If you do, you're more likely to choose a meal that's in line with your healthy-eating goals. When groups of people eat together, they tend to select similar items, one study found. "We want to fit in with the people we're dining with," says lead researcher Brenna Ellison, Ph.D., a food economist at the University of Illinois. So if your friend orders cheese fries, you'll tend to do the same—even if you had the best spinach-salad intentions. If ordering first isn't an option, try steering the conversation away from discussions about food. Instead of saying "What are you having?" bring up work, the weather, whatever, and you'll feel less pressured to order a fattening meal.
Compared with bright, loud environments, candlelight and jazz lead people to eat about 18 percent less, or about 120 fewer calories per meal. Why is that? The relaxed atmosphere slows down your chewing, and "you end up taking an average of eight minutes longer to eat," says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. That may be just long enough for your brain to realize that your stomach is full.
Unlike standard silverware, chopsticks make it nearly impossible to shovel food into your mouth. "Because of the amount of food you can grab," Wansink says, "chopsticks slow you down and make you eat less food with every bite."
Here's a strange-but-true finding: The three foods that you see first at a buffet will end up comprising about 66 percent of the food you take back to your table, according to one Cornell University study. We tend to load up on the things that initially tempt us, Wansink explains. So start off at the salad section—and much of that 66 percent will be good for you.
Being within eyesight of a banquet of food makes you eat 15 percent more—regardless of whether you're at home or a restaurant, Wansink has found. "Seeing it fills your thoughts with food," he says. "And watching people return to a buffet makes you think it's more normal to go for seconds, thirds, and fourths." If you can, move food completely out of sight—"you don't want to catch the action in your peripheral vision either," says Wansink. At home, leave serving dishes on the counter instead of the table, and sit facing away from the spread.
When dining out, select whatever reasonable main entrée you want (plus included sides) and pair it with only two other things to eat and drink. So if a piece of bread and one glass of wine are your two preferred entree pals, skip appetizers and dessert. If you want the artichoke dip and tiramisu, avoid the bread basket and beverages other than water. "On average, people who use the rule of two report eating about 25 percent less because it makes you rethink what you're ordering or eating," says Wansink. And keep in mind: You're more likely to order what you see first (it's why some restaurants showcase certain items), so choose carefully.
People who do this before eating tend to have a healthier body mass index, according to Cornell University researchers. That's because using a napkin reflects good table manners, says Wansink, and careful eaters often pay more attention to what they're eating—and, as a result, how many calories they're consuming.
"Organic," "all natural," "low fat," "a full serving of vegetables"—research shows that food descriptions that include veggies or other seemingly healthy attributes often make us believe that we're consuming fewer calories than we actually are. In fact, we eat about 35 percent more than we do when we think the food is unhealthy, according to University of Toronto researchers. One quick fix: Imagine the dish without the healthy food or description, suggests Wansink. For instance, leave out the vegetables in vegetable lasagna and you're still eating lasagna—pasta, cheese, and a heavy cream sauce.
Louisiana State University researchers found that women who eat a warm bowl of oatmeal served with fat-free milk feel 28 percent less hungry for up to four hours later compared with when they pour their breakfast from a box. Oatmeal's fiber (which takes longer to digest) is the secret, says study coauthor Frank Greenway, M.D.
And follow friends who do the same. Researchers from England's University of Leeds found that people eat fewer calories—and make better choices—after seeing shots of nutritious foods. "Visual cues prime you to eat right," says Durvasula. The idea works at home or the office too—swap the candy bowl for fresh fruit. And just like that you're eating healthier.
BACK TO SLIDE
The first rule of weight loss: Do not talk about weight loss. "Let's be honest, nobody wants to hear about your thighs, your portion size, your fear of carbs, or your vegan-on-Friday rule," says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. "It's a buzzkill-plus, having a super-restrictive attitude isn't sustainable." After all, she points out, you wouldn't dive into an Olympic-level workout right away-you'd start slow and then slowly build up your fitness. "Do the same with your eating habits, and you'll be less likely to get discouraged," says Durvasula. Here, 10 tricks that will make the process painless.