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How To Eat Less & Improve Portion Control (9 Ways To Hack Your Appetite)

Written by Shelby Torrese

If you want to learn how to eat less, understanding the psychology of eating is crucial. Discover the 9 effective tips for hacking your appetite to lose weight quickly.

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I’ve been on the seafood diet for as long as I can remember. I see food…I eat it. Big plate, larger plate, red plate, blue plate. It doesn’t matter how it’s served up, my plates always get cleaned. 😂 When I started realizing that it was getting more and more difficult to shed pounds the same way I used to be able to, I could only blame aging for so much. It was my portion sizes sabotaging my workout efforts. So training my brain (and appetite), and learning how to eat less became my mission.

My findings ended up being much more about portion control than I would have guessed. I eat pretty healthily about 80% of the time, but still, I was overeating. Every single meal was putting me in a food coma, regardless of whether I was eating veggies or pizza. Go figure. So after a tumultuous year of trial and error, I’ve finally compiled the absolute best portion control tips for eating less. But first, it’s important to understand how your appetite works if you want to learn to improve your portion control.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

how to eat less

How To Eat Less & Still Feel Full

Eating less, while still feeling satisfied and full is all about the types of food you’re eating. Not all calories are created equally. Portion sizes will change everything. Let’s say you’re at a dinner party or a kids’ birthday where you aren’t given much reign on what you order or eat. Eating one small slice of pizza with a small salad will fill you up in a much healthier way than 4 to 5 slices of pizza. Ok, now let’s say you do have full reign over what you eat. Ideally, you will have a solid mix of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. This fool-proof macro equation will keep you full and satisfied.


The Psychology Of Eating

While food is one of our basic needs as humans, everyone has a different relationship with food and eating. Some people have fond memories of cooking and eating with family, and it’s a sentimental tradition. Others have a negative, restrictive relationship with food due to past abuse or trauma, or self-inflicted disorders. One person may eat to cope, while others may eat simply to stay alive, with no pleasure involved whatsoever.

Research shows that eating habits and portion sizes may alter depending on whether an individual is alone, versus around others or with certain people. Food and dietary choices are also strongly influenced by environmental factors. Everything from lighting to colors in a restaurant can alter our choices.

So the first step to any healthy relationship is to find out how you feel about that thing without outside influence. Ask yourself what foods you enjoy, what foods make you feel bad, how much is enough, etc.

the psychology of eating


Understanding The Gut-Brain Pathway

The gut and our brain are like inseparable twin sisters. Even when they are apart, they’re still communicating in that crazy, telepathic way that only twins are gifted with doing. When one needs some uplifting, the other is already on its way with their favorite pick-me-up treat. The #twinning victory dances are truly exemplary of the gut-brain pathway dynamic. Magically in sync.

The dance doesn’t just happen, though. We have our enteric nervous system (ENS) to thank. Our ENS is located in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract and contains over 100 million nerve cells. So if you have ever thought to yourself, “I think I have a sensitive stomach”…no kidding!

Our ENS is responsible for digestion, the releasing of catabolic enzymes, and surrounding activities like blood flow. [1] While, yes, the brain is the outgoing, overachiever of the two, the gut does just as much heavy-lifting, but in a more introverted manner. They both work to regulate hormones, like happy-go-lucky serotonin and even stress hormones. They work in harmony to ensure that they’re supporting each other, because they know if one of them is thriving, the other shouldn’t be struggling.

When tackling how to eat less, the gut-brain pathways is one communication stream we should heavily tap into. Tying it into the psychology of eating, when your brain is saying one thing, like “Pizza will make this stressful day better!” and your gut is saying “Dairy doesn’t make me feel my best,” it’s up to you to make a decision. When you listen to the gut and brain, you can more easily come to the conclusion that a) you’ve had a long day and also b) your body deserves to be taken care of. By choosing a healthy, well-balanced meal you will convey the message that you are worthy, and in control, to your body. The more you strengthen that trust with your gut-brain pathway, the more easily you will be able to make good decisions for your body. 

