Some Simple “Hacks” To Better Control Your Appetite
by Mike Prevost, PhD
If you are a science geek like me, you will enjoy this recent review article on the biological control of appetite. It is an extremely complex interplay between various brain centers, neurotransmitters, hormones, and emotions. Although I enjoy decoding complex biological processes, I realize that most people would prefer to take a beating than try to decode complex biochemical pathways. Fortunately, there are some simple take home strategies in the research literature that you can employ. Let’s take a quick look at a few of these:
- Eating more protein for breakfast promotes greater satiety (satiety = less hunger) and results in a spontaneous reduction in caloric intake throughout the rest of the day. This has been shown in adolescents, premenopausal women, children, overweight adult women, and men. Most of these studies used eggs for the high protein breakfast. By the way, the current scientific evidence favors the view of egg consumption being a healthy choice, rather than the outdated view of egg consumption raising your cholesterol. Bagels, toast or worst of all, breakfast cereals are a poor choice for breakfast if you need to lose weight. Try eggs instead.
- Protein is a high satiety nutrient and including protein in every meal can help you to feel less hungry and eat less. Scientists have established a “satiety index” that measures how “satiating” a food is, at least in the short term. A good overview of the the data can be found here. What you will notice is that lean sources of protein are very satiating. This is especially true of lean (low fat) protein sources. This is because fat does not contribute as much satiety per calorie as protein. If you are trying to lose weight, you should have lean protein at every meal. Increasing your protein intake will likely reduce your appetite overall. Also, increasing your protein intake while on a caloric deficit helps to preserve muscle mass. Try to get 30 grams of protein with each meal (serving size about the size of the palm of your hand). More is OK too, but there is no need overdo it.
- Fiber content and water content increase the satiety impact of a meal. It is likely that high water content foods (like oranges) would result in more short term satiety than high fiber foods (like oat bran), because fiber stays in the gut for much longer. Fiber also feeds your gut bacteria, which then produce biochemical signals (short chain fatty acids) which may reduce inflammation and therefore help reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases appetite. Try to increase your fiber intake. If you are really hungry, a high water content fruit or vegetable can quickly blunt your appetite with few calories.
- Liquid calories are inherently less satiating when compared to solid calories. Consuming calorie containing beverages always results in an increased calorie intake. Don’t drink your calories. Always choose solid foods and drink water.
- Foods that were highest on the satiety index were lean proteins, boiled potatoes, and oatmeal. (how about eggs and oat bran for breakfast; baked potato and chicken breast for lunch?).
- Hyperpalatable foods (i.e., doughnut, ice cream) can be addictive. This leads to eating beyond satiety and inevitable weight gain. Choosing more satiating, and less hyperpalatable foods is a good strategy. The researchers who established the satiety index had this to say..” simple, ‘whole’ foods such as the fruits, potatoes, steak and fish were the most satiating of all foods tested. Interestingly, many plant foods such as beans, lentils and potatoes contain antinutrients which can delay or inhibit the absorption of nutrients or affects gastrointestinal hormone release. These factors could contribute to their greater satiating powers.”
The way that I apply all of this is to eat protein at every meal (4-5 eggs for breakfast), eat mostly meat and eggs, plenty of vegetables, legumes and some fruit and nuts. I eat whenever I am hungry, but I stick to this list. I never go hungry or starve myself. I am relying on the high satiety impact of these foods to keep my calories in check. These are the foods that your body has evolved to eat and your body can better control appetite and body weight when you eat “human food.”
A recent, and unfortunate, test of my diet confirmed that I am on the right track. I recently injured my lower back and as a result had to cut out all of my running and almost all of my walking for the last 5 weeks. This resulted in eliminating almost 2/3 of my exercise volume. Most people would gain weight when they cut their exercise back by 2/3. Instead, I lost 2 pounds. This indicates that my body does a good job of scaling my appetite to my activity level on this type of diet. One last point…. I find that I can eat this way with little effort if I have plenty of “human food” in the house and no junk food. If there is junk food in the house, I will eat it. However, it is easy for me not to buy the junk food in the first place.
*Note: Follow the hyperlinks to access the original scientific journal articles.