How to Use Stimulus Narrowing for Weight Loss

Have you ever been overwhelmed by an abundance of food choices with temptation at every corner? We live in a society that is very food-centric and overloaded with food triggers. We’re constantly bombarded with food messages from social media, TV, and ads.  If you’re like most folks and foodies, the more choices you have, the more you consume. After all, they say that we eat with our eyes first and food temptation is everywhere. Research has shown that a high level of food stimulus is actually associated with an increased consumption and higher body mass index. As a result, the more you eat large quantities of various foods, the more likely you will eat more.

This is where stimulus narrowing may help with your weight loss efforts. This concept might help you break through a plateau as well as manage weight loss. 

What Is Stimulus Narrowing?

Stimulus narrowing is basically narrowing your food choices and keeping selected foods to a minimum. If we eliminate an abundance of food and have less to choose from, meal times become easier and cravings can be more easily managed. With fewer choices to navigate, we are less likely to overeat. This is also helpful with portion control, which goes a long way in weight maintenance. Controlling the number of food triggers in our environment by narrowing down our choices is practicing stimulus narrowing. 

Stimulus narrowing is essentially a form of visual adaptation. When we use our senses repeatedly, our brains learn to recognize and filter out certain stimuli so that we can focus on our surroundings.

How Does Stimulus Narrowing Help With Weight Loss

The theory of stimulus narrowing is a great tool to help you lose weight and keep it off.

As with anything else, the key to successful stimulus narrowing is keeping track of what you eat, how much of it you eat, and when you eat it. It’s imperative to protect yourself from becoming overstimulated by choices and to train the brain to recognize healthy eating behaviors. 

Steps to Use Stimulus Narrowing for Weight Loss Purposes

Here are a few steps on how you can use stimulus narrowing on your weight loss journey:

Limit Your Options

One of the best ways to practice stimulus narrowing is to limit the amount of food you eat by limiting the types and amount of food you have at hand.

  • Start by repeating the same foods for several meals during the week. Many successful patients that have kept the excess weight off swear by this method. Repeating the same meals limits the brain’s response to wanting more variety. An example of this may be eating eggs most days for breakfast and tuna salad most days for lunch, or doing a protein shake most days to replace the breakfast or lunch meal.
  • When eating out, only order one meal and don’t get an appetizer or dessert (or share them if going out with someone else). Looking at the menu beforehand and deciding on your meal ahead of time can be an effective strategy too. This can prevent the need to even look at the menu, protecting you from an internal struggle about what to order.

An ever-increasing number of options has led to more time spent making decisions, which can be troublesome if you’re trying to lose weight. Research has shown that the more food choices people have, the more food they eat. Limiting your food options may be key in helping you learn to naturally eat less at your meals.

Be Cautious of High Stimulus Environments

Another way to practice stimulus narrowing is to avoid high-stimulus environments as much as possible. For example, if you want to lose weight, avoid going to buffets or all-you-can-eat restaurants. These places are notorious for encouraging overeating because they offer many foods such as different types of meat and fish, multiple side dishes, and various desserts. While these places are great for variety seekers and can result in a great indulgence of different delicacies, they may work against your weight loss efforts.

Meet with friends in non-food environments. Eat before you go to a get-together where food will be present. Always sticking to grocery lists when shopping and avoiding snack aisles altogether are also great ways to control your environment. 

Ensure Your Meals Aren’t Too Appealing

The basic idea is simple: Make your food environment less appealing, so you don’t want to eat as much. The goal here is not to make food unappealing, but rather to use simple ingredients and seasonings and avoid “hyper-palatable” dressings, sauces, and condiments that encourage overeating of the food they are put on. Your meals should leave you feeling full and satiated, and not trigger cravings or overeating. Thinking about how you can narrow the stimuli around you may not be the only answer to weight loss, but it certainly could help.

Know Your Triggers

Keep food temptations out of your environment. If cookies tend to cause a binge or overeating, don’t purchase them and certainly don’t make them easy to access. It’s similar to how an addict or recovering alcoholic must treat their environment. It would never be recommended to keep substances in the home and must be eliminated completely to avoid temptation. It’s the same for food triggers. And if it is something that cannot be kept out of the house completely, make sure to keep it out of sight and hard to stumble across (back top of the pantry or in a box or bin you cannot see through).


Weight loss is not easy, but knowing how to use stimulus narrowing can be a powerful weight-loss tool. Here at Dr. Simonds Metabolics & Weight Loss, we guide patients in concepts such as stimulus narrowing, and work with you to find a weight loss plan that works specifically for you.