eating two spoons. It is a simple enough instruction, and therefore you cannot avoid it. This practice forces you to savour those two spoons that you are going to eat, because they are going to be your last—for that meal anyway. When you think about it, whether you’re eating a rich chocolate cake or a deliciously creamy ice cream, two large spoons are really all that you need to enjoy the dessert. After that, it is really about shovelling down the rest.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. An October study, published in the Journal Of Marketing Research, shows that when subjects were asked to vividly imagine the taste, smell and texture of a chocolate brownie, they ended up choosing and enjoying a smaller one—without any sort of overt or covert nagging or guilt-tripping. Pleasure, the study found, is inversely related to the size of the portion. It is at its maximum in the first few bites, then goes down with every additional bite. The last bite is crucial and determines the overall impression of the dish. People who choose large portions do so for two reasons: hunger and value for money. Focusing on pleasure helps people naturally choose smaller portions. Professors Pierre Chandon of Insead, France, and Yann Cornil of the University of British Columbia, Canada, tried another version. They imitated the descriptions that customers get at fine-dining restaurants, using terms such as “aromas of honey and vanilla”, with an “aftertaste of blackberry”. Such vivid descriptions made 190 adult Americans—used to supersized portions—choose smaller portions compared to a control group where the dish was simply described as “chocolate cake”.
Most of us eat so fast that we don’t let our stomach catch up and tell us it is full. Savouring a meal by using your imagination is a way of sabotaging this process.
So the next time you are confronted with a pizza, tiramisu or ice cream, pause for a minute. Close your eyes and imagine the taste of the dish that you are just going to eat. Smell its aroma, visualize its texture on your mouth, and imagine it’s crunch if it is a potato chip. Then, take a knife and cut the pizza in half. I guarantee you that you will enjoy the half portion as much as you would have enjoyed the full one.
I am not saying that I stop after eating two spoons of dessert every time. But I do pay attention to those two spoons, and more often than not I’m able to distract myself, so I don’t reach for the third and fourth and fifth spoon just to “eat for taste”. Tender hot morsels of rice mixed with thick creamy curd that come from happy cows, flecked with black mustard seeds and the ruby reds of a pomegranate, I tell myself to stop compulsively devouring my curd rice.
Shoba Narayan eats curd rice for comfort. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan