Matt Fitzgerald—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.
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.
“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.”
While Dr. Little’s particular study involved a supplement, other studies have found that regular foods such as soups may achieve similar effects, although with slightly more calories. Below is a short list of healthy appetizers containing satiety activators. If you’re looking for new ways to manage your weight, make a habit of consuming them, or other appetizers, before your main meals each day. Take advantage of the resulting fullness by serving yourself smaller portions than you normally do.
- Small spinach salad with olive oil dressing
- Three celery or carrot sticks dipped in peanut butter
- Small bowl of miso soup
- 8 oz. serving of nonfat yogurt
- 1/2 cup edamame (steamed soybeans)
Eating hunger-killing appetizers is not the only way to trim calories from your diet without increasing hunger. Another option is to make small, strategic food substitutions in the meals you’re already eating-substitutions that reduce calories without reducing the amount of food you eat. According to Paul Goldberg, RD, author of The Lean Look (Broadway, 2008), there are 10 different types of substitutions to try.
Replace a non-vegetable food with a vegetable (or increase a vegetable portion)
Example: Substitute a grilled chicken sandwich with a chicken Caesar salad wrap (less bread and meat, more lettuce) and save 65 calories.
Replace a non-fruit food with a fruit (or increase a fruit portion)
Example: Substitute an eight-ounce tub of yogurt with a bowl of berries (one-half cup) drizzled with vanilla yogurt and save 141 calories.
Replace a high-calorie beverage with a low-calorie beverage
Example: Replace a Starbucks Grande Café Latte with a mug of coffee with half-n-half and sugar and save 250 calories.
Replace a fried food with a non-fried food
Example: Substitute breaded, fried chicken strips with grilled chicken strips and save 140 calories.
Replace a high-fat meat with a lean meat
Example: Substitute an 85 percent lean ground beef hamburger patty with a 95 percent lean ground beef hamburger patty and save 60 calories.
Replace a high-calorie sauce, condiment, or topping with a low-calorie alternative
Example: Substitute a tablespoon of regular mayonnaise with a tablespoon of reduced-fat mayonnaise and save 25 calories.
Replace a refined grain with a whole grain
Example: Substitute a cup of cooked regular spaghetti noodles with a cup of cooked whole-wheat pasta and save 47 calories.
Replace a whole-milk dairy food with a reduce-fat dairy food
Example: Substitute a half-cup of whole milk with a half-cup of skim milk in your breakfast cereal and save 36 calories.
Replace a high-calorie dessert with a low-calorie dessert
Example: Substitute a small bowl (½ cup) of ice cream with a large serving (1 cup) of mixed berries with a heaping tablespoon of low-fat vanilla yogurt drizzled on top and save 72 calories.
Replace a non-organic food with an organic food
Example: Substitute a serving of non-organic Stagg Vegetable Garden Four-Bean Chili with a serving of Walnut Acres Organic Chili and save 60 calories.