It turns out that picking dessert first — instead of after a meal, like most of us do — is linked to eating less overall. In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, people consistently chose healthier meals and consumed fewer calories when they picked a decadent dessert at the beginning of their meal. They didn’t even have to eat the treat first; just knowing they had selected it was enough to trigger a change.
“If we choose something healthy first, then this gives us a license to choose something bigger later,” says Martin Reimann, an assistant professor of marketing and cognitive science at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “If you turn it around and choose something heavier early on, then this license is already expired.” Making a calorie-heavy choice first seems to unconsciously steer people to “put the foot on the brake a little” as they decide what else to eat.