5 Tips to Control Appetite
Dieting sucks. No question about it. The hunger you experience is real and there is a plethora of delicious food everywhere you turn. Here are some useful tips for controlling appetite to reach your current physique goals.
In Part 1 of this article series, I explored the role of food and its influence on the brain. As I mentioned previously, we are hardwired to crave high energy foods. Fat does a great job at providing a lot of energy (9 kcal/g) and directly stimulates our brain’s pleasure center. So how can you win this seemingly impossible battle with food? It won’t be easy, but I’ll arm you with the knowledge to avoid some common pitfalls.
If you recall from Part 1, the taste receptors in your body respond to many aspects of your food. This is often referred to as orosensation and it helps explains why certain foods are so much harder to stop cramming down your throat than others. Some of the best research in this field comes from Hyde and Witherly, who have found that “foods that have sensory properties that change rapidly or have major sensory contrasts are the ones that are preferred” (1). Put simply, there are combinations of foods or tastes that are designed to overwhelm your body and send you to food heaven.
They refer to this as the “dynamic contrast” theory (1). So what are some examples of these foods? Things like ice cream, popcorn, chips, pizza and coca-cola are strong examples of this theory. For example, ice cream is not only filled with mouth watering levels of fat and sugar, but its ability to melt and change consistency in the mouth is extremely arousing for the brain and taste receptors. On the other hand, a potato chip, loaded with fat, sugar, and salt, also provides a unique crunch/crispiness that provides the body with a contrast it drools over. Knowing this should help provide some insight into how dieting becomes a mind game.
Now that you understand why you crave food and can’t seem to diet, it’s only fair that I try and give you ways to overcome this.
1) Use periods of fasting:
Aside from offering reductions in body fat, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved health (cholesterol, lipids), intermittent fasting can really help you understand the role that food plays in your everyday life. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a learning experience. Most people have trained themselves to eat at certain time intervals and it is around these times that they become hungry. This is a conditioned response. It’s rarely true hunger. Your circadian clock has picked up on your normal routine and anticipates the meal based off your average feeding times. So that’s part of the reason why even after crushing that Ben and Jerry’s last night, you woke up and felt hunger pangs.
Once you get accustomed to fasting, you really feel like your appetite is tamed and controllable. I couldn’t believe how much I got accomplished during my first 24-hour fast. I didn’t have to worry about my next meal or how much protein I’d consumed. It was freeing. But won’t ghrelin, our hunger hormone, be screaming at you to get up and eat? Yes, but you adapt to this, and on the flip side, when you’re constantly eating, it actually negatively impacts ghrelin secretion and makes it unstable. So even though you’re eating your six meals a day and certainly have all the food that you need, you’re still hungry. Eating that often and still being hungry makes it more difficult to diet.
It’s a matter of learning to cope with hunger or stretches of it. Believe it or not, hunger isn’t as bad as you’ve been led to believe. Starvation and hunger are vastly different. Low levels of energy leads to increases in neuropeptide-Y (NPY) as well as a host of other beneficial adaptations and hormonal responses. While NPY has many complex effects in our body, it should be noted that it is one of many mechanisms that may help extend lifespan. Maintaining youthful levels of NPY should be considered important, especially given the findings that it may aid in the antitumorigenic effects seen with caloric restriction amongst other benefits such as lowered blood glucose (2).
The bottom line is fasting will allow you to have larger, more satisfying meals, which generally leads to greater satiety and thus greater adherence to your diet. Give it a try if progress has stalled or your diet needs a change.
2) Eat your protein:
When attempting to diet, retaining or gaining muscle tissue should be a priority. As we know, this requires a sufficient protein intake, but there are some other important reasons as well. A recent study out of the University of Sydney found that our body craves protein so much that it can cause overeating. The researchers found that the need for protein is so great that you will eat until you have the proper amount of protein that your body desires (3). This is aside from the fact that a whole protein source has a significant influence on satiety, and sometimes staying full can go a long way in trying to diet. At the same time, I’d caution you to not go overboard with protein intake either. Many lifters have a tendency to eat far too much protein, assuming that the more protein they eat, the more muscle they’ll have.
3) Get your fiber up:
Fiber won’t only help control insulin, but it slows digestion and helps signal a feeling of “fullness” to the brain. I find that most people have room to include some more fiber in their diets. Adding things like fibrous vegetables and Ezekiel bread are two easy ways to do it.
There are also some supplements you can use. Psyillum husk and guar gum are two supplements that have shown some promise in terms of suppressing appetite. One study found that psyillum worked well to reduce hunger and energy intake (4). I’ve also had some success with ECGC for appetite suppression, as it has shown to have an effect on satiety and fullness (5).
4) Use what you know:
By now, you should have a firm understanding of hunger and how food impacts your brain. Do you really want that glazed donut? Or are you just bored? Ask yourself if what you’re about to eat will help you reach your goals. And then just be honest with yourself. If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way.
You can still make good food choices and have it be enjoyable and tasty. You should be able to search for recipes online and have a million pop up. Because we know what foods the brain responds most favorably to, you can choose things that will help you stick to your diet and fulfill your gluttonous desires. Try healthier versions of some of the most addictive foods like protein ice cream or swap rice cakes for crackers to satisfy a crunch sensation. Because you know that the brain responds favorably to novelty in different tastes/choices, try to mix your diet up and try new things.
5) Find motivation and stay disciplined:
At the end of the day, you have to want it. You have to be strong willed and consistent. There are a lot of beaten to death clichés that I could throw into this section, but I’ll spare you. With obesity just reaching a billion the other day, those of us in shape are becoming the minority.
Everybody wants to be in great shape. If they didn’t, the weight loss and diet industry wouldn’t be an over sixty billion dollar industry. I train a very successful businessman who put it best when he described why he lifts and diets consistently: “I like sitting across the table when closing a deal and knowing that I can beat you, that I work my ass off and have the dedication you wish you had.” This might be blunt but isn’t that the truth?