RELATED: What Causes Hunger? How To Control The Hunger Hormones & Lose Weight

the gut-brain connection


9 Simple Portion Control Tips


1. Use smaller plates and bowls

If you’re like me, you will fill up and clean the biggest plate you’re handed. By using smaller kitchenware, you won’t be able to pile your plate quite as high. Forced portion control is a good place to start when training your brain, and belly, on eating smaller portions. 

2. Incorporate more protein

Remember, not all calories are created equally. Eating smarter doesn’t mean salads 24/7, it’s more about portion control! You will be just as full after a single serving of protein and veggies (think grilled chicken, broccoli and carrots) as you would with two servings of starch-heavy carbohydrates (like french fries or pasta).

3. Reduce your grains and carbohydrate intake

Eating big bowls of rice or starchy vegetables like potatoes are doing you more harm than you realize. Also, not all starches are created equally. Complex carbohydrates enter the body at 2 calories per minute, whereas sugar-y, “empty calorie” starches enter the bloodstream at a whopping 30 calories per minute!

4. Mindfully chew your food

You’ve heard it before – do one thing at a time. Eating is no exception. When you can mindfully eat and chew your food, really taking in every flavor and crunch, you will be more aware of your body’s internal, “We’re satisfied!” cues. 

5. Stay hydrated

Drinking more water, and staying properly hydrated is a great tip for eating smaller portions. This is because oftentimes, our hunger hormone is really just saying our body is thirsty. [2] The trick to deciphering hunger versus thirst is to drink a full 8 ounces of water and wait 30 minutes. If you’re still hungry, go for the snack. If not, you were just thirsty!

6. Up your veggies

This may be the most important of my portion control tips. Vegetables are high in fiber, water, and nutrients, but low in calories, making them the perfect food for weight management and weight loss, without the negative, restrictive effects. [3]

7. Know your type

Do you need snacks or can you eat 3 meals a day and be OK? Knowing your body type and meal style is important so you know how to portion out your meals. A person that only has 3 meals a day should portion differently than someone who has 4 or 5 smaller meals per day.

8. Exercise

When wondering how to eat less, getting moving is an amazing way to naturally do so. When you exercise, your body releases all the different kinds of happy hormones that make you feel more confident and naturally want to nourish your body properly. Some studies even show that regular, aerobic exercise helps reduce overall unwanted hunger cravings. [4]

9. When in doubt, call in backup

You can exercise, use smaller plates, and drink all the water in the world in an attempt to improve your self-control. Still, if you’re struggling, recognize it and just ask for support. Just like the gut and brain are constantly reaching out for help, call in backup when necessary! There are amazing supplements available to help curb cravings and reduce unwanted hunger. SkinnyFit Snack Attack is one of the best on the market and is the most perfect, strict best friend when you need it.

The Bottom Line On Eating Smaller Portions

When in doubt on how to eat less, check-in with how you feel after every meal. You can have all the portion control tips in the world, but if you’re unhappy after every meal—physically, emotionally, mentally—it’s time for a change. Remember, my journey to figuring out portions that work for me took me almost a year to perfect! Be kind to yourself throughout the learning process, and find acceptance in any downfalls. Refer to these tips when you need a little support, and ask a friend to hold you accountable for your goals. You may just inspire them to tackle goals of their own!

Skinnyfit snack attack to help portion control

About The Author

Shelby Torrese

Nutrition, Movement & Meditation Coach

Shelby Torrese is a wellness enthusiast (and matcha fanatic!) from Miami, FL. She attributes her love of movement to her mom, a personal trainer, and her love of food to her dad, a farmer. She studied creative writing in college while getting her yoga certification, and went on to pursue fitness and nutrition in grad school. Her go-to advice is, “Balance,” and she is a firm believer that the ocean can cure just about everything.

  • Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher
  • NASM Certified Nutrition Coach
  • M.S. in Human Performance


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