Breakfast was two chocolate croissants. I needed something quick, so I downed the pastries in my car on the way to work. Feeling full and high on sugar, I tackled my inbox with gusto. But by 10am, my gut was grumbling again – and lunch was hours away. It was nothing like the previous morning, when I made an egg-and-cheese sandwich on wholewheat toast. Even though that had about 800 fewer kilojoules than my chocolate croissant binge, it kept me full till 1pm. Both breakfasts were satisfying – at the time. What was the difference?
The answer, fellow hungry men, lies in your brain’s dual perceptions of fullness. “Satiation” is the feeling of fullness at the end of a meal. “Satiety”, on the other hand, is a measure of how long it takes before you’re hungry again. Of course, food companies don’t want you to stay satisfied. But it’s time you take control. Master satiation and you can keep portion sizes in check; boost satiety and you can prevent needless snacking (and needless kilos).
Read on and you’ll be able to fill your gut – and then lose it.
Hunger Buster #1: Know What (And When) To Drink
Think of your stomach as a balloon. As you eat, it stretches. And once it expands to its maximum capacity, the sensors throughout your digestive system tell your brain’s amygdala that it’s time to stop chowing down – regardless of what you’ve filled your belly with. (Bear in mind that eating half a roll of toilet paper would make you feel full.) To stretch your stomach without stuffing it with kilojoules (or paper products), you need water. Sports nutritionist Alan Aragon recommends drinking a glass 30 minutes before a meal and sipping frequently while eating. Water-rich foods – soup, salad, fruit and vegetables – will also fill your belly without contributing excessive kilojoules.
Hunger Buster #2 Fill Up With Fibre
Fibre draws water from your body and from the food you’ve eaten, and transports it to your intestinal tract, helping to deliver that meal-ending satiation, according to a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Washington. Fibre may boost satiety, too. Since it passes through the body undigested, fibre slows the absorption of nutrients and makes you feel fuller longer, according to a 2008 study. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that adding six grams of soluble fibre (such as ground flaxseed) to yoghurt provided the satiating power of an additional 1 080kJ. To reap the satiating benefits of fibre, aim for 25 to 35g daily. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand – like in those croissants – are satiety killers. When participants in a 2008 British study drank a high-carb beverage for breakfast, they reported feeling hungrier at lunch than when they drank a beverage high in protein. Here’s why: too much sugar brings on a rapid spike in insulin, which causes a sugar crash later and triggers a craving for more food.
Hunger Buster #3 Pack In The Protein
Protein, your muscle-growing fuel, also has the power to raise levels of peptides – synthesized amino acids – in your stomach. “These peptides initiate cross-talk with the brain on a molecular level to send out satiety signals,” says Aragon. He recommends aiming for 20 to 40g of protein at each meal.
Hunger Buster #4: Savour The Flavours
Your belly is rumbling, and a waiter sets a juicy burger in front of you. Resist the urge to unhinge your jaws and swallow it whole. Thoroughly chewing your food increases what researchers call “oro-sensory factors”, which send satiation signals to your brain, helping you feel full on less food, according to a 2009 study by Dutch researchers. Study participants who chewed each bite for an extra three seconds ended up consuming less. And skip those sippable meal-replacement shakes and kilojoule-packed smoothies.
Hunger Buster #5: Trick Your Belly Full
You can’t trust your gut. Maybe you’ve heard about the Cornell University study with the trick bowls: people who ate soup from bowls that continuously refilled ate 73% more than those who ate from ordinary bowls. The kicker: they rated themselves as feeling no more full. Scientists call this use of sensory cues to assess fullness “learnt satiation”. Try this: dole out a portion of food onto a smaller plate and immediately place the rest in the refrigerator. Once you eat, the visual cue of a clean plate will signal that you’ve had enough – and the leftovers will stay out of sight and out of mind, in the fridge.
Hunger Buster #6: Avoid Distraction At Dinner
What you’re doing while you eat might be as important as what you’re eating. You’re likely to consume much more food and eat for longer periods of time when you’re distracted by television, music or a computer, according to a 2009 review of studies published in Trends in Food Science & Technology. Eating while distracted interrupts brain-to-stomach satiation signals, making it harder to monitor your food intake. Also, distraction raises the risk of overeating the wrong types of foods – think popcorn at the movies. The takeaway from all this is simple: when you eat, actually eat, grab a seat. Focus on your meal. Don’t check your email or Facebook. Pay attention to your first plate of food and you might find that you don’t need to go back for seconds.
Hunger Buster #7: Downsize Your Snacks
As long as you’re eating satiety-inducing nutrients at every meal, you’ll reduce your urge for food between meals, says Aragon. But if your gut’s growling and your next meal is far away, a snack can help prevent you from losing total control before supper. If hunger hits, keep the snack, well, snack sized. Grab food that’s high in protein or fibre, like biltong, nuts or cottage cheese, and keep your consumption under 800kJ, says Aragon. That way, you’ll keep gut gurgling at bay without packing in a mini-meal. Whatever you do, skip the processed snacks that prime your gut for more, more, more. It’s how a croissant leads to a growling stomach before lunch. And it’s how you can eat all day and never feel full.