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In the last episode I talked about the factors that influence appetite and satiety, or how satisfied you feel after eating. In this episode, I want to discuss specific strategies for improving your satiety levels.
After so many years of being a dietitian, I naturally incorporate strategies for feeling satisfied into my eating. There are many things you can do to help yourself feel satisfied throughout the day. Some of the strategies may surprise you, but it’s important to understand the reasoning behind them since that will give you more motivation to incorporate everything. Here are the approaches I take to maximize satiety from my meals and control hunger:
Feed yourself reliably.
That means eating according to a regular schedule, not skipping meals, and listening to your hunger. The most important way to be disciplined with your eating is not restriction, but structure. You must be reliable about feeding yourself regularly and making mealtimes a priority. Take your lunch break around noon, when you start to get hungry instead of ignoring your hunger and waiting until 2 or 3 in the afternoon to scrounge up some fast food. Instead of scarfing your food down at your desk or in your car, sit down at a table and eat without distractions like your Smartphone or the TV; ideally you will eat with at least one other pleasant person. At home, try to make breakfast or dinner “family meals” where you share your food around the table with others (relatives or friends).
Haphazard eating sets you up for failure. An estimated 40% of Americans regularly skip breakfast, which not only increases appetite hormones, blood sugar, and weight, it also raises type 2 diabetes risk. Skipping any meal will cause you to overeat at the next meal—and possibly at the meal after that-- and make your blood sugar dip, but skipping meals on a regular basis can lead to weight gain and possibly diabetes. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking up to get your appetite hormones under control, follow with lunch approximately four hours later, consider an afternoon snack about three to four hours after lunch to tide you over until dinner a couple hours later. Do not underestimate the importance of eating on a regular schedule.
Eat balanced meals and snacks.
When I say balanced, I mean a mixture of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Each of these components plays an important role in satiety—both how soon you feel satiated and how long that feeling sticks with you. Carbohydrates help you feel full the fastest, but you’ll be staving shortly after eating unless you include protein, which is the most satisfying of the three macronutrients. Protein satisfaction takes a little while to register, so it’s best to eat slowly and attentively. Adding some healthful fat to the meal is really important for extending the length of time that you feel satisfied. All three components are important not only for how they affect your blood sugar and other appetite hormones, but in how pleasurable your meal is to eat.
Emphasize protein at breakfast.
As I mentioned, breakfast sets the tone for your appetite for the entire day. Eating a protein-rich breakfast can really help to keep your appetite hormones and blood sugar under control and stabilize hunger all day, which can aid in weight control. Try eggs, Greek or Icelandic yogurt, cottage cheese, or tofu with your morning meal. Continue to incorporate protein into your subsequent meals and snacks, remembering that each meal must be balanced with protein, carbohydrates, and good fats to optimize satiety. Beans, legumes, edamame, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and fish are all satisfying, anti-inflammatory proteins to include at meals.
Choose the right carbohydrates.
Here are a few of my favorite carbs: non-starchy vegetables, starchy vegetables, fruits, whole intact grains, beans and legumes. The things they all have in common are that they are minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, voluminous, and high in fiber. Naturally occurring fiber is important to satiety because it triggers gut hormones that suppress appetite and it draws water to create bulk in your digestive tract, so that you feel full longer. These “good” carbs aid in blood sugar control because they are digested slowly and reduce carbohydrate cravings. Beans, legumes, certain vegetables (such as orange sweet potatoes, corn, and green peas), and whole intact grains (such as oats, barley, and brown rice) contain a substance called resistant starch that can help boost satiety hormones.
Eat lots of vegetables.
Vegetables are your best friend in weight control because they help fill you up and provide tons of nutrients, fiber, and water for virtually no calories. They are also voluminous, so they take up space on your plate to be visually satisfying and they take up space in your stomach to be physically filling. Do you think you don’t like vegetables? The obvious trick here is to make sure they taste good. Don’t just steam a head of broccoli and plop it on your plate! I have hundreds of vegetable-based recipes online at gelsons.com, and if you don’t cook, head to Gelson’s Service Deli and try some of my freshly prepared salads, such as Super Antioxidant Chopped Salad and Crunchy Kale Salad. Remember: healthy food is only healthy if it gets into your body, so make sure your veggies taste good.
