Three Scientific Hacks to Healthy Eating with Little Effort

Last updated on September 4, 2017 | Follow @deanyeong on Twitter

For most people, the ultimate goal is to improve health or lose fat. In fact, these are easy goals to describe but for many, they are difficult feats to pull off.

We all know that in order to lose weight we should practice more control and take a closer look at our diet: eat less, eat more greens, less processed foods, more fruits, fewer desserts.

Alright, you don’t need me to repeat these. It’s clear that we all know what to do, but…

How can you go about making it simpler, easier and more effective?

Skip Breakfast (or Dinner)

I skip breakfast and eat only 2 meals and 1 small snack between meals each day. I have my first meal at around 1:00 pm, which is lunch, then a green juice (vegetables and fruits blended juice) at 5:00 pm and finally the second/last meal at around 8:00 pm. Then I fast for 16 hours to 1:00 pm the next day.

You may be wondering, isn’t it bad to skip breakfast?

I used to think so too. However, I have been doing this for over two years. This is one method of many types of intermittent fasting methods. Science and research have shown that routinely fasting actually promotes fat loss, strengthens cognitive function, and prolongs life span.

To understand how intermittent fasting works, you need to understand the difference between Fed state and Fast state.

Leangains intermittent fasting timetable

Our body is at Fed state when we’re eating and absorbing food. In most cases, Fed state starts from the time we eat (or a short period of time later depending on the portion) till three to four hours after we stop eating. At this point, we’re still digesting and absorbing the foods we just consumed.

It’s very hard for our body to burn fat during the Fed state because while we’re eating and absorbing foods, the insulin level in our bodies is high.

On the other hand, Fast state occurs a few hours later after our last meal when the foods in our digestive system are completely digested and absorbed. During the Fast state, our blood sugar is low and so is our insulin level. Burning fat becomes much easier with the absence of insulin in our bloodstream.

The best part of intermittent fasting is that it makes the day simpler. By skipping a meal, you will have fewer decisions to make and fewer things to do. I had written a beginner’s guide on intermittent fasting about a year ago, feel free to read it here if you’d like to explore more.

Make Good Use of the Optical Illusion

The Delboeuf illusion has long been known to cause us to misjudge the size of identical circles when they are surrounded by larger circles of varying sizes. The more “white space” around the circle, the smaller it appears.

Research done by Professors Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum explored how a well established optical illusion leads us to make inaccurate estimates of serving size, depending on what size plate they are presented on.

For example, a research study conducted in a fitness camp revealed that campers who were given a larger bowl tended to consume 16% more cereal than other campers who had a smaller bowl. However, campers with larger bowls perceived that they consumed 7% less cereal than the other campers, despite the fact that they were eating more.

The Delboeuf Illusion

What can we do to combat this powerful effect? Simply becoming aware of the effects of the Delboeuf illusion may not be enough to overcome it.

The best solution to change eating behavior is to design our environment by replacing the plates and bowls we’re using. We can take advantage of this visual “trick” by manipulating the plates we use to serve various foods.

Healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits should be served in larger plates to encourage consumption, while less healthy foods should be served on smaller plates to trick ourselves into feeling satisfied with less.

By using a smaller plate, we trick ourselves into thinking that we have enough which helps us break the habit of overeating. At the same time, it will also help you to reduce a significant amount of food waste since you will never make or serve more food than you can finish.

Adjust the Triggers

In the habit guide, I illustrated that habits form in a loop called the habit formation cycle. It started with a trigger, then the routine – any good or bad habit – and finally the reward.

Most rewards for unhealthy eating patterns such as overeating and poor food choices are heavily tied to the satisfaction in our taste buds. We love the taste and we crave it and that’s why we keep repeating the habit loop of the bad eating pattern.

Habit formation of poor eating habits

But wait a minute, what’s the trigger here?

The best way to break a bad habit is by substituting a new routine into the habit loop. However, it’s hard for us to switch from eating chips and crackers to healthy salads and green juice.

The alternative solution to breaking the habit loop is by reducing our exposure to the triggers. And the most common trigger of the bad eating pattern is the visual of the food itself. In other words, we usually only crave unhealthy foods when we see them.

The best solution: make unhealthy foods invisible and healthy foods obvious.

  • Never shop around or nearby the snack counters. Spend more time around the vegetable and fruit areas.
  • Keep your snacks in a closed cabinet or even better don’t buy them.
  • In the refrigerator, wrap processed foods like cakes and pizzas using aluminum foil and wrap vegetables, fruits and lean meats using transparent wrapping sheet.

Lifestyle Change Instead of Diet Change

One of the core factors causing a failure to lose fat is that most people see it as a one-time event. When you search for fat loss tips online, most articles you see are about how much fat or weight someone has lost in a certain period – usually a very short amount of time. Then, everyone is fired up about what this person ate or what program he followed during that period of time to achieve that.

However, losing weight is not a one-time event, it’s not a sprint race. There is no one magical program, food, or supplement that turns everything around – poor eating habits, lack of movement, a bad sleeping routine – and causes you to instantly lose weight.

Healthy eating habits (lifestyle change) > Fat-loss diet (temporary plan)

When approaching our diet, maybe it would help if we stop calling it a diet. Instead, we might refer to it as our eating plan. Then, we could all aim for a lifestyle change rather than food choice constraints and diet rules. Define yourself as a healthy person and start adjusting your eating habits and behaviors to achieve optimal physical health for the long run.

What is the best way to achieve this? Change your environment to change your behavior.

Enjoyed this article and wanted more? Here's a few interesting things I have for you.

  • Become one of the 3,900+ (and growing) creatives & entrepreneurs who receive my articles about behavioral psychology & performance improvement, every Monday. Join the community here
  • Download my popular book Habit Hacking to learn the research-backed strategies in breaking bad habits and build good habits that last a lifetime.
  • Inspired by Derek Sivers and James Clear, I decided to summarize every single book I read, to a list of reading notes. Access all my reading notes here
  • Love this article so much that you want to buy me a cup of coffee? Sure! Go here. (You're awesome)