34 Tips For Getting Used To Eating Less (Science-Backed)

When you reduce your caloric intake to lose weight, you might struggle with hunger and cravings that make it hard for you to eat less and stick to your calorie goal.  

So, can you get used to eating less?  Yes, you can get used to eating less by eating smaller servings more slowly and mindfully, focusing on nutritious whole foods with high water and fiber content, and changing your surroundings to reduce cues to eat.  You can also overcome cravings with activities like brushing your teeth or chewing gum.

Below I’ll be discussing 34 tips for getting used to eating less. As a nutrition coach, these are the exact tips I would share with you if you were one of my clients.  

I’ve spent years learning, experimenting for myself, and coaching others on tips and tricks for getting used to eating less.  

Note: It won’t be realistic to implement all these tips at once, so pick a few that you think will work for you, stick with them for a few weeks, and then continue to add 1-2 over time until you start feeling like you have more control over your hunger cues.  

34 tips for getting used to eating less (1 to 12)

1. Start Eating Later In The Day

Many people are naturally less hungry when they first wake up.  You can take advantage of this by waiting before having your breakfast. This means that your calories are spread over the later part of the morning & the afternoon & evening so that you don’t feel hungry when you’re going to bed (helpful when eating less).

One caution is not to take this too far.  You should not be waiting so long to eat that you are ravenous when you finally do eat your first meal.  This can make you more likely to overeat for the rest of the day.

2. Avoid Daytime Under-Eating

Even if your first meal is not until later in the morning, be sure to eat enough during the day that you are not ravenous by the evening.  By the end of the day, we tend to have lower resolve and less willpower, which makes us far more likely to give into cravings for junk food and overeat.  Eat enough to avoid binges.

Nighttime overeating is a common complaint for dieters – for example, my clients will talk about being “so good” all day long and then “blowing it” by the time evening rolls around by overeating.  

But nighttime overeating is often not the problem in itself – it is a symptom of the true problem, which is daytime under-eating.  Not eating enough balanced meals and snacks during the day is what leads to the unmanageable hunger and cravings by evening.

3. Don’t Skip Breakfast

Even if you wait until later in the day to eat your first meal, you should still think of this meal as “breakfast.”  You are not “skipping breakfast.”  Studies show that trying to “skip breakfast” and start each day with a “snack” mid-morning leads to an overall higher total calorie intake for the day.

Study participants who ate breakfast ate 17% less at lunchtime; people who skipped breakfast reported feeling more hunger and desire to eat.  This is the opposite of what you want to help you get used to eating less.

Even when total daily calorie intake was the same, women who ate more calories at breakfast and fewer calories at dinner lost more weight and body fat than women who ate fewer calories at breakfast and more calories at dinner.

4. Include Lots of Protein At Your First Meal

Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, and it takes the most digestive effort to break down.  Including protein at your first meal provides a long-lasting source of energy that keeps you feeling full.  Studies show that a high-protein breakfast promotes weight loss by reducing food intake in later meals.

I recommend that you aim to include at least 30g of protein at breakfast.  This would mean adding whole food sources of protein such as Greek yogurt, eggs, or milk, or supplementing with protein powder.  

Check out our recipes for more ideas: 

5. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead keeps you on track with eating less by making decisions ahead of time about what and how much you’re eating. This reduces the risk of making a poor decision when you’re feeling hungry such as getting fast food or vending machine snacks. Sticking to planned healthy meals helps you get used to eating less.

If you’ve already planned and prepared a meal to eat, it’s much easier simply to eat that meal than to make any other choice.  This can keep you on track with nutritious, whole foods that are much more filling than processed foods

Some of my clients find it easy to spend one day per week to batch cook their meals. 

6. Use A Smaller Plate

When you fill a smaller plate with a given amount of food, your brain is more satisfied than when the same amount of food is placed on a larger plate.  Feelings of fullness and satisfaction with a meal are linked to both physical and psychological factors, so a smaller full plate is an easy way to add to satisfaction.

