7 ways to feel full not fat

As scientists unlock the secrets behind what makes us hungry and what keeps us feeling full, the good news is that you no longer need to starve yourself to lose weight

479685871Calories in, calories out is a simple enough equation. We know it’s the basic tenet standing between us and our ideal weight. So why can so few of us stick to it? Because we get hungry. Until now we’ve been told a lack of willpower is why we don’t eat the right foods, but more and more research says there’s more to it, such as keeping hunger and stress hormones at bay and blood sugar balanced – all things you can control. Here’s how.

1 Eat fat

“Most people hold back on dressings in an attempt to cut fat from their diets but that’s misguided,” says Charlotte Watts, nutrition lecturer and founder of website positivelyslim.com. [http://positivelyslim.com/] “Oil and fat is not only key in helping the body register satiety or fullness in the first place, so you feel satisfied sooner, it’s also key to helping us absorb nutrients from what we do eat.” If we don’t eat enough ‘good’ fat, we don’t produce enough oestrogen and progesterone – key mood hormones. Plus, says Charlotte, we can’t absorb nutrients such as vitamins A and E.

And the latest research has focused on Medium-Chain Triglycerides or MCTs, the latest ‘good fat’ on the block. Studies show that diets rich in MCTs led to increased energy levels and more calorie burn as well as decrease in calorie consumption.

Find MCTs in organic coconut oil – great for sautéing in stir-fries and curries as it has a high melting point and doesn’t turn rancid when heated like some other oils.

2 Eat protein

Though it sounds like an obscure member of the rodent family, ghrelin (pronounced GRE-lin), the hormone that makes us hungry, drops when we’re full and rises when we’re not. So what keeps it at bay? Protein. In fact, trials published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found people who ate a high protein breakfast kept their ghrelin levels at bay longer than those that ate just carbs. No time for a ham and mushroom omelette? Charlotte Watts suggests simply adding some nuts to your muesli or whey protein to a smoothie.

3 Postpone lunch

The other handy thing we now know about the hunger hormone ghrelin is that it responds to habit. If you eat lunch every day at midday, your ghrelin levels automatically rise. So if that noon lunch leaves you famished by 4pm, try re-scheduling it for an hour later. The first day will be difficult, but within three days your ghrelin levels will adjust and will rise at 1pm – the time you’re actually eating. In theory then, you should also be able to dodge the 4pm snack time! If that doesn’t happen, top hunger-abating snacks include Brazil nuts, almonds or oatcakes and hummus.

4 Bulk up

Wholegrain or ‘bulky’ foods high in fibre – lentils, pulses, wholemeal pasta and grains – not only keep your blood sugar level, they can also decrease levels of hunger. They fight hormones in your system, says Vivienne Parry in The Truth About Hormones (Atlantic, £9.99), “keeping you satisfied longer without extra calories.”

5 Breathe away pangs

Ever wondered why hunger hits suddenly after a few hours’ stressful, concentrated work, even if you’ve been sat down for hours? “Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin really eat up B vitamins and make you crave more food, even if you’re not physically hungry,” says Charlotte who is also a yoga teacher.

Ultimately, this also creates resistance to leptin (the fat-burning hormone). Try this stress-reducing exercise: sit or lie down and as you inhale through your nose deeply, count to five. Hold the breath in your belly for another count of five and then release through your mouth for another count of five. Try and practise this for five minutes a few times a day and especially when a craving strikes. It’ll help you realise whether you’re really hungry or just attempting to distract yourself from a stressful task. If you still fancy eating after the breathing exercise it’s probably bona fide hunger.

6 Rediscover potatoes

Researchers at the University of Sydney studied everyday foods and came up with a ‘Satiety Index’ that determined how full these foods make us feel. Guess what came top of the class? Boiled potatoes! But beware – potatoes in different forms, such as chips and crisps, were way down the list. What’s more, potatoes are high in a type of ‘natural resistant starch’ that acts like fibre in our systems. And weirdly, chilling potatoes doubles their filling power.

Try this low-fat Greek-style potato salad, without the mayo: boil, peel and slice potatoes (new potatoes are lowest on the GI scale) and toss them in freshly chopped shallots, oregano, cracked black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and lashings of lemon juice and chill overnight.

7 Wait a minute… or 20

Possibly the simplest, but undoubtedly most effective, hunger-attacking fact is that it takes 15-20 minutes for the food you eat to reach the end of the intestine where all those satiety hormones we’ve been discussing can be released. So slow down your eating pace and if you think you want second helpings, just hold off a bit. Hormones and food choices aside, when it comes to feeling full not fat, perhaps the best advice is this – you can afford to wait.

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