Managing your weight requires knowing what to eat. But that’s only part of the story.
Before you grab a snack or reach for seconds, you also need to know if you’re really hungry. Is it your stomach, your head or your heart that’s prompting you to eat? Knowing what’s behind your desire to eat can make a big difference to the bathroom scale.
Many of us eat when we’re not physically hungry. We often eat because the site and smell of food in front of us is too tempting to resist – and because, well, it just tastes good.
Other times we eat because we’re bored, sad, lonely or stressed out. And sometimes well-meaning family members and friends pressure us to eat.
What is hunger?
Hunger is your body telling you it needs fuel. A growling stomach is usually the strongest clue you’re hungry. Low energy, irritability, lack of concentration and/or having a headache can be other signs it’s time to feed your body.
If you’re uncertain hunger or appetite is responsible for your food craving, wait 15 minutes before eating. Distract yourself and then reassess how you feel a little later. If you are truly hungry, your stomach will tell you.
Or, ask yourself if it’s been a few hours since you last ate. If not, you’re probably not feeling real hunger.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no rule that you can’t eat when you don’t feel hungry. But if you do so regularly, you’ll end up eating more calories than you need.
Learn to listen to your body’s hunger cues. You want to eat when you feel hungry, but not famished. Feeling overly hungry can trigger overeating.
You want to stop eating when you no longer feel hungry. You should feel satisfied, not full. Too often people become used to feeling full, even uncomfortable, after a meal. That full feeling then becomes the benchmark for feeling “satisfied”. And if that feeling isn’t reached, it’s confused with hunger.
9 ways to rein in hunger and prevent overeating
Assess your hunger
Determine how hungry – or satisfied – you feel before you eat, halfway through a meal, and after you finish eating. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, not full.
Stick to a schedule
To prevent you from becoming overly hungry, schedule your meals and snacks. Plan to eat every three to four hours. (The clock stops after dinner.)
Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, yogurt, tofu and legumes help you feel full longer because they require more time to digest and absorb than other nutrients.
Include protein at breakfast, too. Research suggests that eating lean protein in the morning keeps you satisfied longer than if eaten at other times of the day.
Divide your protein intake among three meals and two snacks. Protein-rich snacks include nuts, soy nuts, edamame, hard boiled eggs, part skim cheese, yogurt and soy milk.
Choose low glycemic foods
Avoid eating refined (white) starches and sugary foods at meals and snacks. These high glycemic foods cause blood glucose and insulin levels to spike after eating, a response that can trigger hunger and overeating.
Low glycemic foods are more digested slowly digested and help keep hunger at bay. They include beans, lentils, nuts, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, steel-cut or large flake oats, oat bran, Red River cereal, 100% bran cereals, yogurt, milk, soy milk, apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, pears and berries.
According to a 12-week study of 91 overweight adults, eating half a grapefruit with meals can result in weight loss. Participants who ate grapefruit had significantly lower levels of insulin after eating which was thought to control hunger. The researchers speculated that natural plant compounds in grapefruit were responsible.
Spice up meals
Research has found that capsaicin, the component that gives red chili peppers their heat, can reduce hunger and increase calorie-burning.
A 2011 study from Purdue University demonstrated that adding cayenne red pepper to meals was effective at reducing appetite for fatty, salty and sweet foods, especially among people who didn’t eat it regularly.
Season pasta sauces, pizza, chili and stews with dried cayenne pepper, red chili flakes or hot paprika. Garnish meals with hot salsa or chopped hot fresh chili peppers. (Wear rubber gloves when handling fresh chilies as they contain oils which can burn your skin and eyes.)
Chew (sugarless) gum
Some research suggests that chewing gum for one hour in the morning helps people eat fewer calories at lunch. The theory is that chewing stimulates nerves in the jaw connected to the brain region that regulates satiety.
It takes roughly 20 minutes for appetite-related hormones to kick in and tell your brain you’ve had enough to eat. After every bite, put down your knife and fork, chew thoroughly and sip water. Don’t pick up your utensils until your mouth is empty. More tips to slow your eating pace.
Eating in front of the television, while reading, checking emails or while driving leads to mindless eating – and overeating. Reserve the kitchen or dining room table for meals and pay attention to the fact you’re eating. Savour your food.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.