On the larger plate, your brain will interpret the empty space around the edges of the plate as “missing” food which will create or reinforce the subconscious message that you are getting less food than you “should have.” 

7. Start With A Smaller Serving

Starting with a smaller serving gives you the satisfaction of eating a “full serving” and the opportunity to “go back for seconds,” both of which create the psychological sensations of abundance and permission.  These are powerful to counter negative feelings of restriction and denial that are often linked to dieting.

Reducing your calorie intake while dieting can also often lead to negative psychological experiences of feeling restricted with what and how much you can eat, which can make you want to eat even more.  

Feeling a sense of choice and freedom is very helpful in getting used to eating less. My recommendation is to start with a serving that is half to one third smaller than your normal serving size.  

8. Get The “Doggy Bag” First

When you go to a restaurant, you can easily create a smaller portion size by asking to have some of the food packed up “to go” right away.  It is much easier to do this first than to try to stop eating and leave some food to take away later, due to a phenomenon called loss aversion (dislike of giving up what we have).  

This allows you to retrain your eyes, brain and stomach about what a “normal” portion size is, which makes it easier to get used to eating less.

For example, as soon as I get an 8oz steak at a restaurant, I cut it in half and ask the waiter to put the remaining 4oz in a to-go container (a “doggy bag”).  

9. “Mini-Size” Me!

Whenever you have the option, order a smaller size at restaurants.  This can mean ordering half-portions, or choosing from children’s or seniors’ menus, if possible. This allows you to enjoy meals from your favourite restaurants in a format where you get to consume the “whole thing” but for a fraction of the calories.

As I stated, there is a lot of value in terms of satisfaction and satiety when we perceive that we have permission to eat all of the food we want.  

Ordering and eating a whole meal, even when it’s smaller, can create the same psychological satisfaction as eating a larger meal, which helps with getting used to eating less.

10. Buy Small Packages

When you buy packaged foods and snacks, choose small packages.  External cues such as package sizes have a strong effect on food intake and perceptions of satiety.  For example, a greater sense of satisfaction is associated with eating a whole mini chocolate bar than with eating half a regular size chocolate bar.

It is much easier and more satisfying to eat all of a small package than to try to stop part way through an open package. Small packages help you get used to eating less. 

It even applies to foods in “natural packages” such as fruits with a peel.  Bananas and oranges are good examples.  You can get a smaller “package” by buying smaller bananas and oranges.  

11. Ignore Packages

Go a step further than just getting a small package and ignore packages completely.  Who is to say that the standard serving size printed on a package label is the correct serving size for you, especially in the context of what else you are eating, and when and why you are eating it?

We are often so used to eating an entire package of food in one sitting because it is marketed and packaged as one serving, without considering that a generic label cannot possibly know the unique calorie needs of the end consumer.

When you focus on your own level of satisfaction and fullness without mindlessly eating a whole package just because it is “one serving” you can get used to eating less.

12. Eat Slowly

Eat slowly and pay careful attention to each mouthful.  Put your fork or spoon down between bites.  Slowing down and focusing on the aroma, appearance, flavor, taste and texture of your food allows you to enjoy it more and gives receptors in your stomach time to communicate with your brain that you are full.

One way to do this is to find the slowest eater and the room, and challenge yourself to make your meal last longer than theirs. Making it into a game makes it more fun and can help you get used to eating less. 

As an example, the “Mindful Raisin” challenge gets you to use all five senses to explore your food before swallowing it, with a goal of making a single raisin take as long as 5 minutes to eat.

34 tips for getting used to eating less (13 to 24)

13. Eat More Of Less

Whenever possible, choose to eat a larger number of smaller servings or bites than one large item or bite.  For example, eat three small cookies instead of one large cookie, or eat a piece of cake in twenty small bites instead of five large bites.  This is more satisfying and helps you feel full for less food.

Because satisfaction is deeply influenced by perception, it is more satisfying to eat three small cookies than one large cookie, even if the total calories are the same or fewer.  

The perception is “wow, I got to eat three whole cookies,” which creates a sense of abundance compared to the restriction of “I only had one cookie.”  

14. Chew Thoroughly

Chew each mouthful of food at least twenty times before swallowing to reduce food intakeThe goal is to break food down as much as possible before swallowing to maximize enjoyment of the food and to assist with digestion.

Biting into a food is often a key component to releasing its flavors.  Moving the food around inside your mouth while chewing allows the different taste bud receptors on different parts of your tongue to pick up various flavors of the food.

Taste buds actually have a role to play in managing energy intake for the day.  A pleasant taste experience is linked to greater satisfaction and satiety, so taking the time to truly chew and taste your food allows you to be satisfied with less.  

15. Remove Distractions

Remove distractions such as cell phones, computers, newspapers, televisions and even music while eating to allow you to fully focus on the tastes and sensations of the foods to increase your enjoyment and satisfaction from your food.  This will assist you in getting used to eating less.

Anything that takes your attention away from enjoying your own meal can reduce your sense of satisfaction and satiety from that meal.

It might surprise you to know that listening to music while eating is linked to higher food intake, and faster music is associated with higher intake than slower music, because eaters subconsciously increase their eating speed in response to the speed of the music.

When it’s time to eat a meal or snack, remove ALL distractions and dedicate that time to eating and enjoying your food.  

16. Sit Down To Eat

Sit down at a table to eat any meal or snack.  Do not eat while walking around, or while sitting in an armchair, couch, or in bed, and especially not while driving.  Sitting at a table reinforces the message that this is the time and place for food to be consumed, and allows you to focus your attention on eating.

Not only does sitting down reinforce the message about when and where to eat, it also reduces the association of eating in any other location.  

For example, if you sometimes have a snack while sitting in an armchair in front of the TV, your brain will start to associate the armchair with having a snack.  That can make you want to eat just by sitting in the armchair.

17. Plate Your Meal

Taking the time and care to put your food on a proper plate or in a bowl or dish adds to the visual presentation of the food which increases satisfaction.  It also allows you to be intentional about what and how much you are eating, which can help you to stick to your calorie goal.

It can be very convenient to prep your meals and store them in plastic containers, but you shouldn’t eat your meals out of those containers.  Food looks much more appealing when you take it out of a container and arrange it on a plate in an attractive way.

When your food not only tastes good but also looks good, you get more overall satisfaction out of the meal (even if you’re eating less).   

18. Manage Your Food Environment

Your food environment is where you store, prepare and consume food, and external cues in this environment have a strong influence on your feelings of hunger and satiety.  It’s important to manage your food environment in ways that make it easier for you to eat less, by reducing cues that prompt you to eat.

Precision Nutrition founder Dr. John Berardi has coined “Berardi’s First Law,” which is: “If a food is in your possession or located in your residence, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it.”

This is the “proximity effect” – if a food is near you, you are more likely to eat it.  Conversely, placing snack food farther away from people decreases its consumption.

For example, if you put a candy bowl away or change your route so that you don’t see it, you no longer have to make the decision of “Should I eat a piece of candy or should I keep walking?”

Putting the candy bowl away is an example of what is called a “structural change” – making a change to the small-scale physical environment to influence your behavior.  In studies on this topic, these changes are called interventions. 

These interventions can result in a lower intake without you even noticing, which makes it very easy to adjust to eating less:

Stash The Snacks

Store all snacks in sealed containers in the cupboard, pantry, or fridge.  

If they are truly for special occasions only, consider storing them away from other daily food items, such as in a separate closet or at the back of the freezer.  

“Out of sight, out of mind” – you might even forget that you have them!

Use Opaque Containers

Store food in opaque containers so that you cannot see the contents – use written labels instead.  

Our bodies are so attuned to visual stimuli that even just seeing a food can make us want to eat it.  If you are able to open the pantry or fridge and just see containers and not food, you reduce this stimulus to eat.

Ditch Appetizing Packaging

Even pictures of food can stimulate our appetites, and food packaging is designed with bright colors and attractive presentations of the food to make us want to eat and buy those foods. 

