The other week I met with a client who had a major dilemma. “I crave salty snacks like potato chips all the time,” she said. “But I never ever buy them anymore.” “Why not?,” I asked. “Because I’m afraid I’ll eat the whole bag,” she explained.
Now, for some people, avoiding trigger foods altogether is a valuable strategy for weight loss—no doubt about that. But new research from Cornell University shows that it is possible to conquer cravings for favorite foods without completely sabotaging weight-loss efforts. The solution? Smaller portions.
When researchers gave 104 adults either a large or small serving of the same snack, the people with more food ate 77 percent more calories—no shock there. What is surprising, however, was that the additional calories they took in did not equal greater satisfaction. Fifteen minutes after eating, both groups felt perfectly satiated by their snacks, regardless of size.
“If you want to control your weight, here’s the secret: Take a bite and wait,” researcher Brian Wansink, Ph.D., said in a university press release. “After 15 minutes all you’ll remember in your head and in your stomach is that you had a tasty snack.”
RELATED: Satisfy your chip craving with our 40 crunchy and creamy healthy snacks under 200 calories.
Think of it as an edible law of diminishing returns: When you eat a favorite food, the first few bites have the most value in terms of the pleasure you stand to gain from that indulgence. For my salt-craving client, this means that she doesn’t need to eat an entire bag of chips to feel satisfied (though she may need a reminder to signal her to stop eating).
One thing I love about this strategy is that rather than asking a dieter to eliminate beloved foods, it capitalizes on the power of those first few bites. And I find in my nutrition practice—and in my own life—that making room for favorite treats (within reason, of course) is one of the keys to achieving success in the long run.
My client determined that while a bag of chips in the pantry may be too much for her to handle, she’d like to find ways to incorporate small servings of her favorite food into her diet. So once a week she’s going to buy an individually sized bag of her favorite chips to enjoy as a treat with lunch.
RELATED: You don’t have to go crazy measuring out everything you eat. Learn the 10 times serving size matters most.
Perhaps chips aren’t your thing. Here are some other ways to harness the power of the first few bites:
1. Split dessert with your dinner date instead of ordering your own—or share three or four ways if you’re with a crowd.
2. Ask for a half order of fries with your chicken wrap rather than the full-sized one that usually comes with it.
3. Keep a bag of fun-sized candy bars in your freezer; thaw out one at a time.
4. Try this recipe for “just two” chocolate chip cookies.
What do you think? What strategies do you use to keep your cravings at bay?
Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D., is a New York-based nutrition writer, educator, and counselor. Her work appears in publications such as Prevention, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Every Day with Rachael Ray, SHAPE, and Fitness. Follow her on Twitter @RMWnutrition.