It’s all very well us telling you to eat Fitter Food but not so helpful if you struggle with appetite control and managing your portion sizes. It’s actually a common issue, especially if you’re looking to lose weight as you may have lost the ability to eat intuitively and listen to your tum when it tells you it’s full, or even more damagingly, override its message that you’ve had enough. You may find this difficult to believe but our body actually has natural appetite regulating and weight management mechanisms in place to prevent us from eating too much, an essential part of achieving and sustaining your fat loss goal is kicking this system back into action.
Hormones and Crash Dieting
Our appetite is largely governed by hormones, and particularly one known as ghrelin, which is secreted in the stomach and increases the physical sensation of hunger. To balance this the hormone leptin provides feedback to brain that we’ve been fed, our fat stores are adequate and it’s time to stop eating, this hormone is produced primarily by our fat cells. We also have stretch receptors in the stomach which send signals to the brain that the stomach is expanding encouraging you to stop eating and lowering the production of grehlin.
In addition to this there are hormones secreted in the digestive tract called Peptide YY and CCK that signal to the brain that we’ve eaten. A large meal will release a greater dose of these hormones compared to a small snack. A big argument against crash dieting and drastic reductions in food intake is that the output of these satiation hormones will be instantly lowered and appetite hormones are increased as your body tries to motivate you to find and eat more food.
Fixing Appetite Management Failure
Despite having this intricate system in place, our lifestyles make it difficult to be effective. Too many processed foods, stress and lack of sleep will disrupt the hormonal feedback and communication making it easier and more likely for you to overeat. If you feel like your appetite is out of control and you’re suffering from “always hungry never full” syndrome check out the following steps to help you get things back in check:
1) Have a Veggie Soup or Salad Starter
A low calorie soup such as tomato or carrot and coriander or even just a mug of bone broth will support the activation of those stomach receptors. Salads are another good option. Lots of studies have suggested soup can be helpful in promoting satiety. A 2007 study published in Appetite showed that consuming soup significantly reduced total meal calorie intake by 20% compared with having no soup. Another study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2004 discovered that eating a low calorie salad reduced meal energy intake by 7-12%. The key is the ingredients which should be predominantly plant based and broth or stock. This is also a great way to incase your intake of antioxidants, fibre and micronutrients.
2) Eat slowly and chew
Many studies are observing links between eating too quickly and weight gain. If you eat too quickly you’re much more likely to overeat as you override satiety signalling. Taking around 30 minutes to eat a meal and pausing for breaks in between mouthfuls is not only essential for good digestion but also allows time for the brain to receive all the signals from the digestive hormones secreted in the stomach. The stretch receptors in the stomach also take a while to be activated as it fills with food or water. A message is then sent from the gut via the vagus nerve which connects to the brainstem and helps shut down hunger and your need to keep eating. If you eat too quickly, this intricate hormonal communication system doesn’t have time to work.
3) Eat good fats
Fats are incredibly satiating and nutritious. Many people experience huge improvements in appetite stabilisation by adding avocado to their salad or choosing oily fish or lamb over something like chicken breast salad. Both fat and protein stimulate the release of the hormone CCK in the stomach so basing your breakfasts around healthy fats or proteins can be helpful if you’re prone to mid morning hunger and cravings.
4) Cut Back on Intense Exercise
If you’re hitting the gym 5 days a week and then hoovering up your meals like there’s an impending famine you could be working against yourself. If you have a fat loss goal the key is to start with nutrition. If this involves a great amount of change and challenges to your willpower then it might helpful to gradually build in the structured exercise component once you are happily eating balanced meals, not experiencing cravings and crashes and overeating at mealtimes. That’s not to say you don’t MOVE. Walking daily will help balance blood sugar levels and have a positive impact on all hormones. You could even just cut back to two sessions a week with some plenty of low level activity in between. This also stops you from trying to out train bad dietary habits.
5) Get 8-9 Hours Sleep
Sleep deprivation is associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of leptin. You know that after a rough night’s sleep you feel uncontrollably hungry all day long so focus on improving sleep health with our essential steps here.
6) Load Up On Fibre
When it comes to satiety studies fibre is a big win. It’s also important for optimal gut health and feeds beneficial bacteria. Sufficient intake is an integral component of fat loss, health and disease prevention. Fibre offers a lot of bulk for little calories and so naturally supports appetite regulation by causing stomach expansion. Furthermore, because fibre requires more chewing it supports the production of saliva and gastric juices enabling food to be broken down efficiently and support the satiety system in the digestive tract. It also has a slower transit time resulting in a positive impact on hormonal function generally. Our favourite sources of fibre are unprocessed, including root vegetables, potatoes, fruit, quinoa, red/black/brown rice, and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans, etc).
7) Lower The Hyperpalitability Of Meals
Even if you’ve swapped to healthy ingredients sometimes meals can be prepared in a way that makes them much more palatable. If you’re finding yourself overeating at mealtimes some simple changes to how you cook and serve your food can support satiety feedback. The easiest step is to steam and boil more foods rather than bake and stir fry. Generally combining salt, fat and carbohydrates makes anything irresistible including sweet potatoes in coconut oil topped with Himalayan salt. Generally most people benefit from cutting back on the bacon, cheese and nut butter (sorry Matt!) to help get appetite in check. This doesn’t mean that food needs to be bland or boring. Steamed sweet potato with balsamic vinegar is still delicious and the vinegar also aids blood sugar regulation. Another example would be boiling rice instead of stir frying it, and then adding a sprinkle of tamari sauce.
So there you have seven simple steps that you can start to implement tomorrow to get your appetite in check. Give them a try and make sure you’re on our mailing list to be the first to hear from the Fitter Food blog.