Where practical, take food out of the package and store it in a generic opaque container, or at least cover the labels with plain paper.

Change Your Route

When you are driving, simply passing fast food restaurants can make you want to eat fast food, so change your driving route to pass fewer (or no) restaurants.  

Similarly, if you have a “snack station” where you work, see if you can change your route to avoid walking by it.  

Bonus: you might get a higher step count.

Switch The Station

If you hear an ad starting for a restaurant or food, switch the station or turn the radio off.  Consider listening to ad-free music streaming services or podcasts instead.

Just like visual cues, we are also susceptible to auditory suggestions to eat such as a radio ad for a food or restaurant.  

Change The Channel

Similar to switching the station for radio ads, change the channel on the TV when commercials for foods or restaurants come on.  

These commercials are most common in the 1-2 hours leading up to meal times, such as in the late afternoon.  The suggestions can be so strong that they derail your healthy dinner plans.

Remove Visual Food Cues

Because food pictures and packaging are so powerful, avoid artwork that displays food, including paintings and even decorative bowls of fake fruit.  

Even if it’s a healthy food, a cue to eat when you otherwise wouldn’t have been thinking about food is not helpful when you are managing a calorie deficit.  

Promptly discard empty food packaging so that those cues are gone, as well.

19. Plan Social Outings Around Activities Instead Of Foods

It’s an ingrained part of human history to get together for celebrations and events that include special foods. The problem is that these outings have become so commonplace and often include high-calorie foods. Instead of going out for brunch or dinner, meet friends for walks, sports or other recreational activities.

When you get together with friends and family for activities, you have the added benefit of getting more movement.  You can focus on having fun together, without stressing about whether the foods will fit in your calorie target.

Taking the focal point of the outing away from foods takes your mind off of food and helps you get used to eating less.

20. Find People Who Eat Similarly To You

Communal meals are still very common both at home and at work.  If the people around you are eating high-calorie foods that don’t fit in your meal plan, it can increase the sense of restriction and deprivation that makes it hard to stick to a calorie deficit.  Find people who eat nutritious meals similar to your own.

When everyone around you is eating similar meals, it reduces your sense of missing out (“food FOMO”).  You can feel supported and part of a community that normalizes healthful eating, which makes it easier to get used to eating less.

21. Cook The Same Meals for Everyone

When you are on a reduced calorie diet, you may find that you are cooking different meals for yourself than for other family members who do not need a reduced calorie diet.  The problem is that this can heighten your sense of restriction and make it harder to get used to eating less.  Cook similar meals for everyone.

Even in the same household, people with different goals in different stages of life will have different calorie needs.

The challenge is when high-calorie meals are different from the meals that you are eating to lose weight or body fat.  This can make you feel deprived and restricted. 

As much as possible, serve similar foods, and allow others to increase or decrease their portions as needed, or add different toppings.

22. Bring Lightened Up Versions To Events With Foods

Feeling confident that you can still attend and enjoy social gatherings with food is a key part of dieting success. You want healthful eating to be a seamless part of your lifestyle so that you can maintain your habits once you’ve reached your goal.  BBQs, potlucks and picnics are easier to manage when you bring foods.

To create a shared eating experience and to overcome feelings of restriction and deprivation that can lead to overeating, a great way to participate in a food-based event is to bring a dish to share with everyone and/or bring lighter versions of foods.

For example, I like to bring chicken hot dogs instead of beef or pork hot dogs when I go to a BBQ.  They have a fraction of the fat and calories, but I get the same “hot dog experience” as the people around me.  This makes it much easier when you are getting used to eating less.

23. Savor The Really Good Stuff

You can end up more satisfied with one serving of a rich, decadent food than several servings of inferior substitutes if you take the time to fully savor and enjoy the item without guilt.  Identify what these foods are for you, and plan accordingly.

It is common to associate certain special foods with holidays or vacations. My previous tip about “light” versions aside, sometimes nothing but the original, high-calorie version will do.

