Healthy Eating Doesn’t Mean Going Hungry

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Jul. 3, 2013
  • Updated Jul. 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM UTC
You don't have to survive on small amounts of nuts and berries in order to eat healthy. Photo:

Reach your optimal racing weight without making yourself miserable.

Everyone knows the conventional prescription for weight management: Eat less and exercise more. But that prescription is changing.

No, doctors and health scientists have not begun to recommend that we now eat more and exercise less to manage our weight. Many diet experts are, however, slightly modifying the advice they’ve been giving for decades. The cause of the revision is a rapidly broadening scientific acceptance of the simple fact that most of us find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to eat less without feeling unsatisfied.

So the new prescription for weight management is something more like this: Reduce the number of calories you eat in a way that still allows you to feel satisfied by your meals-and exercise more.

Doctors and health scientists use the term “satiety” to refer to that feeling of satisfaction, or lack of hunger, which every person needs in order to sustain healthy eating habits. The concept of satiety has received a lot of attention lately thanks to research demonstrating that very few people have the “willpower” to sustain a diet that leaves them feeling hungry most of the time. Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., the author of Volumetrics, has even called satiety “the missing ingredient in weight management.” In other words, if you want to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, you must combine eating less, exercise, and satiety.

“If you’re not craving food and feeling deprived, it’s a heck of a lot easier to stay with your eating plan,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, and author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.

Is it really possible to reduce the number of calories you consume each day without giving up satiety? Yes! In fact, new research suggests that by practicing a couple of simple eating strategies, anyone can eat less without feeling less satisfied by meals.

How Satiety Works

The feeling of satiety involves a number of natural physiological actions that start in the stomach and ultimately affect the appetite center in the brain. The presence of food in the stomach stimulates the release of special proteins in the digestive tract.

“Scientists call them appetite regulatory peptides, but you can think of them as feel-full proteins,” says Bowden.

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The most important feel-full protein is cholecystokinin (CCK), which Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, authors of You: On a Diet, have nicknamed “the Crucial Craving Killer” due to its powerful hunger-squashing effect.

The release of CCK and other feel-full proteins initiates a number of actions. First they close the valve leading from the stomach into the intestine. This slows the digestion of food, giving us a feeling of fullness and extinguishing the drive to eat. The second action initiated by the feel-full proteins is to send a signal to the appetite center in the brain. This also tells us to stop eating, but, more importantly, it is responsible for the extended feeling of fullness that occurs between meals.

Normally, the feel-full proteins work very well to control appetite in a way that ensures we don’t overeat. However, they have one weakness: the feel-full proteins take about 20 minutes to become fully active. Throughout most of human history, this time lag was not a problem, because the diet consisted mainly of low-calorie plant foods.

But today, our diet is full of calorie-dense processed foods and our hectic lifestyles cause us to eat meals very quickly. It’s easy to consume more than 1,000 calories in five minutes in a meal purchased from a fast-food restaurant drive-thru window. By the time the fell-full proteins kick in, only the greasy wrappers are left.

Flip Your Hunger Switch

The good news is that you can also make the lag time in feel-full protein activation work to your advantage. The best way to do so, according to Bowden, is to effectively spoil your appetite by consuming a small appetizer 10 to 20 minutes prior to your main meal.

“Eating an appropriate appetizer will cause the CCK level in your gut to spike just as you sit down to eat your lunch or dinner, so you will feel full faster and eat less,” Bowden explains.

Your appetizers should contain just enough calories (50 to 100) to stimulate your feel-full proteins. They should also contain the nutrients that are known to be the most powerful satiety activators.

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“Research has shown that certain key nutrients are especially potent CCK activators,” says Steven Peikin, M.D, professor of medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden, NJ, and author of The Feel-Full Diet.

The most effective satiety activators are long-chain fatty acids, which are monounsaturated fats found in high concentrations in olive oil, macadamia nut oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil, peanut oil and other healthy cold-pressed oils. Consuming a small amount of foods rich in these oils will activate your appetite control switch before you begin eating a meal. Other effective satiety activators include soy and dairy proteins.

Obesity researchers at the University of Manchester, England, recently performed a study to test the effects of a nutritional formulation (Forze GPS) containing long-chain fatty acids and soy protein on appetite when consumed as an appetizer.

“We found that the nutritional formulation slowed the movement of food through the stomach by 66 percent,” says Tanya Little, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “This observation helps to explain why previous studies involving a similar formulation showed that it reduced food intake by up to 20 percent and extended the feeling of fullness for up to four hours after a meal.”

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