When it comes to losing weight, there are some things you do better off without… and an insatiable appetite is one of them. Appetite can feel like an untameable beast, controlling your thoughts and actions until you give it what it wants. When it demands to be fed, you feed it – often regardless of your weight-control goals.
So what’s the alternative to caving in? We’re sharing ten strategies for controlling your appetite.
Why diet pills don’t work
Diet pills have long touted their ability to suppress appetite and encourage fat loss. It sounds too good to be true; take a pill, stifle your appetite, lose weight.
And guess what? It is too good to be true.
The minute you stop taking diet pills, your appetite returns in full force, leaving you with the same behavioural patterns that caused you to gain weight in the first place. Any weight you lost while taking the pills creeps (or leaps) right back on.
The temporary suppression of appetite with pills can also be dangerous. In some instances, diet pills have caused permanent health problems and even death. A few years ago, the weight loss supplement Ephedra was banned after research linked the drug to heart complications – but not before it caused serious health problems for countless users.
Simple appetite control
So if pills don’t work, how do you get your appetite under control?
Actually, appetite in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it provides an important indicator of your body’s need for refuelling; when you’re low on energy, your stomach lets you know. Your appetite is not the problem; it’s how you respond to it that complicates things.
“Effective appetite control strategies should help curb your appetite without negative side effects, and should also assist you in changing your eating habits that cause weight gain,” says weight loss expert Pat Fiducia.
Here are Fiducia’s most effective tips for appetite control.
10 ways to tame your appetite
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry. It may seem obvious, but if you want to control your appetite, it’s important not to get too hungry. If you don’t eat enough, your appetite will quickly get out of control; so nip it before it does. Eat regular meals and two planned snacks each day to avoid becoming too hungry.
- Ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. Many people don’t know how to differentiate between true hunger and emotional hunger. “Emotional hunger” is what prompts you to eat when you’re not actually physically hungry. True hunger only occurs when you haven’t had enough calories or fat to satisfy your physiological needs.If you feel hungry, think about when and what you last ate, and whether or not you’re experiencing physical symptoms of hunger like a rumbling stomach. If you’re not physically hungry, ask yourself if there are other reasons why you feel like eating, such as stress or boredom, and respond to those triggers with something other than food. For example, go for a walk, do some gardening, or call a friend.
- Drink water and take ten. Often, what you interpret as hunger is actually your body being thirsty and dehydrated. If you feel hungry, try drinking a glass of water, take some deep breaths and tell yourself that you can eat, but in ten minutes. If you aren’t truly hungry, the feeling will pass after ten minutes and you will have saved on calories. Or if it doesn’t pass, nothing is lost and you won’t be any hungrier than you were before.
- Let yourself feel a little hunger. If you’re feeling hungry after a meal or snack, keep in mind that it’s also okay to feel less than full or to feel a little hungry even after you’ve eaten. In fact, most people who have lost weight and kept it off have learned to be comfortable with this feeling. It takes 20 minutes for your body to recognise it’s full or satiated, so wait the full 20 minutes after eating to determine if you really need more food, or are simply processing your fullness cues.
- Don’t get too tired. Inadequate sleep affects your hunger and appetite hormones adversely, and often leads to poor decision making when it comes to food. If you’re struggling to control your appetite, make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
- Steer clear of appetite-stimulating foods. Avoid the sights and smells of junk food and foods that stimulate your appetite by keeping them out of sight – out of the house, away from your desk, out of the car. Remember – out of sight, out of mind!
- Be careful at buffets. Most people’s appetites go into overdrive when eating at a buffet. In fact, people eat up to 60% more when they’re presented with variety, even if the variation is something as simple as a different shape of pasta. That’s because your appetite is easily bored with one food, and the more you eat of a single food, the less you will crave it – even if it’s chocolate cake. At a buffet, however, there is plenty of variety to keep your appetite interested, even when you’re full. Next time you go to a buffet, remember to take your motivation with you. The most powerful aid for controlling overeating is the conviction that achieving a healthy weight is more important than eating as much as you want. Commit to eating no more than three selections, and take your time eating, allowing the food to digest slowly.
- Prepare for parties. Research suggests that you eat more when having a meal with a large group of people. There are many reasons for this. For example, the distraction of conversation can prevent you from listening to your appetite and recognising when you’re full. Learning “crowd control” for your appetite is an excellent strategy for changing your eating habits. Pay close attention to your hunger cues when eating with friends. Take a moment out of the conversation every so often to assess whether you’re still hungry, or if you’re simply continuing to eat subconsciously because there’s food in front of you.
Don’t enter a party situation hungry or thirsty. Eat a protein-rich snack or meal and drink a glass of water within one hour of when you plan to eat. And of course, remember to enjoy the company and the conversation. Eating with other people is about so much more than the food!
- Eat appetite-curbing foods. Some foods stimulate appetite, while others satisfy it. Low-fibre and calorie-dense foods, such as lollies and biscuits, generally increase your appetite. On the other hand, high-fibre, bulky foods curb appetite. So when you get a hunger pang, don’t reach for the biscuit tin, instead grab a few Brussels sprouts! Well… if not Brussels sprouts, perhaps another, tastier, high-fibre, low-calorie food to get you through the initial pang. Great options include legumes, high-fibre cereals, wholegrain bread, oat bran, cabbage and most vegetables. Another great way to curb your appetite is to “put on the protein brakes” by enjoying a source of protein. Protein is the most satiating, filling macronutrient, as the amino acids in protein send a signal that tells the brain you’re full enough. At meal times, fill up on lean sources of protein or soy-based proteins, instead of pasta or bread.
- Be mindful. Staying mindful of your weight and health goals is also a good way to calm your appetite and get things in perspective. When your appetite screams out “feed me!” it’s always wise to take a minute to picture yourself looking healthy and fit, and then decide whether you are still hungry. Taking time to sit down, chew slowly, and eat meals mindfully also helps you listen to hunger and fullness signals, so you’re less likely to overeat.
At the end of the day, appetite control is all about making the right decision at the right time. If you don’t learn to control your appetite, losing weight will always be an uphill battle. Learn to control it, instead of letting it control you.
This article was compiled in consultation with CalorieKing.com.au experts and in reference to the following sources:
Hollie A Raynor, Ph.D. and Leonard H Epstein, Ph.D., ‘Dietary Variety, Energy Regulation and Obesity,’ Psychological Bulletin, University of Buffalo: May 2001, Vol. 127, No. 3, pp 325-341.
Janet Raloff, ‘Diet Pills: It’s Still Buyer Beware,’ Science News, Aug 10 2002. Vol. 162, No. 6.
U.S Food and Drug Administration, ‘Consumer Alert: FDA Plans Regulation Prohibiting Sale of Ephedra-Containing Dietary Supplements and Advises Consumers to Stop Using These Products,’ Dec. 30, 2003. www.fda.gov