Are you thinking about the next time you’ll eat within minutes of finishing a meal? Or maybe even before you’re done? Here’s how to manipulate your body and brain into believing it’s all set and not in need of more fuel.
Between cramming in breakfast from the driver’s seat and chowing down on lunch in your office chair, it’s no surprise we’re hungrier than ever and overeating when we finally do sit down for a proper meal. Try these no-fail expert strategies to outsmart your cravings—and trick yourself into feeling full. And for more expert tips on how you can reach your better-body goals, find out the 25 Reasons You’re Gaining Weight (Other Than Your Diet)!
Pre-game Your Meal with an Apple
Crisp, juicy, and low-calorie—you really can’t go wrong with a delicious, organic apple. “Research shows [eating an apple before a meal] will decrease caloric intake during that meal. This also works with other fruit, a soup that’s low-calorie and high-vegetable, or a salad with a low calorie and oil-free dressing,” explains Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. For healthy eating meal inspiration that’s also crazy easy, try these 20 Healthy, Five-Ingredient Dinners!
Eat Some Nuts
“The perfect combination of fiber, protein, and fat in nuts makes you feel full and satisfied and you end up eating fewer calories throughout the day,” comments celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN. “Eat a handful mid-afternoon. Almonds are great but if you love cashews or peanuts, go for it!” On top of eating nuts as a snack, you can also add them to your carb-centric salads for a satiating boost of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
Sorry, folks, but pretzels and chips don’t count. “Crunchy vegetables like carrots and cabbage take a while to chew. In addition, they carry water, making them a low-calorie choice,” says Lisa Hayim, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. “When we chew, we allow more time for our brain to signal our bodies that food is coming in. Once this process begins, we are closer to reaching our ‘full’ point. Eating foods that take longer to chew ensures that we are more aware of our satiety cues.”
Drink Plenty of Calorie-free Fluids Between Meals
Subtle thirst can trick your body into thinking you’re hungry when all you need is liquid, says Hever. “Aim to drink half your body weight’s pounds in ounces of water every day,” says Hever. “For example, a 150-pound person should consume at least 75 ounces of water a day plus more for exercise and hot weather.” Another good bet is clear tea like green, black, white, oolong, or herbal, all of which provide disease-fighting phytonutrients with next to no calories. “Is it any wonder that some test panelists lost as much as 10 pounds in a week?” asks Kelly Choi, author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. “Tea is the drink that skinny people swear by!”
Stop Using Huge Plates
When it comes to eating healthy and staying on track with weight loss goals, how your food is presented to your eye can play a huge role. “We portion the amount of food we eat based on the size of the plate. Therefore, naturally, a smaller plate will lead to a smaller amount of food,” says Hayim. “When the plate is clear, we can then re-evaluate our hunger levels mindfully before deciding if we need to dive in for seconds.”
Make Everything Smaller
While you’re reassessing if your cupboard needs more small, salad-sized plates, look elsewhere, too. “Use small utensils and drink calorie-containing beverages in smaller cups. This gives the feeling that you’re consuming more than you actually are,” says Hever.
Focus on Fiber
“Fiber plus water equals bulk,” says Hever. “Bulk present in your stomach signals to the brain that you’re full. Thus, you can eat much more fiber-rich food with fewer calories overall. Fiber is found exclusively in plants: all vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices are full of satiating fiber.”
An easy way to eat more fiber is to add real berries or fruit on your PB&J instead of fiber-devoid jelly. For plenty of fiber-rich food options, check out these 30 Foods with More Fiber Than an Apple!
Walk Around the Block
It’d be nice to give your computer monitor a break and we all know that fresh air works wonders for the mind! “Go for a quick walk or bout of exercise. This will pull blood flow into the muscles and can ward off hunger for a while,” suggests Hever.
Buy Pre-cut Fruits and Veggies
Sometimes, when the idea of cooking feels like too much work, we’re primed to just go for a junk food fix. Make the healthy choice the easiest choice: “I buy ready-to-eat washed, cut vegetable and fruit platters,” shares DeFazio. “I keep them the fridge and my son and I snack on raw veggies and fresh fruit while making dinner.”
Have a Glass of Water Before Every Meal
“Oftentimes, we are actually thirsty when we think we need water,” says Hayim. “Also, when we drink water, our stomach expands. We feel this happening and it makes us less likely to eat as much.” You can infuse your water with things like a squeeze of lemon if you need a bit of a taste; any one of these detox waters is a great option.
