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Want to eat less?

You know that you are eating healthier… yet you still feel like you aren’t seeing any changes. Does this sound like you? Well in all reality, you may be sabotaging your goals by making food choices on auto pilot. In a recent Cornell University researchers asked volunteers to estimate the number of eating decisions they make everyday, most said 15. In fact, they really made about 221 decisions about what to eat—as well as how, when, where and with whom they’d eat.

Eating on auto-pilot can can add hundreds of undocumented calories every day! Here are strategies to help you identify situations where you consume excess calories and how to set yourself up for success.

1. Plate your main course in the kitchen

Keep your entrée, starches, and high-fat foods in the kitchen. Do put plain veggies, salad, or the fruit you’re having for dessert out on the table—few of us get the 5-12 produce servings a day nutritionists recommend.

2. Don’t jump up to clear the dishes

In one study, volunteers ate 30% more chicken wings when the bones were whisked off the table than when the evidence was left to pile up in plain view. If you’re having muffins baked in muffin papers, cookies from a box, ice cream, or any other high-cal food that creates trash, leave the packaging out so you can see just how much you are eating. Be accountable!

3. Use smaller plates and tall, skinny glasses

Ignore the trend of huge plates and serving dishes. A normal-sized portion looks ample on a slightly smaller plate. And several studies show that everyone from kids to long-time bartenders pour less when they’re using tall, skinny glasses than wide, squat glasses.

4. Stop, look, and listen while you eat

Don’t talk with your mouth full. Cultivate the art of conversation and prolong your meal by putting your fork down between bites and focusing on table talk. Share your day with family. Eating alone? Savor your meal over a good book or article.

5. Divide the food on your plate

To avoid overeating, simply mark off what you’ll eat and what you’ll save for later—i.e., cut off the portion of meat you’ll have now, then cut it into bite-size pieces as the meal progresses. Just separate your plate into an “eat now” and “take home” pile. Once you’ve eaten your ‘now’ portions, fold your napkin and put your silverware on your plate.

6. Chew gum while baking

Usually, there’s no culinary reason to taste cookie dough or cake batter, so keeping your mouth busy with strong, mint-flavored gum can do the trick. Bonus: Choose a sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol–it may help fight cavity-causing bacteria.

7. Serve your children smaller portions

Children, especially preschoolers, tend to take only what they’ll eat—and helping them learn to dish out only enough food to satisfy their hunger is a life lesson worth learning.

8. Don’t miss meals

And you know how serious we are about this one! Skipping needed food during the day can leave you authentically hungry at night, when your resistance is lower because you’re tired.

9. De-stress by taking care of yourself

Instead of abusing the Chunky Monkey ice cream when you’re agitated, soothe your mind and body with a short yoga routine or a few minutes of progressive relaxation: Breathe slowly and stretch your body.  Twenty minutes of relaxation could lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can trigger food cravings.

Or, call a friend, write a letter, read a good book, walk outside and admire the moon and stars, pet your dog, or go hug your spouse.

10. Close the kitchen two hours before bedtime

We promise—you’ll get used to it in a day or two. Keep your office in another part of your home to keep yourself out of the kitchen at off-hours.

11. Keep snacks out of sight

Wrap them, pack them, stick them in tough-to-reach, hard-to-see spots in the cupboard, fridge or freezer. In one famous study, office workers ate 23% less candy from a covered, opaque candy dish than from a see-through container.

12. Brush your teeth after dinner

This can send a powerful ‘eating time’s over’ message that your brain obeys.

13. Make TV a food-free activity

Ignore commercials. See food, want food. Small wonder, then, that in a Harvard study of kids eating habits and TV, researchers found that kids ate an extra 167 calories for every hour of TV they watched. We bet the numbers are similar for adults. The best fix—make a no-food-in-front-of-the-TV rule.

Contributors: Sari N. Harrar

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