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Satisfying the Hunger Monster

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We've all been there. No more than an hour after you've eaten and you're already famished. Or you start looking at the clock around 10am, wondering if it's lunch time. Or you get home from work and think you might actually pass out from hunger before you can get leftovers reheated.

What happens in those moments? Usually, one of two things. You sit and think obsessively about food, wondering how your life got so bad that you would have to be deprived of all that is good and right in the world (we can get melodramatic in these moments!). Or, you choose to have a snack - or two or three - to quiet down the rumbling in your stomach. Neither option sounds particularly healthy to me, or particularly satisfying. Luckily, there's more to the story.

For those of you looking to lose weight this year, you might be smack in the midst of those feelings of deprivation, wondering how you can keep this up long enough to see results. Let's talk about how to keep your diet both conducive to weight-loss and feeling satisfied.

1. Water

Often, what we perceive as hunger is really thirst. So drink up! Try a glass of water or herbal tea before you reach for a snack. Don't be swayed by the fact that you're not regularly sweating in January. In fact, in cold or dry climates, winter can be just as dehydrating as those sweltering summer months. In addition to fulfilling your thirst, the fluid in your stomach can trick your brain into thinking you've eaten. It's not the same as eating a full meal, but it might cause you to pause a little :)

In addition to drinking your water, consider eating your water. What? Many fruits and vegetables have a very high water content, which is part of what makes them filling. Think about the difference between a small handful of raisins and a cup of grapes. It might be the same amount of calories, but those grapes will be more satisfying because they have more water and volume.

Used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Fiber, Fiber, Fiber

One of the best things you can do to help you feel full is to load up on fiber. Often you'll hear about two kinds fiber - soluble and insoluble - and their differing health benefits. The good news is that most foods with fiber have a combination of the two, so you don't have to stress too much about which is which in this conversation. Fiber slows down digestion, meaning that food stays in your stomach longer, which discourages you from eating too much.

Where can you find fiber? Pretty much any fruit or vegetable, along with beans, seeds and whole grains. Just be careful when it comes to increasing your fiber. You don't want to go from zero to 60 on this one - it can cause constipation and unwanted gas. To prevent those painful side effects, consider adding a few grams each day (for reference, a small apple has 4 grams) and make sure to up your fluid intake with it.

3. Fat and Protein

One of the most common mistakes that dieters make is that they are looking so carefully at calories that they cut out fat - to their detriment. Veggies are good for you, but on their own they don't have much "holding power" for your appetite. Every time you eat, make sure that you have a few grams of protein and a few grams of fat. Both of these nutrients will work to slow down digestion and make you feel more satisfied.

Protein in a meal helps you know that it's time to stop eating - that sign that you are actually full or satisfied by what you are. And fat in a meal helps prevent you from starting to eat again. It tells you that what you had will hold you over. The extreme example? After an especially fatty meal your food is sitting like a rock in your stomach. The good example? Half an apple with a little peanut or almond butter will keep you much happier than 2 apples. 

4. Small Indulgences

This might sound counterproductive. Indulge? Yes, but do it intentionally and in moderation. Don't wait until your will power is totally beat down and you're so hungry that you eat indiscriminately. Don't wait until you've been "so good" for months and then cave in and throw out your diet completely by a trip to a buffet, a party for the Big Game, or one dinner out.

Instead, work those indulgences into your daily routine. Approach this with an 85/15 perspective. 85% of your calories are good, nutrient-rich calories that are keeping you on track. That other 15%? Whatever you want.

For instance, if you are eating about 1500 calories each day, that gives you 225 calories for indulgence. Just because a slice of 10-layer chocolate cake isn't on your diet doesn't mean that you can't have any. And that rich French cheese? Just make sure it's something that you truly want - no substitutes or "fake" versions of what you want. Have your portion, then walk away from the rest of it. By allowing yourself these tastes, you reduce the feelings of deprivation, which makes what you are eating much more satisfying, and makes you more likely to stick to your plan.

5. Big Bold Flavor

Add low-calorie flavor by incorporating herbs and spices, vinegars and mustards to your dishes. Think about the difference between a small bowl of plain oatmeal versus oatmeal with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves sprinkled on. Or a plain grilled chicken breast versus chicken breast with garlic and rosemary. Then think outside of your normal routine - add cayenne, curry, turmeric, thinly sliced ginger, smoked paprika, etc. Healthy does not have to equal boring!

Want More? A few recipes and snack ideas from the internet :)