Getting more satisfaction from your sandwich could be as simple as slicing into it. Cutting certain foods into pieces before digging in could help you feel more satiated and lead you to eat less overall, according to a recent Arizona State University study.
In the 301–student experiment, each student was given a whole bagel with cream cheese, or one that was precut into four pieces. Students who received a quartered bagel ate less of it, and also ate less food served at a buffet 20 minutes later.
“The whole idea is to trick your mind to think you’re eating a lot from a plate,” says Devina Wadhera, a graduate student at ASU who designed and analyzed the study. “When food is cut into pieces, it looks like there’s more of it, so our eyes trick our stomach into thinking we are eating a lot more than we actually are.” (You can manipulate your mind in other ways, such as playing these games that help train your brain.)
Experts agree that our minds may be mightier than our tummies in affecting what we eat. “Cognitive effects in eating are very powerful,” says Betty Phillips, Ph.D., provost of ASU, who supervised the research. “Our behaviors are guided by our perception.”
Cut up whole foods before digging in. Instead of cutting off one piece of chicken at a time, try chopping up the whole serving first. This strategy is most effective on foods that are not typically served in small pieces, like meat or pizza, so chopping up your fries probably won’t help.
You know bite-size? Halve it. To get as many pieces as possible from each portion, cut your sandwich into quarters, not halves, and cut that slice of steak so it reaps as many forkfuls as possible.
Eat one piece at a time. Eating snack-type foods—like a stack of Pringles or M&Ms—may have conditioned us to overeat in the first place, says Wadhera. “We tend to take fewer bites from [snack foods, and we pop as many pieces as we can into the mouth at the same time.” Retrain yourself by chewing one piece of your food at a time. (Stick to the 28 Best Healthy Snacks.)
Reclassify your food. Adjusting visual cues trick your mind, but mental strategies can be more purposeful. Telling yourself that a filling side dish (i.e., potato salad) or a snack (i.e., a mid-morning muffin) is a meal changes your perception of what you’ve eaten, which can affect how much you eat later on. On the flip side: If the restaurant bread you mindlessly munch on were to be your dinner, would you choose that, or wait for your real meal to arrive?
Don’t try this with dessert. No matter how the cookie crumbles, researchers are still unsure whether the mind tricks above increase satiety and decrease overall food intake when applied to eating sweets and snacks. “Even though we have shown that [cutting up food into pieces before eating it] might work with meal foods like chicken or sandwiches, we don’t know if this technique will also apply for desserts,” says Wadhera. However, quartering your main meal may lead you to reach for fewer temping foods later on. (Still jonesing for junk food? Try these 7 Ways to Stop Craving Junk Food.)