Appetite is the drive to seek and eat food. If only it were that simple. People don’t eat only when they are hungry, and they often don’t stop when they are full. So what drives appetite? More specifically, what drives overeating? A host of physiological factors are involved, including hormones. But in addition, what you eat and how you eat it can affect how much you eat. Here are some adjustments you can make to help prevent overeating. You may even enjoy your food more if you follow them.
We tend to eat about the same amount of food regardless of its calories, studies find. Thus, some weight loss plans stress foods that have a lot of volume relative to their calories—that is, choosing bulky foods with more water and fiber and less fat in place of low-volume, calorie-dense foods (such as cookies and brownies). Tip: To control your appetite, eat more fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, cooked whole grains and popcorn.
Fats, carbohydrates and protein may have different effects on satiety. There is some evidence that foods that are high in protein increase satiety more than high-carb foods, though this varies from person to person. Tip: Make sure that you’re eating enough healthy foods with protein, such as nuts, beans and fish.
Most people find foods high in fat and sugar more pleasurable. Sugar and fat may activate the body’s “reward system” (which releases chemicals in the nervous system relating to pleasure) and blunt the body’s normal response to satiety signals, making it easier to overeat. Tip: An occasional treat is fine, as long as it doesn’t tip the scales with fat and sugar.
Many people eat to clean their plates, using visual cues rather than hunger to tell them when they are finished. In a Cornell University experiment, people who ate from soup bowls that automatically refilled (without eaters knowing it) consumed 73 percent more—but didn’t feel fuller or think they had eaten more. Tips: Use small plates, bowls and cups. Tall, narrow glasses give the illusion of larger portions. Buy single-serving snacks or portion out servings in small bowls or bags. Don’t eat from large bags or boxes.
Eating while watching TV, working or engaging in other tasks can make you eat more. When distracted, you are more likely to use visual cues rather than hunger/satiety signals to tell you when you have eaten enough. Tip: Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer, or while reading or driving. If you do, portion out a serving ahead of time and stick to it.
The greater the variety of foods to choose from, the more people tend to eat. Eating the same food, or foods that seem similar, dulls the palate, and you become satiated sooner. Introduce a food with different sensory qualities and appetite returns, which may be why there’s often room for dessert. Tip: Variety in your diet is important, but too many choices at once can lead to overconsumption. Avoid all-you-can eat buffets. And plan ahead to enjoy fruit for dessert.
People eat for reasons other than hunger—when they are stressed, depressed, upset, angry, lonely, even happy and excited. And they often eat because of social pressures, such as at parties and family and business functions, or simply because it is mealtime. Tips: Practice intuitive/mindful eating. Choose foods that nourish you, eat slowly, take pleasure from each bite, be aware of your surroundings—and eat only when you are hungry.