A new study found that dieters who were asked to work out a calorie limit per meal were more likely to eat less than those who came up with a plan of how many calories they may eat over the course of a day.
Experts at Warwick Business School showed two groups of 50 people pictures of food with a suggestion of how many calories were on each plate.
Participants were also given an idea of daily calorie consumption by gender and age and asked to work out their own budget.
The results, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, showed that those dieters who worked out a calorie allowance per meal and per snack set an overall average budget of 1,528 calories.
The second group, who just thought about what they may eat overall, set an average budget of 2,011 calories per day.
When it came to what they actually ate, thinking about the calorie content per meal had a beneficial effect.
Slimmers who budgeted for each meal separately actually consumed an average of 1,417 calories, 219 fewer than those with a single daily limit.
Dr Miaolei Jia, associate professor at Warwick Business School, who led the study, said: "Those with a daily budget thought about cutting calories for meals such as dinner and snacks, where they thought they were most likely to over-consume, but did not think about other meals.
"Those who budgeted on a meal-by-meal approach cut the calories in all the meals they ate, which drove down their daily allowance."
Aradhna Krishna, from the University of Michigan, who also worked on the study, said the approach may also work for those wishing to reduce smoking or drinking.
She said: "Our results are not just relevant for controlling how much one eats, but also how much one smokes or drink - any context where people have a motive to reduce their consumption."