And psychological warfare against weight gain may indeed be needed to counter some of the existing cues in our environment that encourage us to eat more, says Dr. Darwin Deen, nutrition expert and professor of family and social medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
"We are being psyched all the time by advertising designed to change what and how much we eat," he said. "When we eat in restaurants, we are often given portions that are unreasonably large. Aren't we then psyching ourselves fat?"
"I don't think you can really 'fool' yourself, but any way that you can support your resolve to eat more sensibly/healthier is smart to do."
Carla Wolper, a nutritionist at the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York, agrees.
"In all of life, not just in regard to nutrition, humans are often devising methods to encourage certain behaviors. Eating behavior is no different," she said. "People are drawn to palatable food and know the reward of good taste and unconsciously, the ultimate reward of dopamine release in the brain."
"That is why it is so hard to talk yourself out of eating particular foods that are important to you — you know you are denying yourself dopamine."
Despite the advantage that these tips and tricks can bestow upon those who wish to control their weight, diet experts are quick to point out that these psych-out strategies are only part of the weight loss solution.
"Today, everyone wants 'quick fixes' for losing weight, which usually are temporary in nature," said Bernadette Melnyk, dean and distinguished foundation professor in nursing at the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation. "We need to teach and facilitate healthy lifestyle behaviors and positive cognitive behavior skills building from the time students are young in order to see long-term positive outcomes."
Other diet and nutrition experts agree.
"These are all tools but only that," said Keith Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist and associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "People aren't stupid; they know what's happening. These things just make it a little easier to comply with a healthier eating style.
"This 'psyching oneself out' can be a good way to jump-start, but eventually you have to address the main issue: You need to eat differently and do so permanently."
"You can't truly 'fool' yourself into losing weight," said Jackie Newgent, a nutritionist and cookbook author. "What some people might think of as tricks, actually are solid behavior modification techniques, such as using portion-control plates."
The possible tools that those hoping to achieve a healthier diet have at their disposal go beyond losing the tray, of course. Dr. Beverly Green of the Center for Health Studies in Seattle says the concept of volumetrics — ensuring that foods that are consumed have a high water content — may help people feel full while keeping actual caloric intake to a minimum.
Heidi Skolnik, nutritionist at The Women's Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New Jersey, notes that there are a number of other such strategies as well. She says that some of these habits can be adopted at the dinner table, such as cutting food into smaller pieces and taking sips of water in between bites.
But other tricks — such as moving away from the table when finished, maintaining only a passing familiarity with snack trays at parties and scanning the offerings in the buffet line before selecting any dishes — allow for a more mindful approach when it comes to enjoying food.
Such an approach has proven helpful for many, notes Dr. David Katz, director and co-founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center.
"There is a whole movement devoted to 'mindful' eating, based on the notion that less food is eaten when the food you do eat gets more attention," he said. "The goal here is to phase out inattentive eating."
"And of course, 'gimmicks,' such as Weight Watchers points are all about creating mindful, or attentive, eating."