Dietary Tips for Appetite Control
Feeling hungry is your body’s way of signalling to you that you need to eat. However, some people feel hungry all the time. If you’ve read the blog post What is Hunger? you’ll know that the precise mechanisms that control appetite and weight are complicated and not yet fully understood. However, if you’re feeling hungry too much of the time, it may be helpful to take a closer look at your diet and lifestyle. It is known that certain foods and ways of eating are helpful for body regulation while others are not.
Here are a few diet hacks to help get your appetite under control:
Avoid Low Calorie Diets
The body monitors the number of calories we eat and adjusts the number of calories it frees up for burning accordingly. Eating less means the body compensates by burning fewer calories, thus preserving fat stores.
Research on mice found that this is due to a group of neurons in the hypothalamus that control how many calories are burned and how many are saved depending on what is coming into the body. When there is little food available the neurons act to save energy by limiting the number of calories burned thus preventing weight loss. When we start eating again the neurons restore energy expenditure back to normal (2).
Another confirmation of this finding is research done on obese individuals which found that reducing calories weakens the leptin signals, which tell you when to stop eating, and strengthens ghrelin – the one telling you to eat more (3). This mechanism evolved when food was sometimes scarce and sometimes bountiful. Without it we may not have survived as a species.
Eat fibre – fibre can slow down digestion and the release of sugars from carbohydrates making you feel fuller for longer. Fibre is the primary food for the gut microbiome which influences appetite, weight and absorption of nutrients. All whole plant foods contain fibre so be sure to include fruit, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Eat protein – eating protein with meals increases satiety and reduces appetite. Protein suppresses hunger hormones such as ghrelin. Protein rich foods include eggs, fish, meat, poultry, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, tempeh, dairy products, quinoa and amaranth.
Avoid refined carbohydrates – during processing, refined carbs lose their fibre. This means the body digests and absorbs them very quickly which leads to a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. This triggers insulin to transport the glucose from the blood into the body cells meaning blood sugar levels fall and the desire to eat may follow. Replace refined carbs, such as white bread, white pasta and white rice, with unrefined carbs, like brown rice, oats, barley, or rye.
Eat fat – fat slows the emptying of the stomach making you feel full for longer. Fat also improves the absorption of some nutrients. Include some high quality fats or oils in your meals, such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed seed oils, olives, nuts and seeds.
Support the gut microbiome – certain organisms in the gut microbiome are associated with weight gain while others are associated with being slim. A healthy microbiome is one with a diverse range of organisms. Eating a wide range of plant foods is one of the best ways of increasing the diversity of microorganisms in the gut.
Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners – sugar consumption is associated with weight gain due, in part, to its effects on the hormones that are responsible for appetite and blood sugar control, as well as containing empty calories. Artificial sweeteners also have a disrupting effect on appetite and the gut microbiome.
Eat high water content foods – fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses all have a high water and fibre content meaning that they fill you up.
Listen to hunger and do not under-eat – ignoring hunger signals and not eating sufficient amounts to satisfy your hunger can lead to imbalances in the hormones that control appetite. When you do start to eat you may not know when to stop or you may reach for fatty or sugary foods as your body tries to re-coup the calories.
Adjust what you eat – it’s important to give the body the message that food is plentiful. This means adjusting what you eat rather than the amount. Eat plenty of nutrient dense, fibre rich foods and avoid empty calories from sugar and processed foods
Slow down and chew well – eating slowly is a good way of not over-eating as it gives your body a chance to register the signals that tell you you are full. Chewing well will help you to slow down and gives you time to savour the flavours and textures in your food, whilst also improving the absorption of nutrients.
Avoid over-eating – there are many occasions when over-eating seems acceptable and is almost unavoidable. However, just because there is a lot of food available doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Eating until you are excessively full is another way of loosing touch with your appetite control mechanisms. You don’t have to eat everything on your plate. There is no need to waste the food – put left overs in a covered container in the fridge for tomorrow.
Use a smaller plate – if you find it impossible to leave food on your plate using a smaller plate means there will be less food on it to start with.
Beware using food as a stress reliever – find other ways of dealing with stress. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, breathing exercises, talking to friends or family or walking in nature are all good ways of managing the ups and downs of life.
Relax before, during and after meals – take some deep inhalations and exhalations before you eat and give thanks for the food. Eat in a relaxed manner without distractions. Sit for a few minutes after meals rather than getting up and rushing around.
Enjoy your food – food should be delicious. Healthy eating does not mean meals become a joyless chore. Experiment with different recipes, salad dressings and natural flavourings such as miso, tamari, whole grain mustard, coconut, ginger, herbs and spices to make all your food really tasty.
Make sure you are not dehydrated before you eat – this may lead to eating when you are thirsty rather than hungry. Ideally have a drink of water or herbal tea 20 minutes before meals. It’s not a good idea to drink too much with meals as this dilutes the digestive juices.
See also the blog post Lifestyle Tips for Appetite Control for tips on non food related ways of regulating your appetite.
- 1. Faulconbridge LF, Hayes Regulation of energy balance and body weight by the brain: a distributed system prone to disruption. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2011 Dec;34(4):733-45.
- 2. Burke LK et al. MTORCI in AGRP neurons integrates exteroceptive and interoceptive food-related cues in the modulation of adaptive energy expenditure in mice, eLife; 23 May 2017
- 3. Sumithran P, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, Purcell E et al. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-604.