For those of us who have ever dieted unsuccessfully, chances are hunger was our downfall. We can go one week, maybe two, maybe even 52, always feeling like we want to eat more (for some women, fitting into a smaller dress size is worth putting up with a chronically empty stomach). But eventually the need to experience more — not less — pleasure in our lives overwhelms us, causing us to go for a second helping or order the orange-flavored creme brulee.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could lose weight without having to feel hungry? Actually, now you can. In the last few years, cutting-edge nutritional researchers have discovered that there are certain low-calorie foods that make you feel full. These especially satiating items allow you to eat fewer calories in a meal without feeling deprived — and without getting the urge to nosh a couple of hours later.
Taking advantage of this new research calls for a different, more patient type of diet strategy. This is not a way to lose five pounds before Saturday night’s cocktail party. But if you add highly satiating foods into your daily menu, you can probably drop at least 300 calories a day. Which means you could lose one-half to one pound a week — without suffering. In two months, you could fall one dress size; in four, two sizes. Even better, you’re far less likely to backslide, since you won’t feel deprived all day.
A nice side effect is that this fill-you-up diet is just the kind that also helps stave off cancer, heart disease, and digestive illnesses. So, not only will you look slimmer, but you’ll be around for a long time to admire your reflection in a full-length mirror. What better way, then, to start the new year than by learning about the foods that do it for you.
1. High-volume foods
The most filling foods are those with a lot of heft — that is, a high volume or weight per calorie. And the best of these are plant-based items like fruits, veggies, and cereals. (While meat and other animal-derived foods can also be high-volume, unless they’re also very low fat, you’ll cancel out the benefit.) Plant-based foods can also take up a lot of space on your plate, making you think that you’re getting a lot of nourishment. “Compare a three-part vegetarian meal (like a bean chili over rice and a green salad) with a regular spa meal of fish, vegetables, and a starch of the same calories,” suggests Marilyn Majchrzak, food development manager for the two Canyon Ranch spas (in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Tuscon, Arizona). “In most cases the vegetarian meal is double the size.” Which may be the trick behind the lots-of-food-for-the-calorie items: “We learn that a certain volume of food makes us feel full,” says Richard Mattes, Ph.D., professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University.
Some researchers believe that this fill-you-up mechanism applies to liquid versions of all types of foods, because fluids generally are less calorie dense than solids. “Soups, stews, and similar foods will be much more satiating than, say, a chocolate bar,” says Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the program in human nutrition at the University of Michigan. In laboratory studies, the food most successful at reducing subsequent calorie intake — the real magic food — has been tomato soup. Eaten before dinner, say, it cuts down the amount you’ll eat at the meal, according to research by Theresa Spiegel, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Surprisingly, other first courses (crackers and cheese, melon) don’t reduce meal consumption at all, research shows.
3. High-fiber foods
Independent of weight and volume, foods that are packed with fiber — mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes — also cut down on your appetite, according to an index of satiety developed in 1995 at the University of Sydney in Australia. “Plants count on fiber for their shape. That same structure bulks up the contents of your intestine, slows down the emptying of food from your stomach, and keeps you feeling full,” explains Helenbeth Reiss Reynolds, a nutrition consultant in Plymouth, Minnesota.
Another reason high-fiber foods are satisfying is that they tend to have more texture than their low-fiber counterparts. Compare brown rice to white, whole-grain bread to white, and baked potatoes with the skin on to boiled new potatoes without their jackets. “Their extra crunch provides chewing satisfaction,” says Majchrzak. You should be getting in the ballpark of 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, says Reynolds. (If you find totaling up grams of fiber too tiresome, add an apple, an orange, and one cup of lentils a day to what you’re already eating, and you should be okay.)
4. Spicy food
How can you make fiber-rich food more appealing? One strategy is to add spices. Research shows that they increase the palatability of food. A topping of salsa, which has only about five calories a tablespoon, for instance, can make a baked potato seem more interesting; curry makes lentils less bland; and cinnamon sprinkled on apple slices gives you the sense of eating a sweet dessert. The same principle holds for low-calorie sauces, such as broth and a few drops of liqueur. But try these tricks, only on foods that are low-fat and low-calorie to begin with: Anything that increases palatability also makes you want to eat more.
