No doubt about it, hunger is unpleasant. In fact, it can be downright embarrassing when your tummy grumbles for your attention at the most inopportune times. When you’re watching your calorie intake to lose or manage your weight, there will be days when you might experience ongoing hunger, even when you’re eating at the top of your calorie range. It can be so distracting and debilitating that you’re ready to throw in the towel. If deprivation is what eating healthy is all about, then forget it!
Not so fast. Don’t give up on your new way of eating until you add what could be the missing ingredient back into your eating and weight loss program. What's the elusive “secret” to feeling fuller, longer? Satiety.
Satiety (sa-TIE-e-tee) is that wonderfully pleasant feeling of fullness you get as you eat, when you’re no longer hungry, but aren’t overly stuffed or uncomfortable. You are just satisfied beyond desire. The more satisfied you feel after a meal, the less you’ll eat later. So how do you increase satiety without eating MORE?
When making food choices, it’s still important to meet the nutrition recommendations outlined in your SparkDiet. But if you’re having problems staying full, adjust your meals and snacks to incorporate these tips:
Eat More Low Density Foods
Calorie density refers to the number of calories per gram of food. Foods that are HIGH in calorie density contain a high number of calories per gram; foods that are LOW in calorie density contain a low number of calories per gram. Calorie density is the key to feel full without overeating.
When you eat too many calorie dense foods, you’ll end up consuming a lot of calories to fill your belly. If you focus on low calorie density foods, you can fill up on fewer calories because low density foods contain a lot more water, which adds weight and volume to the food, but no calories.
Just drinking a glass of water along with the meal does not provide the same degree of satiety. Research has shown that to reduce hunger and boost fullness, the water has to be in the food. Why? Because there are separate mechanisms in the brain to control hunger and thirst. If the food you eat contains the water, it will stay in the stomach longer while the food is being digested. Beyond that, there is also the psychological component of eating food versus drinking water. When you eat food, even water-rich food, you get more sensory stimulation because you have more food going through your mouth and you’re eating for a longer period of time, both of which help you feel more satisfied with your meal.
The following are all water-rich food choices with about 90% bound water. They can have a great impact on the calorie density of your diet.
- EAT MORE broth-based soups like chicken broth and vegetable broth.
- EAT MORE leafy greens like lettuce, baby spinach and mixed salad greens with fat-free dressing.
- EAT MORE fruits like apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, strawberries and watermelon.
- EAT MORE non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes and winter squash.
- TIP: Start your meal with a bowl of broth-based soup or low-calorie leafy green saladto fill up on fewer calories. Turn to non-starchy vegetables when you get the munchies.
Fiber contains only 1.5 to 2.5 calories per gram, while other carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Fiber-rich foods also necessitate more chewing and slow the passage of food through the digestive tract. The fiber in carbohydrates helps prevent those peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels that can cause cravings and poor food choices. They also may stimulate a satiety hormone in the brain.
- EAT MORE fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables with skins, beans, lentils and legumes. Aim for 25-35 grams each day to help reduce your calorie intake and increase your satiety level.
- TIP: Avoid refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, white pasta and sugar). When eaten alone, refined and simple carbohydrates can wreak havoc on satiety by causing rises and falls in blood sugar which trigger hunger every few hours.
Studies suggest that protein appears to help prolong satiety more than carbohydrates or fat can. Continue eating the amount of protein that your SparkDiet recommends, since consuming even a little bit of protein with each of your meals and snacks will help you stay full. Meeting your protein needs is important, but eating more protein than your body needs will NOT boost your metabolism.
- EAT MORE lean protein from meats, chicken, seafood, low-fat dairy, legumes, lentils and soy products.
- TIP: Prepare your meat using low-fat cooking methods like grilling and baking.
Cutting fat intake reduces the calorie density of a food. In other words, you get a bigger portion of food for the same calories when it has fewer fat grams. However, if you go too low in fat you won’t enjoy the flavor, texture or satiety of your food. Plus dietary fat is essential for staying healthy.
- EAT ENOUGH fat to meet the fat recommendations in your SparkDiet. This will bring the pleasure and satisfaction back to your meals so you’re less likely to overeat later.
- TIP: Eliminate fat where you don’t need it, opting for reduced fat foods instead of full fat versions. Select low-fat dairy products, low-fat salad dressings, low-fat mayonnaise, etc. and limit saturated and trans fats.
Nuts have been shown to have a very positive impact on satiety because of their protein and fiber content. A SMALL handful of these nutritious nuggets will often hold you over until your next meal. Of course, portion control is important because nuts and seeds are high density foods.
- Choose nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews and others. Even seeds make good choices.
- TIP: Keep your portions in check! One serving of nuts or seeds is about the size of a golf ball.
Drinking plain old water can help with your weight management program, especially if you are substituting calorie-containing beverages like regular soda, juice and sweetened coffee for water, which is healthy and calorie-free. For some people, drinking water throughout the day also keeps their hands busy so that they’re less likely to eat out of habit or boredom.
- DRINK MORE water throughout the day, aiming for about 8 cups total. Some calorie-free beverages can make good choices, but moderation is important. Check out these beverage guidelines to meet your body’s needs.
- TIP: Don’t drink your calories. Calories from beverages add up quickly and affect your weight. Most people don’t pay attention to the number of calories they drink, and that can hurt your weight loss efforts. Limit your intake of caloric beverages to less than 200 calories each day, and be sure to add these calories to your Nutrition Tracker.
Now that you know which foods have the staying power, it is important to spread these satisfying foods throughout the day into designated meals and snacks. Then you’ll be reaping the benefits all day long.
Even better, slow down and savor every bite. Research has shown that it can take 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you have reached satiety. So take your time and enjoy every delicious bite along the way.
Get in touch with your satiety center by giving your stomach time to signal your brain that you have had enough to eat, and by selecting the right kinds of foods when you do eat. Finding ways to feel fuller while eating fewer calories—now that’s the secret to success!
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian