Six Appetite Control Secrets from Neuroscience

Mental tricks can help a dieter to control appetite and to reduce hunger. Here are six of the latest dieting secrets learned from neuroscience.

The latest research in neuroscience offers a crash course in dieting "hacks" to control one's appetite and to decrease food intake. The methods conspire to use the mind to trick the brain into eating less.

1. Reduce Visual Complexity.

According to Rachel Herz, a guest on NPR's Innovation Hub, studies show that mixed-color jelly beans in a dish are consumed more in one sitting than single-color jelly beans. The reason: Mixed-color jelly beans are more visually complex, making them more 'appetizing' to our visual taste receptors. In light of this principle, serious dieters should consider making high-calorie dishes more 'uncomplicated' in appearance, and hence less appealing. Perhaps arrange food's presentation to look less varied, and less sumptuous, than it actually is.

2. Use Mind Over Matter.

This trick is difficult to play on yourself, because knowing its purpose might be self-defeating. (However, there's nothing to stop you from playing it on someone else.) The trick: If you believe a harmless muffin is rich in calories (despite the fact it isn't) eating it results in less weight gain. Sounds like magic, but it's true. The process of how we appraise certain foods can affect our hunger hormones, in this case lowering ghrelin and raising our metabolism, causing the latter to burn more calories.

3. Employ Size Illusions.

The Delboeuf Illusion makes us feel like we're eating less food if it's on a bigger plate. The bigger plate makes the food appear smaller — in comparison to the same morsel presented on a smaller plate — which heightens our appetite to compensate for the difference. The trick offers another surprise: It works even if the subject knows about the illusion and its effects. Perhaps the visual self-deception paradox supersedes the brain's 'mental' grip on reality! The lesson to learn: Buy smaller plates.

Also: Buy taller glasses. A similar optical trick relates to the fact that we tend to overestimate vertical lengths, compared with horizontal lengths. Hence, the same amount of beverage in a taller glass appears more abundant than the same amount in a shorter (and wider) glass, causing us to feel fuller as a result.

4. Increase Will Power by Lowering Stress.

Don't eat when stressed. Don't stress over a diet. When our will power suffers because of stress, the erosion of our mental strength makes persistence more difficult — and weakens our restraint in the face of temptation. Be sure to keep a stress-free food zone.

5. Label Food with the Number of Miles Needed to Walk It Off.

Unlike most labels to reduce temptation, the labels that indicate the amount of walking needed to burn off the calories of a particular treat have been found to be the most effective tactic in messages designed to curb unhealthy cravings. Perhaps the underlying reason for this is because we're just plain lazy. In any case, it appears to be fruitful to think of the consequences of overeating in terms of the future effort needed to reverse it.

6. Practice Food Mindfulness.

Pay attention to what you're eating! The gobbling of snacks shouldn't mimic a sleep-walking ritual. The more you're attuned to food's taste and texture, the more aware you become of the eating experience. Eating stuff in a daze (when glued to a football game or similar distraction) reduces the meal's effect and stimulates greater consumption.


The insights above list a few of the tricks designed to reduce the amount of decadent calories attempting to excite our brains' over-eager food lockers. With all of the sensational dieting discoveries that we hear about on a regular basis, perhaps our best solution is to use common sense. That being said, it's a fascinating fact that our insatiable brains can be ingenious when faced with the paradox of tricking ordinary brains everywhere into adopting food-healthy habits.

Written by John DiPrete

Originally published in Psych Central.

The author has contributed to Psych Central, MacWorld, Perceptual and Motor Skills, Medical Hypotheses, Speculations in Science and Technology, among other outlets.

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