Trying to satisfy yourself with a lower calorie version of that food is likely to disappoint, and you’ll actually end up feeling more deprived and more restricted.  This makes you more likely to eat the food on top of the substitute, leading to even more overall calories, and a sense of guilt.

The best way to handle these foods is to plan for them in advance and to balance the rest of your daily intake accordingly. 

24. Make Balanced Meals

Our bodies function best with a relatively steady source of macronutrients coming from meals and snacks over the course of a day.  For most people, this means 20-30% of calories coming from protein, 40-55% from carbohydrates and 25-30% from fat.  Each meal or snack should ideally provide calories in these ratios.

This is a good general guideline to follow to ensure that you are not getting too little or too much energy from any one macronutrient at a time, which can lead to blood sugar swings and cravings that make it hard to get used to eating less.

34 tips for getting used to eating less (25 to 34)

25. Choose High-Volume, Low-Calorie Foods

When you are eating in a calorie deficit, it’s important to choose foods that will fill you up for the smallest number of calories. These foods generally have a high water and fiber content, which gives them lots of volume. This is called low calorie density. Common sources are vegetables, some fruit, and lean protein. 

Check out this table for foods with low calorie content per 100g serving:

FoodCalories
per 100g
Carbs
per 100g
Fat
per 100g
Fat
per 100g
Vegetables
Celery16 calories3g0.2g0.7g
Zucchini16 calories3.3g0.2g1.2g
Tomato18 calories3.9g0.2g0.9g
Mushrooms22 calories7g0.5g1.5g
Bell pepper31 calories6.3g0.3g1g
Broccoli34 calories1.8g0.9g4.4g
Carrots41 calories10g0g1g
Spinach56 calories8.4g1.4g5.6g
Fruit
Watermelon30 calories8g0g1g
Cantaloupe34 calories8g0.2g0.8g
Strawberries34 calories7.5g0g0.7g
Honeydew melon36 calories9g0.1g0.5g
Peaches39 calories10g0.3g0.9g
Raspberries42 calories9.7g0.6g0.8g
Blackberries43 calories9.6g0.5g1.4g
Oranges49 calories12.1g0.1g0.9g
Pineapple50 calories13g0.1g0.5g
Apples52 calories14.3g0g0g
Protein
Egg whites45 calories0g0g11g
Greek yogurt, plain, non-fat57 calories2.3g0g9.7g
Cod fillets, boneless, skinless64 calories0g0.4g15.2g
Tilapia fillets, boneless, skinless72 calories0g1.2g16g
Chicken breast, boneless, skinles100 calories0g1g23g
Turkey breast, boneless, skinless110 calories0g1g25g
Pork tenderloin, extra lean110 calories4g2g19g
Ground chicken, extra lean130 calories0g6g19g
Ground turkey, extra lean140 calories0g7g20g
Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless140 calories0g7g19g

Prioritize these foods and others like them in your reduced-calorie diet to help you feel full, which makes it easier to get used to eating less.

26. Eat The Least Energy-Dense Foods At Your Meal First

If you are looking to decrease your calorie intake, eat the least calorie-dense parts of your meal first before the most calorie-dense components of the meal, to help you to start filling up on foods that have a high volume but for a lower number of calories. Starting meals this way gets you used to eating less overall.

For example, if you have a meal of chicken breast, rice, and vegetables, eat the vegetables first as they are lowest in calories and highest in fiber and water content, followed by the chicken breast for its satiating protein content, and finally the rice.

28. Aim To Get Most Of Your Calories From Minimally Processed Whole Foods

When you reduce your calories, it is extremely important to get the majority of your intake from minimally processed whole foods to fill you up. These foods have fewer calories for a given volume of food compared to processed options, and also provide a range of beneficial micronutrients to support your overall health.

The types of foods that you eat impact many processes in your body including digestion, hormones and your immune system.  You want all these things working well because feeling your best is key when getting used to eating less.

Whole foods are also less likely to make you want to overeat, compared with processed foods that are engineered to be hyperpalatable.

