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Future Fit Traning

The Stages To Changing Eating Behaviour

Many people find that breaking their usual eating habits can be so difficult that it becomes the root cause of failure behind dieting.

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to changing eating habits;

1. Change what you are eating

2. Change the amount of what you are eating

To maximise weight loss in the long term, both factors should be assessed and modified but it’s not a good idea to change both at the same time. Many people find that modifying both factors at once is difficult for them to adjust to, and eventually fall back into their typical unhealthy eating habits.

A Finnish study from 2016 found that almost half of their participants reported slow weight loss primarily through dietary changes. Their dietary changes included an increase in their intake of vegetables, reduction in sweets and fast food and regularly eating small meals. Many participants also found it helpful to regularly weigh themselves (1). The study participants also reported it helpful to apply The Plate Model – a visual method in which a dinner plate serves as a pie chart, which covers the recommended proportions of various food groups (2).

Previous studies have found that when individuals are provided with larger food and beverage portions, there will be a substantial increase in energy intake (3). When these larger portions are offered over weeks, they can contribute to onset of obesity (4). There have been multiple strategies such as tools and education which have been suggested to effectively manage portion sizes, but data is limited as to whether these methods can lead to long term changes and improvements in eating behaviours (5). Studies which offer participants pre-portioned foods have demonstrated successful weight loss and management; however this does not prove participants gained a better understanding of appropriate proportions (6).

Portion control is vital for weight management, but individuals should not be urged to ‘eat less’ of everything as foods have different energy densities. A more effective strategy would be to encourage individuals to increase portion sizes of low energy density foods and reduce portions of high energy foods, so that foods are still satisfying and body weight can be better managed (5).

Changing eating behaviours does not need to be difficult; keeping in mind the above two approaches for better eating habits.

The following tips can help you change and reduce your food choices:

  • Use smaller plates, or opt for pre-packaged portion controlled foods


  • Share a full sized meal and avoid super-sizing meals when eating out


  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day


  • Aim to eat small healthy snacks throughout the day to avoid over-indulgence at meal times


  • Gradually reduce portion sizes until you feel you’ve reached the ideal size


  • Keep your diet balanced by introducing a variety of foods


  • Pre-plan meals so that you can choose healthier options and prepare in advance with a shopping list when doing groceries


  • Remove temptations from your home if you feel you’re likely to over-indulge


  • Take an interest in cooking, you can do this by joining cooking classes, sharing recipes with friends and looking into cookbooks and food magazines


  • Practise these change habits consciously for a few weeks until they become unconscious decisions


Behaviour modification is reliant on your own intention to change. You must be ready to accept change, develop a plan and set goals for yourself to stay motivated and on track. Changing long term habits can be challenging if you have personal barriers to overcome which can demotivate you with never-ending excuses and a negative attitude.


For more information on changing eating behaviours, see our nutrition and weight management course


  1. Soini, S., Mustajoki, P. and Eriksson, J.G., 2016. Weight loss methods and changes in eating habits among successful weight losers. Annals of medicine, 48(1-2), pp.76-82.
  2. Camelon, K.M., Hådell, K., T JÄMSÉN, P.Ä.I.V.I., Ketonen, K.J., Kohtamäki, H.M., MÄKIMATILLA, S., Törmälä, M.L., Valve, R.H. and DAIS PROJECT GROUP, 1998. The Plate Model: a visual method of teaching meal planning. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(10), pp.1155-1158.
  3. Rolls, B.J., Morris, E.L. and Roe, L.S., 2002. Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 76(6), pp.1207-1213.
  4. Nielsen, S.J. and Popkin, B.M., 2003. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. Jama, 289(4), pp.450-453.
  5. Rolls, B.J., 2014. What is the role of portion control in weight management?. International Journal of Obesity, 38, pp.S1-S8.
  6. Wing, R.R., Jeffery, R.W., Burton, L.R., Thorson, C., Nissinoff, K.S. and Baxter, J.E., 1996. Food provision vs structured meal plans in the behavioral treatment of obesity. International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders: journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 20(1), pp.56-62.