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3 Tips on How to Eat Less Without Feeling Hungry

Need to lose a few pounds? These simple tips will make it easy to cut back without feeling deprived.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
February 8, 2011
Episode #126

In recent weeks, I’ve written several articles about reducing your risk for common diseases. I’ve offered tips for raising your HDL cholesterol, improving your insulin sensitivity, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, and slowing the aging process. And as you may have noticed, one piece of advice keeps coming up over and over again: In order to be and stay healthy, you have to get yourself to a healthy weight. 

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How to Eat Less Without Feeling Hungry

Of course I realize that this is a lot easier said than done. After all, if losing weight were easy, two thirds of the population wouldn’t be overweight.   In order to lose weight, you have to eat less and when you eat less you usually feel hungry, which most of us find unpleasant. And that’s where it falls apart for a lot of people. So today, I have some tips for you on how to eat fewer calories without feeling hungry.

This isn’t about a diet that you go on—and then fall off of. It’s about getting your body’s appetite-regulating mechanisms working for you instead of against you.  These strategies can help you lose weight if you need to but are also helpful as a maintenance strategy.

3 Tips to Trick Your Stomach Into Thinking It’s Full

Your stomach is a little like a water balloon. When it’s empty, it’s relatively small and slack. When you fill it up, it stretches and gets tauter. There are special nerve cells in the lining of your stomach called proprioceptors that detect this stretching and send a message to your brain that you’re full.  Now, the only thing that these proprioceptors can sense is stretching. They can’t tell the difference between a quart of skim milk and a quart of half and half. All they know is that something is filling your stomach. You can use this to your advantage.

Tip #1: Eat Foods with a High Water Content

Water has no calories but it takes up a lot of space in your stomach, and that—thanks to your proprioceptors—creates a feeling of fullness or satiation. Just recently, a study found that people who drank two glasses of water before meals got full sooner, ate fewer calories, and lost more weight. You can put the same strategy to work by choosing foods that have a higher water content over those with less water.

For example, the only difference between grapes and raisins is that grapes have about 6 times as much water in them.  That water makes a big difference in how much they fill you up. You’ll feel a greater degree of satiation after eating 100 calories worth of grapes—which is a small bowlful—than you would after eating a hundred calories worth of raisins, which is only a quarter cup.

Salad vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes also have a very high water content, as do broth-based soups. If you start your meals with a salad or bowl of soup, you’ll probably consume fewer calories at those meals.  And if you’re looking for a between-meal snack, whole fruit will probably fill you up for fewer calories than dried fruit.

Tip #2: Eat Foods with More Fiber

The more the quickly your food is converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream, the more quickly you’re going to feel hungry again.

Another way to feel full on fewer calories is to choose foods that are higher in fiber. Like water, fiber adds volume to foods without adding calories and that extra bulk helps to fill up your stomach and tickle those proprioceptors. That’s especially true when you consume fiber and fluids together, because the fiber soaks up water and gets even fluffier.  (See also my episode on soluble and insoluble fiber.)

Fiber has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve that are helpful when you’re trying to eat a little less. First, it slows down the speed at which food leaves your stomach, so that feeling of fullness lasts a little bit longer. And then, when the food travels into the small intestine for digestion, fiber stimulates the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which sends another signal back to the brain to say, “That’s enough!”

Foods that are high in fiber include dried beans, bran, vegetables, and whole grains. So for example, a high fiber cereal will keep you full longer than a low fiber cereal. At lunch, a cup of black bean or split pea soup will go further than a cup of cream of mushroom, and so on. 

Tip #3: Replace Some of the Starches in Your Diet with Protein

Another big factor in regulating your appetite is how fast your blood sugar rises and falls after meals. In a nutshell, the more the quickly your food is converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream, the more quickly you’re going to feel hungry again. 

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose much more quickly than proteins and fats, which require a lot more digestive steps to convert. Research consistently shows that dieters who eat fewer carbs and more protein are not as hungry as those who eat a higher percentage of their calories as carbohydrates.

So,for example, instead of a sandwich consisting of two slices of bread and a slice of turkey, have an open faced sandwich with one slice of bread and two slices of turkey. Both sandwiches have about the same number of calories but the higher protein version is going to keep you satisfied for longer. At breakfast, you could have an extra egg and one fewer pieces of toast. And instead of having a handful of pretzels for a snack, you could eat a few pretzels and some cheese.

See also “How Much Protein Should I Eat?”

Of course, you can also replace starches with an extra helping of vegetables, which are high in both fiber and fluids.

Calories Still Count

I’m not saying that you don’t have to pay attention to calories or that you never have to exercise any restraint. After all, we overeat for lots of reasons, not just because we’re hungry. (See also my article, Why We Overeat.) But choosing foods that are higher in water, fiber, and protein and dialing back the amount of starches and sugars in your diet can help you feel satisfied with fewer calories—which can make it a lot easier to maintain a healthy weight. As a bonus, following these strategies also tends to steer you toward more whole, nutrient-rich foods, which improves the overall quality of your diet.

Keep in Touch

See the links below for some research pertaining to today’s topic. If you have a question or comment, post it below or on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page.  I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!

RESOURCES: 

Drinking water before meals aids weight loss (Research summary)

Increased fiber curbs appetite (Research summary)

Protein, weight management and satiety (American J. Clinical Nutrition)

Fullness Factor of foods (NutritionData.com)

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