Everyone who has ever tried to lose weight is on a first-name basis with lettuce. But who isn't bored silly by a bowl of greens with some diced chicken on top? To really fill up yet eat fewer calories -- and have a delicious time doing it -- use a clever kind of portion distortion that fills up your plate and your belly, not your clothes. A few mind/taste tricks help, too. Here are seven savvy ways to feed your growling tummy but wind up with a flat stomach.
- Spice it up. Zesty herbs and flavorful spices seem to speed-dial a satisfying message to your brain. So boost the flavor of your dishes with virtually calorie-free seasonings. It should trigger the sensation of fullness faster than bland dishes do, say researchers at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. Don't want to develop diabetes? Find out which spices can help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Hit the bar. Your supermarket's salad bar that is. Take the boredom out of rabbit food by trying new veggies or using ones you don't usually have time to prep (beets, artichokes). Sure, it's a bit pricier than cleaning and chopping your own, but when you factor in what won't go bad in the crisper bin, the cost evens out. Top with a sprinkle of feta, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and a dash of cayenne pepper for extra punch.
- Pump it up. Air has no calories. Think about it. One food expert who did: Pennsylvania State University nutritionist Barbara Rolls, PhD, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. She says that when you eat foods that are puffed up (think popcorn) or whipped (egg whites), you consume around 30% fewer calories but feel just as satisfied.
- Dull your dinner appetite. Dinner is when it's easiest to overdo, so fill up first with this tip from YOU: On a Diet. About 20 minutes before dinner, drink at least 8 ounces of water with up to 1 tablespoon of fiber-packed psyllium (silly-um) powder. All that natural fiber means you won't need as much food in order to feel satisfied. (If you aren't used to eating a lot of fiber, start with 1 teaspoon or less and work up, so your GI tract has time to get used to it.)
- Avoid "dry" fruit. Water adds weight and volume to food, but zero calories, so pick water-packed fruit, says Rolls. For example, for 100 calories you can have one small banana OR 2 cups of grapes, 2 1/2 cups of watermelon, or 2 1/2 cups of strawberries.
- Eat soup. Foods with a high water content help stave off hunger and make you feel full, says Rolls.
- Make it pretty. A big pile of juicy mixed fruit or bright steamed vegetables is even more satisfying if it's served on a pretty plate and garnished with mint, herbs, or a sprinkling of coconut -- not just dumped into a bowl. We taste first with our eyes . . . something the French figured out first, says Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of nutritional science at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating.
Once you get into the habit of going for high-flavor foods that fill you up, not out, it makes keeping your waistline in check a piece of cake . . . er, cantaloupe.