Outwit your appetite

To control the urge to eat — and eat and eat — during the holidays and beyond, try these simple mealtime tricks, and see how easy it really is to lose the weight for good.

If you’ve ever polished off an entire bowl of potato chips while chitchatting at a party, or ploughed through a basket of tortilla chips before your entrée arrives, you might think you have little control over your appetite. Yet, research shows that the drive to eat often doesn’t have much to do with actual hunger.

“Your appetite can be influenced by the mere sight of food, the portion sizes, and what the people around you are eating or ordering,” says Dr. Gerard J. Musante, author of “The Structure House Weight Loss Plan.” Those are just a few of the factors that cue you to eat when you didn’t plan to, or overindulge when you only wanted a taste. Awareness is key to controlling your appetite. And our temptation-taming tactics can help.

Temptation trigger: Generous plates and serving spoons; wide drinking glasses.

The bigger the plate and serving utensil, the more you’ll dish out. One study had people eat at an ice cream social, and those who were given a large bowl and a three-ounce scooper ate 53 percent more ice cream than those given a smaller bowl and a two-ounce scooper. With beverages, research shows that people pour 28 percent more in short, wide glasses than into tall, skinny ones, says Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the food and brand lab at Cornell University.

Slimming solution: Downsize plates and utensils. If your dinner dishes are larger than the standard 10.5 inches, use a salad plate for your main dish. Try a tip from Asian cultures and artfully arrange what’s on your plate. A small serving of sirloin, for example, will be less likely to leave you hungering for more when sliced and fanned on a pretty plate. Also, use smaller serving utensils, such as soup spoons for doling out portions. Replace any squat tumblers with tall, slender drinking glasses.

Temptation trigger: Too many choices.

If you always try to have something new for lunch and dinner, your meals are probably more of a calorie splurge than you realize.

“A varied diet stimulates your appetite,” says Dr. Hollie A. Raynor, a registered nurse and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior research at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island. The more flavors, textures, and color a particular meal offers and the less often you eat something, the more you’ll be tempted to load up your plate, because the food looks good or you’re curious about how it will taste.

Slimming solution: Downplay diversity. Come up with a standard repertoire of meals. It’s easy to get into the habit of having the same healthy breakfast (whole-grain cereal, skim milk, and fruit) five days a week, so why not do the same with dinner? Raynor suggests rotating among five or six of your favorite healthy core entrees. You can branch out one night a week, if you feel you need to. To beat boredom and boost your diet’s overall nutrient content, vary the fruit and veggies you use in the repeat meals. Dessert can be the same small dish of low-fat yogurt every night, jazzed up with almonds, walnuts, strawberries, kiwi, fresh pineapple, or whatever’s in season.

At holiday parties and other events with an appetizer or buffet spread, “Follow the rule of two,” suggests Wansink. That is, don’t put more than two foods on your plate at any given time. By doing so, “you intuitively limit your choices, while focusing on your favorite foods, so you don’t feel deprived,” he says. In one study, Wansink conducted, participants who followed that guideline ended up eating 36 percent less than those who didn’t over the course of an evening.

Another trick: When buying food that comes in flavors, such as yogurt and salad dressing, buy only one flavor at a time. One study found that those who were offered three yogurt flavors ate 23 percent more than those who were offered only one.

Temptation trigger: Eating while doing anything else.

Most people are guilty of driving, watching TV, or reading while noshing on something.

“When we multitask with food, we consume more without realizing it and sacrifice a feeling of satisfaction,” says Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center in Wooster, Ohio, and author of “Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-loss Power of Emotional Intelligence.”

It’s an easy way to consume more without even realizing it and sacrificing a feeling of satisfaction. Albers relates the story of a client who had a habit of eating lunch while driving from one job to another.

“One day, she was so distracted with driving and thinking about her job that she actually had to open her lunch bag at a stoplight to see if her sandwich was gone,” Albers says. (It was.) Sound familiar?

Slimming solution: Make meals important.

“No matter how busy you are, find a distraction-free spot to sit and eat,” suggests Albers. Make a habit of taking one mindful bite at the beginning of each meal and then putting your utensil down. This serves as a speed bump and slows the pace of the entire meal. For a similar effect, ditch your fork and knife for chopsticks, no matter what type of cuisine you’re having. And if you can’t avoid eating while doing something else, pre-portion your food and tell yourself, “No seconds.”

Temptation trigger: The food on the counter.

If you frequently cross paths with the office candy bowl, you probably realize that the mere sight of food can cause unplanned eating. In a study in which office workers kept Hershey kisses in either see-through dishes or in opaque, lidded jars, those with the see-through dishes ate two more chocolates daily. That translates to 50 calories a day, which adds up to an extra five pounds per year.

Slimming solution: Stash food out of sight. At home, keep cereal, crackers, and holiday treats hidden in a top cabinet, and store extras in the basement or pantry. Research shows that people tend to store their inventory in visible areas consume it quickly until it’s depleted to manageable levels. Also, “wrap leftovers in aluminum foil, not plastic wrap,” adds Musante, so you won’t constantly be tempted when opening the refrigerator.

At work, place treats in dark containers, preferably in a distant office refrigerator, not in your desk drawer. You’ll eat even less if it takes effort, such as having to reach or take a walk to access food. If the communal goodie jar resides on the desk of someone who sits nearby, offer to fill it — and then do so with treats you don’t like.

Temptation trigger: Entrée envy.

“Research shows that you can be influenced by other people’s food decisions,” says Musante. When out to eat, if everyone orders cocktails, appetizers and dessert, you’re apt to go with the flow.

Slimming solution: Be the first to order. Speak up quickly and order a salad and grilled salmon.

“You’ll have a positive effect on what others choose — and will be less likely to see lots of tempting foods,” says Musante. If everyone wants dessert, order one and split it.