Last week we talked about how appetite and hunger increase with weight loss, making it harder to keep losing pounds or maintain the weight loss. I know that was frustrating to hear, so today I want to offer advice on how to decrease those hunger pangs without impacting all your hard work. Here are a few tips:
1) Add more protein: More protein in your diet can increase feelings of fullness, make you eat less at your next meal and help you lose fat. A weight-loss study compared two breakfasts identical in calories: one consisting of eggs, the other of bagels. Participants who had the egg breakfast lost 65% more weight and 16% more body fat over the eight-week study period. A higher protein intake may also help to prevent muscle loss when calories are decreased. To get these benefits, protein should be about 20–30% of your total calorie intake, or 0.45-0.55 g/lb of body weight. If you snack, choose high-protein rather than high-fat options.
2) Add more fiber: Fiber intake stretches the stomach, slows its emptying rate and helps release of hormones that make us feel full. In addition, fiber can ferment in the bowel, producing short-chain fatty acids thought to also promote feelings of fullness. Adding fiber-rich beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils to your meal can increase feelings of fullness by 31%, compared to equivalent meals that aren’t based on beans. Fiber-rich whole grains can also help reduce hunger and keep you feeling full. Eating an extra 14 grams of fiber each day may decrease your calorie intake by up to 10%. Over 3.8 months, this could lead to a loss of up to 4.2 lbs. Fiber rich foods often contain many other beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidant and helpful plant compounds. Maintaining a diet containing sufficient fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds can also promote long-term health.
3) Don’t drink your calories: The type of calories you consume can affect appetite differently. One recent review found that eating a solid snack often led to eating less at the next meal by 38%, as compared to a liquid snack. In a second study, participants who were fed a semi-solid snack reported less hunger, a lower desire to eat and a greater sensation of fullness than those fed a liquid snack. This may be because solids require more chewing, which can allow more time for the fullness signal to reach the brain. Scientists also believe the extra chewing time allows solids to stay in contact with the taste buds longer, which can also promote feelings of fullness. So eat slowly, take the time to savor, and taste the flavor in each bite.
4) Drink more water: Water can help decrease the hunger you feel before meals and may also increase feelings of fullness following a meal. Studies show that people who drink two glasses of water immediately before a meal eat 22% less than those who don’t drink any water. Scientists believe that about 17 oz of water is sufficient to stretch the stomach enough to send signals of fullness to the brain. That said, water is also known to empty from the stomach quickly. For this tip to work, it may be best to drink the water as close to the meal as possible. Interestingly, starting your meal with soup may act in the same way. Researchers observed that eating a bowl of soup immediately before a meal decreased hunger and reduced total calorie intake from the meal by about 100 calories.
5) Be present at meals: Our brains usually know when we’re hungry or full. But, when we eat quickly or while distracted, the brain may find it harder to recognize these signals. Solve this problem by eliminating distractions and focusing on the foods in front of you- a key aspect of what studies call “mindful eating”. So turn off the TV and avoid eating on the run.
Research shows that practicing mindful eating can help increase the pleasure and keeps the focus on quality, rather than quantity, which then reduces binge eating.There also seems to be a link between hunger, fullness and what your eyes see. One experiment offered two identical milkshakes to participants. One was called a “620-calorie indulgence,” while the other was given a “120-calorie sensible” label. Although both groups consumed the same amount of calories, hunger hormone levels dropped more for those who believed they drank the “indulgent” drink. Believing that a drink contains more calories can also activate the brain areas linked to feeling full. How full you feel may be influenced by what you see, and paying attention to what you eat can be the key.
6) Change your dinnerware: Reducing the size of your dinnerware can help you unconsciously reduce your meal portions. This is likely to help you consume less food without feeling deprived. A study observed that even nutrition experts unconsciously served themselves 31% more ice cream when given larger bowls. Another study further reported that participants who served themselves snacks from large bowls ate 142 calories more than those who ate from smaller bowls. Eating on red plates might also subliminally help us to stop eating because of the association of red meaning “stop.”
The size of your eating utensils may have dramatic effects on how much food you need to feel full. One study observed that participants who used bigger forks ate 10% less than those eating their meals with a smaller fork. Researchers speculated that small forks may give people the feeling that they are not making much progress in satiating their hunger, leading them to eat more. Strangely, this effect did not seem to apply to the size of all utensils. Larger serving spoons may actually increase the food eaten at a meal by up to 14.5%!
7) Get more active: Exercise is thought to reduce the activation of brain regions linked to food cravings, which can result in a lower motivation to eat. It can also reduce hunger hormone levels, while increasing feelings of fullness. Research shows that aerobic and resistance exercise are equally effective at influencing hormone levels and the size of a meal eaten after exercise.
8) Lose stubborn belly fat: Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone that influences appetite and energy balance. Higher NPY levels are believed to increase appetite and may even change the percentage of calories you store as fat. Researchers have discovered that body fat, especially the type found around your organs, may increase production of NPY. Because of this, losing weight around your middle may help reduce your appetite and hunger levels.
9) Sleep: As we discussed in previous posts, sleep alone can cure a multitude of ills, including weight issues. Those who sleep less than seven hours a night have a 55% higher risk of obesity. (See post). Studies also show that too little sleep can increase hunger and appetite by up to 24%, and decrease levels of fullness hormones by up to 26%. This meant that those who slept less then seven hours at night felt less full after eating breakfast by 25% compared to those who slept more.
10) Stress less: Excess stress is known to raise levels of the hormone cortisol, generally thought to increase food cravings and the drive to eat. Stress may also decrease levels of peptide YY (PYY), a fullness hormone, so there’s a double whammy. In a recent experiment, participants ate an average of 22% more calories after a stressful test when compared to a non-stressful version of the same test.
11) Pretend to eat all the foods you crave: It may seem crazy, but according to some researchers, picturing yourself indulging in the foods you crave most may actually decrease your desire to eat them. In one experiment, 51 participants first imagined eating either three or 33 M&Ms before being given access to a bowl of the candy. Those who imagined eating more M&Ms ate 60% less of the candy, on average. The researchers found the same effect when they repeated the experiment using cheese instead of M&Ms. It seems that the visualization exercise may trick your mind into believing you’ve already eaten the desired foods, significantly decreasing your craving for them.
Hunger is an important and natural signal that should not be ignored. But when it persists after eating, between meals or just due to hard earned weight loss, these tips may prove helpful. Next week we’ll look at specific foods that can decrease your appetite as well.