Successful weight loss takes programming, not willpower.
Important note: I revamped this article in July 2022. You can read the new and improved version here.
“How can I stay full on my diet?”
In this article, I am going to do a deep dive into this topic.
First of all, a hard pill to swallow: Tips can help make you feel full for longer, but they will not completely stop the hunger.
The thing is, being hungry is your body’s natural response to a caloric deficit. When there isn’t enough energy coming in, the body triggers the release of hunger hormones, which in turn generate a desire for food.
Your body is trying to keep you alive. This simply happens to be very inconvenient when you are trying to stick to a fat loss diet.
So being hungry is an expected consequence of dieting, not the end of the world.
If you understand that some hunger is part of the process and that food will always be there, dealing with it mentally can become much easier.
That said, there are indeed food choices we can make and behaviours we can adapt in order to reduce the discomfort of an empty belly. Let’s get into them.
1. Aim for low energy density options.
The term “energy density” refers to the calories contained in a certain amount of food.
You can work this out by dividing the number of calories in a food item by the weight of the serving in grams.
When you compare two isocaloric (same caloric content) portions of different foods, the portion with the lower energy density will be bigger.
Eating bigger portions tends to make most people happier, especially when they are dieting, but more food also has an extra benefit.
Feeling full after eating occurs in response to two processes:
Prioritising low energy density foods means you can take up more space in your stomach with fewer calories.
For example, let’s say you allocated 400 calories to a certain meal. With a 400-calorie option that fills up three quarters of your stomach, you will feel fuller than with another option that only fills up half of it, even though the calories are the same.
For example, a small to medium burger from a fast food chain ranges from 300 to 500 calories. You need 375gr (0.8lbs) to 625gr (1.3lbs) of white potatoes to consume the same amount of calories.
Which choice is more likely to keep you fuller for longer?
Without turning your meal planning process into an intimidating mathematical equation, you can recognise foods that are low in energy density from the following characteristics:
Water has no calories, so, if a food is 60% water, only 40% of it will contain calories.
Fibre yields 2 to 3 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9 calories per gram, and carbohydrates and protein around 4 calories per gram.
In other words, fibre contains three times fewer calories than fat and almost half the calories in carbohydrates and protein.
So, if a greater proportion of a certain food item comes from fibre and a smaller proportion from other macronutrients, this food will likely have fewer calories than a high-fat, high-carb, low-fibre option, such as most processed and ultra-processed meals.
2. Protein and fibre are your best friends.
Foods that are solely or primarily made of complete protein tend to be more filling because protein seems to be the most satiating of the three macronutrients.
So stock up on chicken breast, steak, fish, eggs and egg whites, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and other low-fat, high-protein dairy products.
High-fibre food sources tend to be low in energy density, therefore their satiating superpowers come from both the fibre content and the energy density. Shazam!
So don’t be shy with green vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains.
3. Try some foods from the Food Satiety Index.
This is a list of 38 different foods that the subjects involved in a 1995 study rated from the most satiating to the least satiating.
The results showed the following:
Not all of these might feel as filling to you as they did to the subjects in the study, but they are worth a go to see which ones can be a useful addition to your diet.
4. Plain and samey is better than flavourful and varied.
Tasty food can make you feel hungrier than plain food.
From an evolutionary standpoint, humans have been wired to seek high-calorie foods because the opportunities to feed used to be few and far between. And high-calorie foods, like burgers and doughnuts, tend to be more flavourful than lower-calorie options, like chicken and rice.
As a result, the more flavourful your meals are, the more you might feel you want to eat.
Moreover, if you aren’t too excited about your food, it’s easier not to think about it outside of your meal times, thus reducing temptations and cravings.
Keeping your food choices similar day to day can help with this, too.
Picking two to three sources of protein, carbs, and dietary fat will limit the amount of food choices you have to make, which can reduce the number of times you have to battle the urge to go off plan, which in turn can decrease the mental fatigue of completing the diet. You get three wins compounded into a single action.
To avoid complete boredom and ensure a diverse intake of vitamins and minerals, you can go wild with fruit and vegetables.
5. Create lower-calorie versions of meals you already have.
Overhauling your eating routine because you are going on a diet adds an unnecessary layer of stress to a fat loss phase.
Instead, try to think of ways to make your current meals more “fat loss friendly”.
These are some easy replacements to try:
If these swaps sound easy, it’s because they are meant to be.
When achieving fat loss becomes too hard, it’s just not going to happen.
1. Eat slowly.
Our eating speed has been associated with the amount of food consumed in one sitting. In particular, eating too fast has been linked to a higher bodyweight.
On the other hand, slowing down can help you enjoy your meal more and feel more satiated with a smaller portion.
Some of my go-to strategies to eat more slowly include:
2. Avoid alcohol and limit liquid calories.
Drinking your calories takes five seconds and provides very little in the way of fullness.
Alcohol, in particular, can be detrimental not only to your general health, but also to your diet. A pint of beer has over 200 calories and a small shot of vodka around 100.
Multiply that by the number of pints and shots you have on your average night out and you can easily “spend” most or all of your daily caloric budget on alcoholic beverages, which have zero nutritive value.
So, especially in a fat loss phase, reducing your alcohol consumption is a winning move.
If you have a favourite non-alcoholic, calorie-containing drink, like Coke or Fanta, keep it in your fat loss plan, but consume moderate portions.
3. Start with fruit or vegetables.
In a recent study from 2019, the researchers found that eating an apple before a meal has the potential to enhance satiety in young, healthy male-bodied subjects.
Now let’s say you eat a big ass salad as an appetizer.
It would take up a lot of space in your stomach at the very beginning of the meal and only provide 100 to 200 calories of pure nutritional goodness, so you might end up feeling satiated even though your portions are reduced to achieve a caloric deficit.
4. Eat at regular times.
Regardless of meal frequency, meal regularity can help you curb your hunger.
When you have a similar eating pattern every day, your body adapts by making you hungry around that time because it learns to expect to be fed.
For this reason, keeping to a regular schedule can prevent you from experiencing unwanted hunger at random times throughout the day.
5. Be careful with keeping high-calorie foods around.
“If I have a snack in my cupboard, I will eat it.”
Then don’t buy it.
This is a generic, black and white statement. Let’s consider how it can be customised to fit different individuals.
Some people can have a small portion of their favourite snacks every once in a while and manage to curb their food intake in other ways to adhere to their caloric deficit.
Others might not be able to limit themselves to one bite and could end up going overboard every time they have one of these foods.
It’s important to be honest with yourself and decide what’s best for you: Is it to reduce portions or to avoid the snack altogether?
Remember that a fat loss diet is a short-term fitness endeavour. It doesn’t mean you can never have these foods again. But, if postponing their consumption until the end of the diet will result in faster progress, then it might be the most successful approach for you.
Once the dieting phase is over, you can gradually re-introduce them into your meals.
Think, “I’m going to have this later” instead of, “I’m not going to have this at all ever again.”
6. Get an adequate amount of sleep.
We could all benefit from sleeping a little better, but this becomes particularly important when you are on a diet.
A lack of sleep can make you feel hangry (angry and hungry) and demotivated to train, move, and follow your eating plan. It can also impair your ability to focus and make decisions.
We make more than two hundred food-related decisions every day. What’s the chance you are going to make even tendiet-appropriate decisions if you are a running low on mental energy?
An average person needs seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. If you train regularly, you might need eight to ten.
Don’t underestimate the impact of a good night’s sleep on your fat loss attempts.
Dieting is never going to be effortless, but it also doesn’t have to suck socks.
If you have any tips I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment!
An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
Want to work with me? Check out my services!