Calorie restriction, reducing daily caloric intake while maintaining proper nutrition, drives fat loss and boosts heart health. Increasingly, data indicates that moderate calorie restriction without malnutrition protects against obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic risk factors associated with cancer.
While the underlying mechanisms are still unknown, calorie restriction is known to extend life-span.
But maintaining a calorie deficit can spur hunger. We can either ignore this hunger by wielding our willpower or succumb to it by snacking. Leaning on motivation and self-restraint to thwart persistent hunger is likely unsustainable in the long-term (I’d probably give up by dinner time).
Besides, even if you’re a storehouse of willpower, battling nagging hunger is bound to be unpleasant.
Luckily, you don’t have to. Calorie restriction and hunger are not intertwined. Research reveals ways to keep hunger at bay in a calorie deficit.
Eat slowly to elevate fullness and curtail snacking
A study randomly assigned participants to consume a meal at “normal” speed (6 minutes) or “slow” speed (24 minutes). Two hours later, the slow-paced group reported greater fullness, and three hours post-meal, they ate 25% fewer cookies and crisps on average.
Another study invited participants to consume meals in two separate visits and compared the effects of slow and quick eating. When the participants ate slowly, they not only ingested fewer calories but also felt more satiated later — despite lower caloric intake.
Eating slowly can prune snacking between meals and hamper the onset of hunger. I know, I know, eating slowly is such a drag — but it works!
Eat mindfully to purge hunger
Mindful eating involves focussing undivided attention to our food and savoring the whole eating experience.
Higgs and Donohoe investigated whether mindful eating can reduce snacking later. They found that participants who ate mindfully remembered their lunch more vividly and consumed fewer cookies later. Mindful eating enhances memory retention of meals, which influences subsequent food intake.
Slow, mindful eating also draws our attention to signals from our body when it’s full, preventing overeating and excess calorie consumption.
Some ways to boost mindfulness during mealtimes are: eating leisurely, avoiding distractions — like watching TV or scrolling through social media (regretfully, I’m guilty of both), and consciously observing each bite.
Opt for foods that pack a nutritional punch
Eating filling, nutritious foods can shrink calorie consumption while impeding hunger.
- Filling foods tend to be rich in protein, fiber, or volume (containing water or air), such as eggs, vegetables, or greek yogurt.
- Superfoods like berries, avocados, or kale are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, offering maximum nutritional value for minimal calories.
- Raw, unprocessed foods are more satiating than processed ones. A recent study fed people either a diet of ultra-processed foods, such as white bread, fruit juices, and processed meats, or a diet of minimally processed foods, such as fresh vegetables, grilled fish, and whole grains. The former group ate about 500 additional calories a day — equivalent to a venti Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino with whole milk and whipped cream.
- Avoid dense-calorie foods that don’t sate hunger, especially sugary food.
7 Wholesome Alternatives to Various Sugary Foods
The WHO recommends that we reduce our added sugar intake every day to less than 10% of our daily calorie intake, and…
Easily incorporate wholesome, low-calorie foods into your diet with these 5-minute preparations:
- Throw in a bowl of your favorite vegetables — seasoned and grilled, or sautéed with a bit of garlic and herbs — as a side to any meal.
- Sprinkle chopped avocado, lightly flavored with lime and olive oil, on salads, multigrain-bread, or fresh quinoa.
- Scramble egg-whites with spinach or chives to top whole-wheat bread or serve as a standalone side.
- Blend greek yogurt, berries, and nuts for protein-packed breakfast smoothies.
- Substitute juices and sodas during mealtimes with infused water or antioxidant-rich teas.
Don’t skimp on sleep
A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that sleep-deprived people consumed an extra 385 calories a day on average — comparable to two Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donuts.
A previous study linked partial sleep deprivation to greater activation of brain areas associated with reward when exposed to food. The authors suggested that a greater motivation to eat could explain higher food intake.
Earlier research has found that lack of sleep is associated with decreased leptin levels (the ‘satiety’ hormone), increased ghrelin levels (the ‘hunger’ hormone), and heightened hunger and appetite.
Experts recommend 7–9 hours of sleep for adults. Getting enough sleep curbs hunger pangs and unnecessary binge-eating (such as, but not limited to, shoveling buttery popcorn in your mouth while watching Peaky Blinders).
Calorie restriction offers health benefits, fends off a slew of diseases, and possibly extends our life-span. But it’s sustainable only if we aren’t constantly squashing hunger cravings. Staying satiated while consuming fewer calories is possible.
Try these simple, science-backed lifestyle changes: eat slowly and mindfully, get adequate sleep, and consume nutritious food. Protein, fiber-filled, unprocessed foods, especially superfoods, are your friends. Ultra-processed foods and sugary sodas that provide meager to zero nutrition are not. In this case, I reckon: keep your friends close, and “enemies” far, far away.
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So you can make healthy, informed choices rooted in research.
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