Here are 15 easy and practical ways to suppress the feeling of “I want more food” and to develop eating habits that will go a long way in maintaining good health.
Not all tips will be universally applicable to everyone, so pick and choose according to what suits you. Wherever possible, I have tried to provide references from authoritative sources to back up the tips; however, a complete and exhaustive list of references is beyond the scope of this blog… I will leave it to your “Googling” abilities to find additional references.
- Eat foods with low glycemic index: Gylcemic index is a measure of how fast a given food item increases our blood sugar level. Highest on the index is glucose with a rating of 100. High glycemic index foods have a rating of 70+, medium glycemic index foods have a rating of 56+, and 55 and below are low index foods.
- Eat slowly: This is bit controversial but there have been studies to prove that eating slowly suppresses appetite.
In the study, 30 women made two visits to Melanson’s lab, and each time they were given a large plate of pasta and told to eat as much as they wanted. When they were told to eat quickly, they consumed 646 calories in nine minutes, but when they were encouraged to pause between bites and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times, they ate just 579 calories in 29 minutes. Reference: Physorg.com
Basically, eating your food slowly allows your brain enough time to analyze whether you stomach is full or not.
Here are a few tips to help you eat slowly. Watch a movie, count the number of times you chew, engage in a conversation, read something while you are eating. There are other benefits of eating slowly - read about it in this post on Zen Habits.
- Eat a number of small meals instead of few large meals: Again, the reasoning is along the lines of slow release of energy. Large meals will raise your energy levels quickly, but that rise in the energy level is followed by a big drop soon after which induces more *hunger* and can lead to binge eating during the subsequent meals. Small meals will mean consistent level of energy - which means lower craving for food.
- Increase your dietary fiber intake: Dietary fiber increases the feeling of “fullness” and suppresses appetite.
Stomach distension (feeling full) signals a person to stop eating … Once ingested, fiber enhances satiety and prolongs satiation after a meal through distending the stomach and by prolonging retention of gastric contents. Reference: Medscape Today
Studies and clinical reports suggest that soluble fiber (such as psyllium, pectin, and guar gum) may enhance the sensation of fullness and reduce hunger cravings. For these reasons, incorporating soluble fiber into the diet may aid weight loss. Reference: University of Maryland Medical Center
Foods such as apples, peaches, oranges, grapes, vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.
- Choose foods with lower calories per volume: Apparently, we habitually choose to eat food based on how large the portion looks, rather than looking at the calories. If we eat large volumes of given food (even if it is very low in calories), we tend to eat less during the next meal.
“As it turns out, the energy density of food has a very robust effect on food intake,” Rolls says. She and her students performed a study in which the same foods — chicken and rice — could be served in three different forms: as a chicken rice casserole, as a chicken rice soup, and as a chicken rice casserole served with a 10-ounce glass of water. The soup-eaters ate 26 percent less during the subsequent meal than either of the other two groups. Reference: Research Penn State Online
She and her students incorporated varying amounts of air into milkshakes by blending. The researchers found that the more air, the bigger the shake — and the less subjects ate during the following meal. Reference: same article as above.
The soup-eaters and the bigger-shake-drinkers ate less simply because of their serving size looked bigger.
This means that eating food with low energy density (less number of calories for a given volume) might help reduce appetite. Most fruits and vegetables have low measures of energy density.
- Reduce the variety of flavors in a given meal: Some researchers have shown that certain appetite inducing hormones are activated when we eat foods with too many different flavors.
“We stay hungry longer the more diverse the flavors in a meal or snack,” said Katz, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. “If flavors are thoughtfully distributed, we fill up on fewer calories. This explains why, for instance, people can eat a holiday meal to the point of feeling unpleasantly full, yet still have room for dessert. Reference: Medical News Today
Try cutting on side dishes, and try cooking larger portions of just one dish instead of smaller portions of a variety of dishes.
- Don’t starve yourselves: Starving is one of the greatest enemy of healthy eating habits. It creates a feeling of energy deficiency and people try to eat more after periods of starving to “make up for the lost food”. Nothing increases hunger/appetite more than starving for an extended period of time. Eating number of small meals a day (see the point #3) is one way to avoid starving. Include foods with low glycemic index in these small meals (see point #1).
- Exercise more and eat immediately after exercising: This seems to go against conventional wisdom, but apparently, exercising stimulates the release of certain appetite-suppressing hormones and reduces the feeling of hunger.
… levels of hormones called PYY, GLP-1 and PP, which tell the brain when the stomach is full, increased during and immediately after exercise. Volunteers also said they felt less hungry during this time.
In the past we have been concerned that, although exercise burns energy, people subsequently ate more after working out. This would cancel out any possible weight reduction effects of exercise.
