The thing I don’t like about watching what I eat is the innate fear of being hungry. For many of us, eating healthfully once meant dieting, which meant avoiding entire food groups, skipping meals or starving ourselves. Most of us know better now but still find ourselves hungry if we’re not eating a free-for-all.
“There are lots of things going on in the body that affect appetite. The body wants to maintain its energy balance. You can’t trick the body into thinking it’s not hungry, as the body will override it. We couldn’t have survived this long without the body’s ability to feel hunger,” says Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, who has studied the effects of foods on satiety. Going strictly by our hunger signals is complicated because there are so many things associated with our appetite, including our mood, hormones, social settings, and family patterns.
So how can we tackle the hunger? We’ve got to make the most of our calories.
1. Use your calories for solids, not beverages.
Drinking a Starbucks coffee drink is not going to fill you up. Nor is drinking a bottle of apple juice. Yet between the two, you could easily consume over 600 calories. On the other hand, eating a whole apple will improve your feeling of fullness due to its fiber content. Aside from the allure of sweeteners and artificial flavors, sports drinks, processed juices, sodas, and coffee drinks do not offer anything for you. Stick to water and use your calories for solids that can fill you up and provide you nourishment.
2. Fill up on low-calorie snacks and starters.
My grandmother always served a clear soup as the starter to dinner meals. I thought this was silly because it would fill me up before the “main” meal of meat and potatoes. Now I see she was on to something. Filling up on low-calorie foods (salad, pureed vegetable soups, broth) can reduce your intake and allow you to feel satisfied with a smaller portion.
3. Eat fruits and vegetables galore.
Aside from their vitamin, mineral, and fiber content, fruits and vegetables have higher water content, which allows you to have a bigger portion with the same calorie content. It’s easy to get more veggies in by bulking up recipes and replacing snack bars with fresh fruit or chopped veggies.
4. Load up on fiber.
Foods with higher fiber stay in the gut longer and reduce absorption in the small intestines. In other words, fiber makes you feel full longer. High fiber foods include fruits and veggies, and also whole grains such as whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals. Keep in mind that all grains are not created equal. Eating a box of whole grain cookies is not quite the same as a bowl of oatmeal or quinoa. For those who are sensitive to grains, there are many wheat-free options out there.
5. Don’t skip meals.
While the jury is still out on the advantage of eating several small meals throughout the day versus 3 larger meals a day, it is known that skipping meals can lead to binge-eating, fluctuating metabolic function, and weight gain. While it’s tempting to skip a meal so we can “save” our calories for a treat later on, it really doesn’t do our body good. Saving your calories for a special occasion is all right sometimes, but keeping your intake regular throughout the day is necessary for appetite control.
6. What else makes you full?
Consider what other things bring you a sense of fullness. Sometimes when we think we are hungry for more food, we are really hungry for more rest, bright sunshine, fresh air, a good book, a hug or a snuggle. Think about what brings you fulfillment and make sure to fill up on those!