5. Colorful food
Warm colors like reds, oranges, and pinks are well known to increase the appeal of food, according to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. By opting for red peppers over green ones, butternut squash over zucchini, and pink grapefruit over the standard kind, you can make a low-cal meal seem less “diety.” Cool colors such as green or blue, however, have never been shown to dull the urge to eat. Nor does temperature make a difference: One study on that question found that heated and chilled foods are equally satisfying.
6. Comforting food
Standard diet fare tends to send most of us to the nearest deli for a quart of Rocky Road. “If you put out carrot sticks and a scoop of cottage cheese, there’s a perception that it’s not a lot of food,” says Majchrzak. A more satisfying tack is to eat reduced-fat versions of traditional foods, such as turkey frankfurters or mashed potatoes made with low-fat buttermilk instead of milk and butter. These took-alikes, suggests Majchrzak, fulfill the conventional notions of an adequate meal and keep people from getting hungry.
Also, substitutions typically provide meals that are proportionately higher in protein and lower in fat than their traditional counterparts. Since fat calories take longer to register than either protein or carb calories, this is a combo that, in terms of making you feel full, is just what the nutritionist ordered.
A fill-you-up strategy calls for substituting lower-calorie, higher-satiating foods into your meals so that you can drop at least 300 calories a day.
Breakfast: Replace a buttered English muffin (233 calories) with toasted whole-wheat bread topped with reduced-sugar jelly (110 calories), suggests nutritionist Reynolds. You’ll cut 123 calories and add one gram of fiber, an indication that the meal will be more filling.
Lunch: A midday meal that centers around one cup of baked beans provides about 300 calories, versus 494 calories for two small pieces of batter-dipped chicken. You get a net savings of 194 calories; the fiber content of the meal also jumps by a whopping 14 grams.
Dinner. Start with a cup of Manhattan (tomato-based) clam chowder (78 calories) instead of a lettuce salad with blue-cheese dressing (180 calories), gaining a gram and a half of fiber. Then opt for broiled cod instead of a porterhouse steak (194 calories versus 520, for a six-ounce serving). The new meal has 428 fewer calories than the original one.
And however you arrange your meals, make sure they provide a happy ending. “A lot of people don’t feel a meal is over until they eat something sweet; that sweetness cues the end of the meal,” says Majchrzak. With a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, you won’t start wondering where your next meal is coming from — until the clock says it’s time for another.
8 FOODS EVERY DIETER SHOULD LOVE
* TOMATO SOUP: 1 cup has 100 calories; 2 grams fiber. In lab studies, this was the most satiating food.
* AIR-POPPED POPCORN (NO BUTTER): 1 cup has 30 calories; 1 gram fiber. A lot of heft.
* DILL PICKLE: One 2-ounce pickle has 12 calories; 1 gram fiber. High weight for the calories.
* BAKED BEANS: 1/2 cup has 150 calories; 7 grams fiber. A fiber star.
*BAKED POTATO, WITH SKIN (NO BUTTER): One medium-size has 200 calories; 4 grams fiber. Potatoes ranked at the top of a recent satiety index.
*WHITEFISH: A 6-ounce serving has 194 calories. Packed with stomach-satisfying protein.
* PINK GRAPEFRUIT: One-half a fruit has 38 calories; 2 grams of fiber. The warm color makes the fruit particularly appealing.
* FROZEN YOGURT: 1/2 cup vanilla has 110 calories; 0 grams fiber. A satisfying way to signal meal’s end.
Eating foods that give a sensation of fullness, helps the dieter cut down on amount. Plant-based foods take up a lot of space on a plate, and starting with a bowl of tomato soup can also cut down on desire for more food. Other quick fillers include beans, dill pickle, baked potato, and whitefish.