As the weather gets cooler, we tend to eat more food. But is it possible to eat the food we want without piling on the kilos? Nutritionist Rose Carr says “yes”.
Most of us realise that appetite is about a lot more than just physiological hunger. Researchers have found that when they put clocks forward, people will eat their meals based on the time, rather than a signal from their bodies that they’re hungry. People with short-term memory loss will eat two meals consecutively when told it’s lunch time. We eat more when there’s a greater choice of foods, when given larger servings and when we share a meal than if we’re alone (unless you’re a woman on a date – studies have proven that then, you eat less). Then there’s boredom, stress and grief; which can all affect our appetite in different ways.
To make matters even more difficult, we don’t have any internal gauge that says, “I was hungry; now, after that last bite, I’m full.” Instead, we experience a sense of satiety: that feeling between not feeling hungry any more and feeling uncomfortably overstuffed.
To reach comfortable satiety without overeating takes practice. We need to train ourselves to do two main things: choose foods that are more satisfying and learn to recognise when we are satisfied. Read on to learn how to train your mind.
Eat sweet things
Surprised? Don’t be. Many of us almost always crave something sweet after a meal. Luckily, a small serve is usually all that’s needed to satisfy your sweet desires – or you can make it a fruit-based sweet, and add to your two-plus serves a day at the same time.
Fruit can satisfy a sweet tooth without adding refined sugars and, often, the extra fat that comes with not-so-healthy dessert alternatives. Try sliced fruit on a small plate – it’s more appetising than a whole piece of unpeeled fruit, and studies have proven that food seems more substantial when served on smaller crockery.
Cleanse the palate
Here’s another reason to eat something sweet at the end of a meal: the taste cleanses your palate, signalling to your body that the meal is finished. You could also try drinking herbal tea or green tea, which has a double benefit: not only does it signal that the meal has ended, it helps you avoid cake and biscuits too, because we don’t usually associate sweet treats with these types of tea in the same way we often do with black tea or coffee.
Get a good night’s sleep
A growing body of research is finding links between how long we sleep and the functioning of our ‘hunger hormones’, leptin (which suppresses appetite) and grehlin (which stimulates appetite). One study, which included more than 1000 people, found that habitually sleeping for fewer than 7 hours and 45 minutes was associated with reduced leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels and a higher BMI – which can all lead to overeating.
Other studies on the effects of one to two days’ sleep deprivation have found similar changes in the hormones involved in appetite regulation, with participants reporting increased hunger and appetite. It is thought that people who are sleep-deprived are tempted by more foods because they are awake for longer. This, combined with inadequate exercise, leads to weight gain (taking into consideration that most people are usually sedentary during waking hours). A clear message seems to be emerging: get a good night’s sleep and your body will self-regulate its levels of hunger.
Eat nuts – no, really
We’ve heard many times before that nuts are good for us – they’re high in fibre and protein, and have been shown to increase satiety hormones, which makes them great for appetite control. But now studies have shown that there’s actually a link between increasing nut consumption, and decreasing body mass index (BMI). It’s believed that some of the fat contained in nuts becomes trapped within the nut’s fibrous structure, so it isn’t actually absorbed by your body, but excreted. And even though you don’t absorb all the fat, you still absorb the vital nutrients your body needs. Add a handful of nuts to your diet in place of unhealthy, high-fat snacks.
Too many different flavours at one meal stimulate the senses so much, that we eat more food. While it’s a good idea to eat a variety of foods, keep each meal relatively simple. A US study found that when people were offered three different flavours of yoghurt, they ate 23 per cent more than if they were offered only one flavour. Try combating this by eating comforting winter dishes like casseroles and soups – they often contain a large portion of your carbohydrate, protein and vegies all in one.
Eat soup as an entrée
Several studies have found that eating soup as an entrée decreases hunger, increases fullness and reduces kilojoule intake at the subsequent meal. In fact, a 2008 US study found that eating soup 30 minutes before eating lunch resulted in a 20 per cent decrease in the amount of kilojoules eaten at lunch. And it doesn’t matter whether the soup is chunky or puréed; they both have the same effect on kilojoule intake at the next course.
No skimpy meals
It’s okay to reduce your portion size slightly – in fact, most of us need to! However, there’s no point in under-feeding yourself; that will only backfire later on. Instead, start the day with a high-fibre bread or cereal, protein and some fruit. This will get the metabolism going, the brain functioning, and keep you satisfied for longer. And forget skipping the carbs at lunch and dinner – we need them for energy. Eat them with a balanced mix of protein and low-kJ vegies every day.