Start with a Lettuce Salad
Starting with a light appetizer can help decrease your overall feelings of hunger, so long as it isn’t something like bread (which can just make you hungrier. “Oftentimes when we arrive at the table, we order the biggest and best thing,” cautions Hayim. “Before doing so, I urge you to try having a green salad and using it to let your blood sugar levels even out. Once level, you are less likely to overeat.” Be sure to avoid these 25 Foods That Make You Hungrier as you’re thinking about what to nosh on at home or what to order as an app.
Take This Hunger Test
Nutritionists swear by it: “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple or celery, you’re not really hungry. True hunger makes all good choices sound delectable. Try the ‘apple’ test before deciding whether or not to eat,” advises Hever. It might give you just the boost of willpower you need to recognize that you’re fuller than you think.
Eat Your Protein First
“Some studies show that energy from protein is more satiating than that that comes from carbohydrate or fat,” comments Hayim. “Try eating your chicken or fish before touching the carbohydrates on your plate!” If you’re the cook, why not opt for one of these 20 Protein-Packed Vegetarian Meals?
Cut Your Food
Feeling full isn’t only about how you feel—it can be about what you see, too. Visual cues are tied to our appetite, which is why it might help to cut your food into bite-sized pieces all at once before you dig in. Arizona State University researchers found that when a food is cut into multiple, bite-sized pieces, it perceptually looks like more food because it takes up space. As a result, the researchers found that this visual clue can actually elicit greater satiation than the same portion presented as a single, large piece.
“It will help tell your brain when to start and stop eating,” he says.
When in Doubt, Stick to the ‘SSFV’ Rule
SSFV stands for “soup, salad, fruit, and vegetables.” The rule: Eat one of these before the start of any meal or at the end of it, if you think you’re still hungry. “The high water content will help fill you,” says DeFazio. These kinds of foods are frequently on lists like The 25 Best Foods for Instant Detox, so this seems like a rule to live by!
Drink a Cup of Tea Before a Meal
“The warm tea will pacify you since you have to drink it slowly, and it will take the edge off hunger as it fills your stomach,” offer The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “Plus, it contains the amino acid, theanine, which brings on a mental calmness, yet alertness so that you can feel more rational and in control around food.” Check out 23 Amazing Ways to Melt Fat with Tea!
Eat More Beans
Easy to prep and loaded with nutrients, you really have no excuse not to add them to your next meal. “Beans are a fabulous source of plant-based protein as well as fiber which stabilize your blood sugar to help you stay full and satisfied,” says Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh, a leading healthy meal delivery kit company available nationwide.
Instead of reaching for pico de gallo or guacamole every time you crave some tortilla chips, switch it up and grab a bean-based salsa instead!
Keep Your Meal Simple
Ever hear the expression “KISS?” It stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and it works when applied to your weight-loss regime, too. “Rather than having a smorgasbord of food to choose from at mealtime, keep your meals simple with just one or two items. Seeing more food and delicious options can often trigger emotional hunger and you’ll feel satisfied and full sooner with just one item,” advise The Nutrition Twins.
One of our favorite KISS meals is a sheet pan meal. Simple toss your protein of choice—chicken, pork, or sausage—onto a sheet pan with a medley of vegetables, pop it in the oven, and roast until cooked!
Load Up on Whole Grains
“Whole grains are minimally processed (meaning they haven’t been stripped of the bran and germ from each kernel) and therefore retain all the beneficial nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals,” says Lewis. And worth noting: “It has been found that eating less of the refined grains actually helps lower the risk of many chronic diseases and helps with weight management by keeping you full and curbing cravings.” Some good places to start include millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, and bulgur. Pro-tip: “When shopping, it’s important to remember that a food is only considered a “whole grain” if the first ingredient on the packaging says, ‘whole grain,'” adds Lewis. We suggest grabbing a package of high-quality rolled oats and whipping up some of these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss!
Slip a Spoonful of Chia Seeds into Your Meal
It will barely alter the taste of your smoothie, vinaigrette, or oatmeal, but it can seriously amp up a meal’s health benefits. “These nutrient-packed seeds contain omega-3 fats and protein and are also high in fiber that expands and makes a gel in water. They’ll expand in your stomach—especially when you drink water!—and help you feel fuller,” share The Nutrition Twins.