Whole Food Sources of Protein:

Whole Food Sources of Carbohydrates:

Whole Food Sources of Fat:

Make Lower-Calorie Substitutions

There are many simple substitutions you can make to reduce your calorie intake by swapping to lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods.  Easy options include fat-free dairy, low-calorie sweeteners, and diet soda instead of regular. Getting to eat the same types of foods is helpful when adjusting to a lower intake.

You can also find lower-calorie alternatives for products like pasta, bread, cereal, and more.  

As a caution, some of these foods are still very processed and hyperpalatable, which makes them easier to overeat.  

29. Skip Butter and Oils

Butter and oils are sources of fat, which provides 9 calories per gram (more than double the 4 calories for 1g protein or carbs).  Butter and oil add a lot of calories but are not very filling. 

Steam or bake foods instead of sautéing or frying, and add flavor with seasonings instead to help you get used to eating less.

30. Avoid Liquid Calories

Since chewing food makes you feel fuller than when you drink calories, avoid consuming calories in liquid form such as beverages or smoothies.  This means steering clear of soda, juice, smoothies, milk and even cream and sugar in your coffee to help you get used to an overall lower intake.

This might mean that you consider a protein bar instead of a protein shake, or consider getting your protein from other sources instead.

31. Drink More Water

Because thirst can be mistaken for hunger, it’s important to drink enough water to stay hydrated.  This reduces the risk that you will want to eat when in fact you are actually just thirsty.  Ensuring that you are properly hydrated can help you get used to eating less because you won’t feel hungry from thirst.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to grab a drink of water, and if you do feel a stomach pang, check to see if it is thirst first before grabbing a snack.  Drink an 8oz glass of water and then wait 15 minutes.  If the sensation passes, you were likely just thirsty.

32. Brush Your Teeth

Most people brush their teeth after a meal, which creates an association that eating is finished and it is not time to ingest anything else.  Take advantage of and reinforce this association by brushing your teeth after each meal and snack.  Pick a flavor that suppresses and does not stimulate appetite.

For example, some people find that a sweet toothpaste flavor like fruit or bubblegum actually stimulates their appetite, whereas a minty flavor suppresses it.

If you’ve ever noticed that certain foods, especially citrus fruits, taste “funny” after brushing your teeth, it’s because of a toothpaste ingredient called sodium laureth sulfate.  This ingredient makes toothpaste foamy, but it also suppresses the sweet receptors in your taste buds and intensifies the bitter receptors.

A regular tooth brushing regimen with a toothpaste that curbs your appetite can be a strategy that helps you get used to eating less.

33. Chew Gum

Chewing gum is a great way to reduce overall food intake because it enhances perceptions of satiety, and feeling satisfied is important for getting used to eating less.  According to this study, chewing gum after lunch reduced the calorie intake in a later afternoon snack.

Certain flavors of gum can also reduce interest in eating more, as many people find that foods do not taste as good after chewing a mint-flavored gum (similar to after brushing teeth with a minty toothpaste).

34. Realize That Hunger Is Not An Emergency

When you pursue a calorie deficit for weight loss, it is natural and normal that there will be times that you experience increased appetite & hunger. Your body likes to maintain a state of homeostasis, including weight. The key is to recognize these cues and to realize that you do not have to react by eating right away.

During our evolution, the ability to maintain body weight was a key element of survival, so we have strong biological cues telling us to eat.  But in the modern era of food abundance, these cues can be out of place.

Your appetite will naturally ebb and flow over the day, regardless of whether you eat. This shows that you do indeed have time to wait out cravings, either until your planned meal time, or at least long enough for you to go get or make a prepared meal or snack.

Learning to accept and deal with a small amount of hunger can help you get used to eating less.

Learn More About Eating Less & Staying Full

We’ve put together a series of articles on how to stay full while trying to lose weight. These articles are based on how many calories you eat per day. Pick the article that most closely relates to the number of total calories you eat on a daily basis:


About The Author

Lauren Graham
LAUREN GRAHAM

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.