Rate your hunger
To help you get back in touch with your body’s signals, practice considering how hungry you are, both before and after a meal. Rating your hunger helps you recognise whether you’re eating because you’re truly hungry or if it’s a habit or an emotional need. A lack of hunger at dinner time may be a sign you’ve eaten too much for lunch. Similarly, rating your hunger after eating helps you learn that you don’t need to eat until you can’t move to ‘survive’ until your next meal. Ideally, hunger levels (see box below) should always be between 3 (before you eat) and 6 (after you’ve eaten). Remember, it takes around 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that there’s incoming food, so eat slowly and stop eating before you’re completely satisfied.
Hunger meaning rating
1 = I could eat a horse
2 = I’m starving
3 = I’m hungry
4 = I’m a bit peckish
5 = I don’t feel any hunger
6 = I’m satisfied
7 = I’m full and a bit uncomfortable
8 = I’m so full I cannot move
Research has shown that protein is more satisfying than fat or carbohydrate, both at meal time and in the hours following your meal. Meals containing protein also increase diet-induced thermogenesis (the energy used by your body to eat, digest and metabolise food), which subsequently increases satiety and reduces kilojoule intake. To include protein foods at each meal, we suggest:
Eggs. They’re satisfying at any time of the day whether poached at breakfast; scrambled at lunch; or as an omelette for dinner.
Fish. Lean beef and skinless chicken are both great choices, but one Australian study found fish is more satisfying than the both.
Low-fat milk or yoghurt. Eat them with your cereal at breakfast or as a snack, to help keep you going for longer.
Researchers have found that while a high-fibre meal doesn’t necessarily affect how much we eat immediately, it does seem to reduce how much we eat at the next meal because we’re not as hungry. Meals high in fibre take time and energy to chew, while adding bulk and viscosity, which slows digestion of meals. Here are some simple ways to get more fibre:
Add a high-fibre cereal to your breakfast. Mix it with your current cereal if you prefer.
Use wholegrain breads, rice and pasta.
Add chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, cannellini beans or other legumes to salads, stews and pasta.
Use hommous on your bread and crackers, instead of butter or other dips.
Want to feel really full? Then eat low-kilojoule vegetables – you can eat as many of them as you like. They help us stop overeating because they’re full of water and fibre, ingredients that add weight and make our stomachs feel full without loading up on kilojoules. We suggest bulking up meals and snacks with broccoli, beans, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, leeks, mushrooms, rhubarb, salad greens, silver beet, spinach, snow peas and turnip... to name a few. Here’s a couple of ways to get them into your diet:
Snack on baby carrots, sliced capsicum, cherry tomatoes and other small or sliced vegies; dip them in hommous to make them even more satisfying.
Pile your plate with salad vegies; drizzle a little oil over the top for extra satiety.
Try roast pumpkin chips, instead of potato.
We all need some fat in our diet, and this has extra benefits for women: unsaturated fats have been found to stimulate a hormone, cholecystokinin, which helps us feel full for longer. This same hormone is stimulated by eating fibre however – so there’s no need to go overboard on them!
Add small amounts of seeds and nuts to your meals or snacks.
Drizzle a little canola, olive or rice bran oil over salads or vegetables.
High glycaemic index (GI) foods give a sharp peak to our blood glucose with the trough afterwards triggering hunger. Foods with a lower GI are digested more slowly and give a more steady release of glucose into the blood stream, so they don’t trigger hunger in the same way. A recent Australian study found that when obese people replaced a high-GI meal with a low-GI meal at breakfast, they reported higher levels of satiety before lunch, even when the kilojoule content of the breakfasts were the same. Add low-GI foods such as reduced-fat milk and yoghurt, wholegrain bread, oats, sweet potatoes and legumes at each meal and snack, or see Smart Swaps: How to feel full for longer for more clever ideas.
Cheap sweets: Bake or poach fruit for a hot, ‘proper’ dessert – try coring apples or pears, stuffing with mascarpone, wrapping in foil and cooking in a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes.
Souper saver: Save money at your next dinner party by serving a low-kilojoule soup as your entrée. Studies show that this helps curb the appetite, so you can serve a smaller amount of the higher-energy, more expensive foods (such as meat) for the main course – and still satisfy everyone’s appetites.