Drink more water.
Research on water shows that people who increase their water intake decrease the amount of food they eat. Just one additional glass a day can make a difference. If you’re not drinking water, what are you drinking?
Don’t drink your food.
Calories in liquid form are not satisfying in the same way that calories in solid form can be. The process of chewing triggers satiety, while calories consumed as a soft drink, sports drink, juice, coffee drink, or even a smoothie do not register as fully as solid calories, but you can pack in liquid calories faster than you can chew them, effectively raising your blood sugar and contributing to weight gain. Research shows that the more time you spend chewing your food, the better you regulate your appetite, so foods that take a long time to eat can be more satisfying and helpful for weight loss.
Eat the lowest energy density foods first.
Since it takes a few minutes for satiety to register, a good strategy is to start your meals with the lowest calorie, most nutritious, highest volume foods (i.e. low energy dense). These are vegetables and fruits. Try starting lunch and dinner with a salad, vegetable soup, or even an apple.
Get enough sleep.
Not getting enough sleep negatively impacts your appetite hormones so that you feel hungrier the day after a sleep-deprived night. Sleep deprivation also seems to slow down your metabolism, so you need less food to run your body and maintain your weight. Furthermore, the less time you spend sleeping, the more time you can potentially spend eating.
Cultivate mindfulness in your eating.
We are all born knowing when we are hungry and when we are full, but somewhere along the way, we get disconnected from that innate self-awareness. It can happen as early as infancy, when babies are forced to finish their whole bottle, or in childhood when parents or caregivers control how much children eat by telling them to eat one more bite, limiting portions of foods, restricting foods, making kids clean their plates, or making them eat their vegetables before they can eat other foods. Later on, we learn the food rules and try to play along and “be good” with our eating for the sake of weight control or health. This leads to restrictive eating and overeating. We must find our way back to listening to our bodies, trusting ourselves to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full, and allowing ourselves to take pleasure in the food we eat. Does this sound scary to you? You’re not alone, but this is important work!
In order to truly reconnect with your feelings of hunger and satiety, you must pay attention to your eating. Plan and prepare a meal that you like, sit down at a set table with real dishware and utensils, turn off devices and eliminate distractions. Take a few slow, deep breaths, and begin eating slowly, paying attention to how the food looks, smells, tastes, and feels. Eat until you feel satisfied, don’t just stop because you think you should. Find the point of satisfaction that is right for you. Practice this for one meal a day until you find your fullness. This will take several weeks of practice, but you will be able to reconnect with your internal regulation by giving your food the attention it deserves.
Honor your appetite.
I don’t want you to think that the foods you love and the ways you enjoy eating are not important here! Listening to your body, including the foods you love, and enjoying food are vital to satisfaction. Give yourself permission to eat the foods you love within the structure that I discussed in strategy #1. Structure helps combat the nutritional chaos you will worry about when you give yourself permission to eat what you enjoy. Honoring your appetite will require trusting yourself and really listening to your body. Here’s my personal example: Long ago, I realized that frozen yogurt was not the right treat for me because I love ice cream. For me, frozen yogurt is a poor substitute for ice cream; it leaves me feeling unsatisfied and still craving ice cream, so I end up eating way more frozen yogurt in search of that satisfaction that I’m looking for. Now, instead of eating frozen yogurt every day, I eat ice cream two or three times a week as part of a family meal, or as an afternoon snack with my kids.
You know that I love food and enjoy eating. Most of the foods I love are healthful, “everyday” types of foods, but I eat everything, including dessert. I don’t struggle with my weight because I know how to eat satisfying meals that keep me feeling full and energized for several hours so that I’m not constantly thinking about food. I hope that I have inspired you to try out these strategies for satiety so that you can eat the foods you love to achieve your healthiest weight without feeling hungry all the time.