These 6 tips will teach you how to eat less and spot hunger so that you eat to stay satisfied. You’ll be able to control calories and shed pounds without “dieting.”
1. Use the hunger scale: Do you really know what hunger feels like? Before you can rein it in, you must learn to recognize the physical cues that signal a true need for nourishment. Prior to eating, use our hunger scale below to help figure out your true food needs:
Starving: An uncomfortable, empty feeling that may be accompanied by light-headedness or the jitters caused by low blood sugar levels from lack of food. Binge risk: high.
Hungry: Your next meal is on your mind. If you don’t eat within the hour, you enter dangerous “starving” territory.
Moderately hungry: Your stomach may be growling, and you’re planning how you’ll put an end to that nagging feeling. This is optimal eating time.
Satisfied: You’re satiated—not full, but not hungry, either. You’re relaxed and comfortable and can wait to nosh.
Full: If you’re still eating, it’s more out of momentum than actual hunger. Your belly feels slightly bloated, and the food does not taste as good as it did in the first few bites.
Stuffed: You feel uncomfortable and might even have mild heartburn from your stomach acids creeping back up into your esophagus.
2. Refuel every 4 hours
Still can’t tell what true hunger feels like? Set your watch. Moderate to full-fledged hunger (our ideal window for eating) is most likely to hit 4 to 5 hours after a balanced meal. Waiting too long to eat can send you on an emergency hunt for energy — and the willpower to make healthful choices plummets. “Regular eating keeps blood sugar and energy stable, which prevents you from feeling an extreme need for fuel,” says Kate Geagan, RD, author of Go Green Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet.
3. Eat breakfast without fail
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition tracked the diets of nearly 900 adults and found that when people ate more fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the morning, they stayed satisfied and ate less over the course of the day than those who ate their bigger meals later on. Unfortunately, many Americans start off on an empty stomach. In one survey, consumers reported that even when they eat in the morning, the meal is a full breakfast only about one-third of the time.
To slim down: If you’re feeling full-blown hunger before noon, there’s a chance you’re not eating enough in the morning. Shoot for a minimum of 250 calories and make it a habit with these strategies.
Prepare breakfast before bed (cut fruit and portion out some yogurt).
Stash single-serving boxes of whole grain cereal or packets of instant oatmeal and shelf-stable fat-free milk or soy milk at work to eat when you arrive.
4. Build high-volume meals
Solid foods that have a high fluid content can help you suppress hunger. “When we eat foods with a high water content like fruits and vegetables, versus low water-content foods like crackers and pretzels, we get bigger portions for less calories,” says Barbara Rolls, PhD, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan and a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University. Bottom line: You consume more food but cut calories at the same time. Rolls found a similar effect in foods with a lot of air. In one study, people ate 21% fewer calories of an air-puffed cheese snack, compared with a denser one.
5. Munch fiber all day long
Fiber can help you feel full faster and for longer. Because the body processes a fiber-rich meal more slowly, it may help you stay satisfied long after eating. Fiber-packed foods are also higher in volume, which means they can fill you up so you eat fewer calories. One review published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association linked a high intake of cereal fiber with lower body mass index and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
To slim down: Aim to get at least 25 g fiber a day with these tips. Include produce such as apples and carrots—naturally high in fiber—in each meal and snack. Try replacing some or all of your regular bread, pasta, and rice with whole grain versions.
6. Always include protein
When researchers at Purdue University asked 46 dieting women to eat either 30% or 18% of their calories from protein, the high-protein eaters felt more satisfied and less hungry. Plus, over the course of 12 weeks, the women preserved more lean body mass, which includes calorie-burning muscle.
To slim down: Have a serving of lean protein such as egg whites, chunk light tuna, or skinless chicken at each meal. A serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand—not including your fingers. Another protein option is incorporating beans into your meals. Black beans, chickpeas, and edamame (whole soybeans) are low in fat, high in fiber, and packed with protein.