15 tips to manage your appetite
Peckish? Think again, say the experts. Sugary and high-fat foods can stimulate our appetite when we’re not even hungry. And everything from stress to the dress size of your server in a restaurant — yep — can impact how much we eat
Appetite is the desire to eat food — but it’s not always due to hunger. Sugary, savoury, high-fat foods can stimulate our appetite even when we’re actually not hungry.
The easy availability of these mouth-watering foods is something which has contributed to spiralling levels of obesity in modern society. The question is, with all this cheap, flavoursome and unnecessary food calling for our attention, how can we manage our appetite for it?
Here, we outline tips from appetite expert Professor Jason Holford, head of the department
of psychological cciences at the University of Liverpool, former chair of the UK Association for the Study of Obesity and treasurer of the European Association of Obesity (EASO), and to Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood.
There are three components to appetite
According to Professor Jason Holford, these are:
• Regularity: this is the feedback you get in terms of your feelings of satiety or fullness so that you know when to stop eating. It’s a kind of house thermometer.
• Reward: which is about your instinctive drive towards comforting foods rich in fats and sugars — for our Neanderthal ancestors, he says, such foods would have been relatively rare and of high nutritional value.
• Inhibitory control: This is your individual ability to resist feelings of hunger as well as cravings. Exerting good inhibitory control is what we try to do when we diet, he explains. However the more we understand about how our appetite works, the stronger our sense of control and the easier we find it to implement strategies that increase our effectiveness in managing our appetite.
The role of appetite in obesity is a very important one, says Professor Holford. Obese individuals have weak controls in terms of regulating their eating habits as a result of feedback on their feelings of fullness. They will also experience higher reward responses and are more likely to be provoked into consumption. They will also experience more cravings and have greater problems implementing inhibitory controls.
Understand your cravings
Cravings for popular foods — everything from cake to chocolate and chips — are associated with trying to lose weight. And, like hunger, cravings can undermine our weight-management efforts.
“Avoid severe dieting because it makes cravings worse,” advises Professor Holford. It’s very important to understand that cravings exist and to work out strategies to deal with them. Such strategies might include finding alternatives to satisfy cravings for sugar by eating fruit, or arranging to participate in enjoyable non-food related activities which can distract you from thoughts of food.
Watch how you eat
Eat slowly rather than quickly, says Dr Foley-Nolan. “When we eat slowly, we allow time for hormonal signals from the stomach to tell us that we are filling up,” she explains. Also, avoid eating mindlessly, she adds: “For example don’t watch
TV while eating, because your brain is not
registering either that you are eating or that you are satisfying yourself with food. This affects hormone release from your brain to your gut so there is less feeling of satiety.”
Aim for healthy satiety
Try changing your diet to eat lower energy-dense food high in protein and fibre, rather than in sugars and fats, Professor Holford explains. Eat brown bread and porridge for example, rather than whole sliced bread and sugary cereal. A good rule of thumb, according to Dr Foley-Nolan, is to opt for solid food that takes longer to chew and swallow.
“Soft food takes less chewing and time and is often more easily absorbed,” she explains, adding however, that when foods are easily absorbed you will only feel satisfied for a short time and primarily as a result of a sugar spike. If you’re are not satisfied for long you get hungry quicker. On the other hand if you eat solid food — for example a piece of fruit like an apple rather than a smoothie — it will satisfy your appetite longer.
Stress and over-eating
If you are dieting, says Professor Holford, stress can quickly destabilise your attempts at moderating your calorie intake, while you may also find yourself comfort eating. Create strategies other than food to deal with your mood and any sudden spikes in appetite as a result of stress, he advises. Another effective technique is to avoid stress when you can or alternatively, find appropriate non-food related strategies for dealing with stress.
Re-train your appetite
Aim to essentially retrain your appetite through the gradual reduction of portion size, suggests Professor Holford. Begin to gradually reduce your portion size, slowly reducing your energy intake without your appetite increasing. Your appetite will reduce over time and in line with this consistent reduction of portion size, he explains.
“Aim for a 20pc reduction over an eight-week period. To actively lose weight you need to reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day. It is also important to realise that the more you lose weight, the less calories you need, because your body is getting smaller and needs less calories to function.”
Your child’s appetite
Don’t expect kids to clear their plates, counsels Dr Foley-Nolan. If you do, it means children could end up eating more on an ongoing basis than they really need. It’s best to listen to children when they say they’ve had enough rather than force them to finish everything on their plate.
Reduce your children’s exposure to commercial food promotion, for example, on television, suggests Professor Holford, because these can normalise unhealthy foods in their minds. In the case of older children be aware of adver-games — these are fun online games which promote branding and advertising he explains, normalising and promoting food brands — which are produced by food manufacturers.
Know your triggers
Is there a particular social situation coming up at which you know you’re almost certainly liable to over-eat? Plan ahead and come up with strategies which will help you deal with the situation and manage your appetite. What will you allow yourself to do? How will these strategies enable you to cope with any cravings which may result from social triggers like this?
What you eat can predispose your unborn child to find particular flavours appetising
The maternal diet and weight can influence child’s food preferences, says Professor Holford. “The maternal diet during the final trimester can affect the amniotic fluid which absorbs flavours,” he says, adding that what mum eats will have an influence on the development of a child’s eating preferences. The same goes for breast milk, he explains — the child is exposed, through breast milk, to the mother’s diet.
Water is best
Consume water with meals rather than a sugary beverage. The beverage will increase your calorific intake and give you a sensation of fullness, whereas water will give you the sensation of fullness but not the extra calories.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation can disrupt your body clock and affect the release of appetite stimulating hormones, says Dr Foley-Nolan. When you are sleep-deprived — research shows that adults generally need between seven-and-a-half and eight hours of sleep — you have a tendency to eat more high calories, and consume more energy-dense and simply unhealthy foods.
Cut down on alcohol
Not only is alcohol high in calories, but it also has an effect on your appetite — over-consumption can affect your control over your diet says Dr Foley-Nolan. The drop in blood glucose following alcohol consumption makes you want to eat, hence for some people the post night-out chips-and-curry syndrome, as well as a strong desire for a fry the next morning.
Your waiter can affect your appetite
Eating out can have quite a stimulating effect on your appetite, says Dr Foley-Nolan, who warns that your server’s shape can have a direct effect on how much you eat. Research has shown, she says, that when diners are being served by generously proportioned waiters, they are statistically more like to have dessert. “Basically this is because the diner feels more comfortable about eating more,” she adds.
Appetite is complex and everybody’s appetite — and what riggers it — is different, explains Dr Foley-Nolan. Learn about yours, she says.
“There’s huge variety in appetite because it’s linked to brain chemistry, gut chemistry and our hormonal system,” she explains, adding that as a result there are great individual variations in appetite and in appetite triggers.
However, knowing that there are elements of our appetite that we have control over — and that there are elements that we can find more difficult to control — empowers us in our bid to manage our appetite. “Knowledge about what affects our appetite can help us manage it. Identifying some of our individual cues or triggers can help us manage our appetite better,” she advises.