But our research shows that exercise may alter people’s appetite to help them lose weight and prevent further weight gain as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Reference: BBC News - Health
Physical activity at a moderate rate does not increase the appetite. In some situations, the appetite will actually decrease. Research shows that the decrease in appetite after physical activity is greater in individuals who are obese than in individuals who are at their right body weight. Reference: NIH MedlinePlus
- Choose a smaller dish: This is purely psychological. There is only so much you can stuff in a smaller dish and additional food will require additional tips to the kitchen. At times, it creates guilt faster - especially when you are having some company with your meal. Also, a larger dish (or a deeper bowl) holds a lot more food and sometimes we pressurize ourselves to completely finish everything that’s on our plate (to avoid appearing like a wasteful idiot). Naturally, if a larger dish has tricked you into loading up more food, you are going to end up eating much more than what you “need” - meaning, you will whip up some kind of an artificial appetite as an excuse to clean your plate up.
- Drink a glass of water before a every meal: I mentioned this earlier in a post about benefits of drinking plenty of water and I will quote those lines here:
Since water does not have any calories, it acts as an ideal *filler* material in your stomach and gives you a sense of “I am full” - which in turn decreases your appetite. This works best for people who are already over-weight and are controlling their appetite in order to lose weight.
This falls in line with the concept of energy density discussed above in point #5.
- Drink a lot of soup/broth before a meal: Vegetable/Chicken broths are awesome to taste and very easy to prepare. Keep in mind, if you drink too little (like the portions they serve in restaurants), it might act as an “appetizer” and make you eat more. The key is to drink more volume of soup/broth after you gulp down the small “appetizing” portion of it. So, essentially, drink enough so that you *almost* start filling full and then proceed for the main course dishes.
- Remove food from your sight: This is a factor I term as “psychological appetite” - and it’s not really a *craving*, it’s just the lack of control when you see something that tempts you. You just tend to eat more of anything that is easily visible. You don’t have the appetite as such, but when you see something you can gobble down without much efforts, you start to have a feeling that you are hungry.A clear example of this is a bag of Hershey’s mini chocolates at my home. When we keep it outside, we devour it within a couple of days. However, the last time we got one, we shoved it in our refrigerator drawer (the drawer is at the very bottom) - and now it’s more than two weeks and there are still some chocolates remaining. So this is a simple solution - just keep the food out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth.
- Serve from the kitchen: Don’t bring all the food to the dining table. This works very well with having smaller dishes. Every additional serving will mean walking back to the kitchen for more - this will probably discourage the lazy ones amongst us from eating more. Also, like I mentioned above, the “out of sight, out of mouth” concept applies here as well.
- Maintain a good mood: Researchers have known about a relationship between serotonin (a chemical that regulates anger, aggression, and mood - among other things) and suppression of appetite:
“When serotonin is made and becomes active in your brain, its effect on your appetite is to make you feel full before your stomach is stuffed and stretched,” said Wurtman. “Serotonin is crucial not only to control your appetite and stop you from overeating; it’s essential to keep your moods regulated.” Reference: MIT news.
A feel of “good-mood” is usually an indication of serotonin being active in your brain - which means you will probably have lesser appetite when you are feeling good. Earlier, I mentioned that bananas can act as mood enhancers by initiating serotonin secretion - which means that eating a couple of bananas a day will not only keep you in good mood, but could also help reduce your appetite a bit.
- Sleep More: This strategy is not very well appreciated among people trying to decrease appetite and lose weight. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of extra sleep - or rather, sufficient sleep.
Participants with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin. [Note: leptin is a hormone in our body that suppresses appetite, whereas ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite]
The combination of low leptin and high ghrelin is likely to increase appetite. In other words, short sleep might stimulate appetite, which increases weight.
Reference: Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index [NIH, PubMed Central]
Foods with high glycemic index cause a sudden rise and fall of blood sugar level. Typically, falling blood sugar levels trigger the *need* to eat more food and that creates a sense of immediate hunger. Whereas, foods with low glycemic index cause a slow increase of blood sugar level and provide consistent levels of energy for a prolonged period of time (instead of rapid rise and fall). This slow release of energy prevents the triggering of our body’s hunger-circuit and results in decreased *appetite*. [Reference: Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University]
Apples, bananas, green vegetables, and beans are some examples of foods with low glycemic index. Try eating more salads and fruits instead of heavy main course meals to reduce your intake of food during subsequent meals in the day.
Or.. on a lighter side, just go ahead and watch a gross/horror movie when you are having your meal. That’s one sure way of killing your appetite.
[Image credit: www.devon.gov.uk]