The First Bite Rule – Habit Based Nutrition


The First Bite Rule is what I use to describe the fact that typically whatever food you start eating first in your meal is the food you’ll most likely eat the most of.

Sounds a bit “woowoo” right? Well like they say, “If it looks stupid, but works, then it ain’t stupid.” That’s because it’s true.

if it looks stupid

Remember when your mother kept nagging you to eat your veggies first, before your yummy roast chicken or potato chips else you would become full and conveniently have no more room for the healthy stuff? (There’s always somehow room for dessert though, am I right?!)

Well, it turns out she was onto something…

Apart from eating veggies first to prioritise the nutrient-dense, lower-calorie, healthy veggies in the meal and also slow down the speed at which you eat, researchers have determined that the food you put in your mouth first is the food you’ll most likely eat the most of.

I call this THE FIRST BITE RULE: Whatever food you start eating first in your meal is the food you’ll most likely eat the most of.

You consume twice as much of the food you start with:

Researchers have found that the particular food you start your meal with leads you to consume nearly twice as much (46.7%) of that food compared to others.

People who started their meal with a high-carb food (in this study it was bread and French fries), consumed nearly 50% more calories from that food than those who started with protein (chicken and cheese) or vegetables (carrots and green beans).

Likewise, those who started with vegetables ate nearly twice as many vegetables overall, and less high-carb and protein food. Therefore leading to substantially less calorie consumption and a better glycemic response.

*Note that in this case, the protein and fat macronutrient groups were essentially simplified down into just a protein macronutrient group in the study for those wondering.

You eat more high-calorie foods when hungry:

In addition to this, researchers also split the participants up into a fasted group (no food 18 hours prior to the lunchtime study, i.e. no food or beverages after 6pm) and a control group (no restrictions or instructions).

What they found is that those in the control group were less likely to start their meal with the high-calorie foods (starches and protein) than the fasted group.

Keep in mind this assumes you are either eating from a buffet, or aren’t finishing 100% of the food on your plate (a good habit to get into is to eat slowly and only eat until 80% full, and then save the leftovers for another meal).

What does all of this mean?

  • When you are food-deprived (fasted, missed a meal, or for most of us just on a diet where we are consuming less than we would like to otherwise), you are naturally drawn to calorie-dense foods over foods like vegetables.
  • On top of that, the food that you eat first in a meal will most likely be the food that you eat the most of.

Use this to your advantage:

Acknowledge the fact that it’s natural to be particularly hungry for something starchy and calorie dense, but then also recognize that you can control your eating behaviour by opting to start your meal with vegetables (ideally), protein (second best), and leave the carb-dense, high-calorie foods for later on in the meal.

You don’t necessarily have to eat ALL of your veggies first, and then ONLY eat the protein, fatty, or carb-dense foods afterwards. However, my suggestion is to eat enough veggies first that you get the bulk of them out the way.

As mentioned in the beginning, we tend to eat vegetables a bit slower than how we gobble down the really delicious parts of the meal. The longer we take to eat, the less chance there is of us overeating and we also tend to feel more satiated afterwards.

A good habit to get into is to eat more slowly (15-20 minutes per meal) and aim to eat until only 80% full. This gives your body chance to start producing satiety cues and helps prevent overeating. People who eat too quickly often eat way too much before their body realizes it’s full, leaving them feeling stuffed and yet somehow less satisfied.

After eating a decent amount of veggies, move onto your protein and fats, leaving the bulk of your carb-dense starches or sugary foods to the end of the meal. This means that there is a higher chance of you not overeating.

While this habit is not your “1 quick fix secret to six-pack abs”, it is a very simple Habit-Based Nutrition strategy that requires pretty much no effort and yet can contribute to some great results if applied consistently overtime.

Habit-Based Nutrition is a strategy where a small handful of simple but effective habits are used to help shape your nutritional choices (regardless of your plan) slowly overtime.

As these habits catch on and become more ingrained, you will have an easier and easier time making smart nutritional choices without even putting much thought into it.

Other examples can be things like:

  • Just eating slower (takes around 20 minutes for natural satiety signals to kick in from the start of your meal).
  • Stop eating at 80% full (or hari hachi bu as the Japanese call it).
  • Earning your carbohydrates (only eating carb-dense foods after a workout, or using it to fuel a workout).
  • Eating protein and veggies with each meal.
  • Snacking rarely unless it’s absolutely required (get more in-tune with real hunger).
  • Designing for default (health foods at eye level, unhealthy foods hidden away).