Start Your Meal with a Broth-based Soup
“Studies show that doing so may help you eat less of your meal because a broth-based soup has a high water concentration, which can help you feel fuller,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. Try low-calorie options like tomato soup or minestrone and look for ones with low-sodium if you aren’t making it from scratch. If you are? Start with these 20 Best Broth-Based Soups for Weight Loss.
Eat a Hot Meal Rather Than Cold Food
Talk about a simple but game-changing tweak! “When you eat hot food, you’re forced to slow down because you’ll burn your mouth if you eat it quickly. When you eat more slowly, you allow time for your brain to get the message that you actually received food,” say The Nutrition Twins. FYI: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal that you’ve refueled.
Based on the same notion that taking longer to eat helps your body feel full, there are other tricks to help you slow down your meal. You can put down your fork between every bite and take time to chew. You can also separate yourself from watching T.V. and actually have a meal with your friends or family! When you stop to chat between bites, you’ll extend the time it takes to finish your plate.
Snack Like a Mindfulness Guru
Or, you know, just more mindfully. “I love to snack on in-shell pistachios since shelling the pistachios helps me snack more slowly—and the shells serve as a visual cue of how much I’ve eaten,” says Gorin. “You may be less likely to nosh on extra servings, too; people who ate in-shell pistachios consumed 41 percent fewer calories than people snacking on the shelled version, shows a preliminary study in Appetite.”
Incorporate More Spice into Your Dishes
Need some cooking inspo? Look no further than some great spicy recipes that fire up your metabolism. “Foods flavored with spices tend to be more tasty and satisfying. When you’re satisfied, you feel more full and content,” say The Nutrition Twins. “And if you choose cayenne, it may help to increase satiety and fullness and make you less likely to overeat; that was the case for the participants in a clinical study published in 2014 in Appetite.”
Keep Your Fruit Visible
Simple, but brilliant idea: “I like to keep a pretty pie tray on my kitchen counter and fill it with my favorite fruits, such as oranges and pears,” says Gorin. “Research shows that keeping fruit within your line of sight may make you more likely to choose it over less healthy choices. Fruit is a large percentage water, which will help to keep you full.”
Load Up on Superfoods
“Most experts define superfoods as natural foods of exceptionally high nutrient-density. While most people think about nutrition in terms of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates, superfoods paint a broader picture that includes other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals,” says Lewis. “For example, did you know that just one cup of chopped kale contains only 33 calories, but provides 354 percent of our daily recommended intake of vitamin A? Or that one cup of chopped red bell peppers contains only 48 calories, but provides 134 percent of our daily recommended vitamin C intake, which is more than oranges?!” Frontload your meal with these kinds of picks and your belly will get fuller quicker!
Switch to a Bowl
Have you noticed the trend of fast food restaurants and fine dining alike offering grain bowls, Buddha bowls, and pretty much every kind of bowl under the sun? “Bowls were clearly having a moment in 2016, and we don’t see the trend going away anytime soon,” says Lewis. “With layers of complex carbs, colorful veggies, healthy fats, proteins, greens, and sauces, dinners served in bowls aren’t just fun to prepare, but they’re downright drool-worthy, Instagrammable, and can trick your mind into feeling more satisfied. To fit more bowls in your diet, don’t miss these 30 Best Healthy Bowl Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner—That Aren’t Soup!
Splash a Little Vinegar on Your Salads
“Vinegar appears to help to keep blood sugar stable, which will prevent energy crashes and the subsequent cravings for more food as your body desperately makes an attempt to get more energy,” say The Nutrition Twins.
Tap Some Cinnamon into Pretty Much Everything
“Sprinkle cinnamon on your oatmeal, on your apples, sweet potatoes, hot cocoa, and more!” exclaim The Nutrition Twins. “[Similar to vinegar], cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar, which may help to keep hunger at bay and from craving more.”
Eat with Your Non-Dominant Hand
“It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the disruption to our normal behavior causes us to be more mindful of how much we are eating,” advises Lewis. Mindful = good; it will slow you down and help your brain and stomach have time to process how much you’re eating. Learn more clever moves with these 30 Fascinating Weight Loss Tricks You Haven’t Tried!