Many people (quite rightly) find dieting difficult because of hunger. Hunger is the enemy of the dieter. If it wasn’t for hunger we could all just choose to eat a little less food and carry on as normal. Unfortunately, our bodies fight back and increase our hunger levels as we drop our energy intake.
So the question is, how can we diet in such a way that minimises hunger yet maximises the fat loss result?
First of all, let’s have a look at the factors that cause us to over-eat in the first place.
What is abundantly clear is that obesity is becoming a huge (pardon the pun) problem, throughout much of the world. Rates of obesity have tripled since 1975. Clearly, the increase in obesity can be attributed to many complex factors. However, the main driver of obesity is the overconsumption of calories. We are simply eating too many calories for our needs.
So what is causing us to eat so many calories? Here are a few key factors: -
Energy density: How many calories per gram a food contains. For example, an apple has a relatively low energy density, with a medium sized, 150g apple containing approximately 80 calories. This means it has an energy density of 0.53. On the other hand, 7 peanut cups, also 150g, contain approximately 735 calories, meaning they have an energy density of 5 calories per gram. Put simply, the more energy dense the food is, the more calories we consume.
Palatability: Relates to how much pleasure/reward we get from the food we eat. Put simply, the more rewarding the food is, the more we want to eat it! There is a strong link between energy density and palatability, as highly energy dense food are generally the most palatable and vice versa. The introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the 1970’s is an example of how food manufacturers have made food more palatable at a very low cost.
Food Variety: We tend to eat more food when there is a large variety of food in a meal. This relates to what is known as ‘sensory specific fullness’: fullness only relates to foods with similar properties to those you just ate. For example, you have just eaten a big plate of chicken and brown rice. It is unlikely you would eat any more if you were offered any. However, after dinner you get offered some ice cream and you immediately grab some. The ice cream is a completely different taste and texture to the chicken and rice and is therefore far more appealing. This explains why we tend to eat much more in buffet situations.
Sleep: A lack of sleep may be causing us to eat more due to the interactions with appetite related hormones. A study by Brondel et al (2010), for example, showed that partial sleep deprivation in healthy men caused them to eat 559 calories more in the day after sleep restriction.
So now that we have a clearer picture on why we may be over-consuming calories, how might we construct a diet that minimises hunger?
Level 1: Remove Liquid Calories: Liquid calories may be in your diet from sodas, alcohol, coffee, smoothies, juices etc. The average glass of red wine contains approximately 125 calories. So, if you drink 5 glasses per week you would be reducing your calorie intake by 625 calories. However, the thing with liquid calories is that the body does not sense the calories you consume from liquid as well as it does for food. As a result we do not get very full when consuming liquid calories. So really it is a double-whammy. Not only do you get the calories from the drink, you do not get the associated feelings of fullness, meaning the chances of over-consuming calories is far more likely than if you obtained those same calories from whole foods.
Level 2: Increase Protein Intake: In studies, increasing protein intake spontaneously reduces calorie intake. Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, meaning it does the best job at keeping us feeling full. My recommendation is to ensure you have a serving of protein with every meal that you eat, and that your try and eat a minimum of 1.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight (but feel free to eat more than this). This means a 90kg person should aim to consume a minimum of 162g of protein throughout the day. Good sources of protein include, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, tofu, beans and legumes.
Level 3: Increase Fibre Intake: Like protein, fibrous foods do a great job of keeping us feeling full. Specifically, viscous fibres, such as guar gum, pectin, and beta-glucans help to reduce appetite. These can be found in fruits, vegetables, oats, barley and legumes.
Level 4: Minimise Food Variety: Why do we tend to eat more at buffets? One of the main reasons is the variety of tastes, textures and foods on offer. There is a phenomenon known as ‘sensory specific satiety’ which means that fullness only tends to apply to foods with similar properties to the ones we just ate. This is why we can eat a massive savour meal, and still find room for some sweet dessert. So minimising the amount of variety in any one meal can help reduce the amount of calories you consume.
Level 5: Alter your Food Environment:
“We live in a society where most of the food is at a level of reward/palatability that our species has never encountered before. We're surrounded by it, and everywhere we turn, someone is jockeying for our attention, trying to get us to purchase their food. It is already quite clear that the modern food environment has changed, and promotes increased energy intake and sedentary behaviour” (Zheng et al, 2009).
The environment that surrounds us has large implications over our food choices and overall energy intake. We have access to any type of food and it is no more than a couple of clicks away thanks to things like ‘Uber Eats’ and ‘Deliveroo’. We are certainly hunter gatherers no more! Brian Wansink has called this our ‘food radius’. This relates to the 5-10km radius from where we live where we tend to buy and eat our food. The average American buys or eats 80% of their food within a 5 mile radius of where they live. On the very small scale, it relates to the food we keep in our cupboards and fridges. Beyond this, our social environment also plays a role. Studies have shown that we eat more calories at weekends and when dining in groups. At home try to make tempting food invisible and inconvenient: When food is out of sight, it is out of mind. Studies have shown over and over that the most visible foods are the one’s you eat first and eat most. So if you have to keep tempting food around, try to ensure it is out of sight and difficult to access.
The diagram below shows how you might want to compose a diet for weight loss.
With this in mind you can start to compose your own grocery list, based off the points discussed above and your own personal preferences.
As you can see, dieting in this manner is about choosing foods you enjoy eating, and ensuring that the bulk of your food selections comply with the factors above, namely that they are: -
Not overly energy dense
Aren’t highly rewarding
That the overall diet is high in protein and fibre
There isn’t a huge amount of variety
So, start to track your current food intake and take a look at how it might compare. Then decide what you might be able to swap out. For example, you could swap bread (relatively high energy density) for potato. Or you could swap fried chicken (which for many is highly palatable) for plain chicken breast (low energy density, low palatability). Slowly make these changes and you will automatically reduce your calorie intake without having to count them.
Dieting in this manner will ensure that you can consume a large quantity of food, but not necessarily a large amount of calories, meaning the chances of you becoming extremely hungry are reduced. This is a huge bonus, as hunger is perhaps one of the biggest reasons people cannot stick to a diet. So give this a try and see how it improves your long-term weight loss success.