It’s 9 p.m. and you know just where that bag of peanut M&Ms is — it’s stashed in the pantry behind the ultra-virtuous oatmeal and seriously fortified cereal. Out of sight, but not out of mind. How can you be hungry, you wonder, when you ate a mere hour-and-a-half ago? The answer isn’t so simple. Everything from stress to hormones to people, places, and situations can kick your appetite into overdrive. The good news: Whatever the cause, you can beat your hunger pangs. Here, the latest stay-full strategies from the experts.
Whip up a side of potato salad
Surprise! White potatoes aren’t the dietary demons Atkins devotees led us to believe. Potatoes contain a type of starch known as natural resistant starch that acts a lot like fiber once it’s in your digestive system. That means they make you feel full longer, keep your blood sugar level after a meal, and may even reduce body fat.
But there’s a trick to maximizing this benefit: Chilling cooked potatoes nearly doubles the amount of natural resistant starch in a serving. Try an Italian-style potato salad. Boil peeled, sliced potatoes until they’re fork-tender; drain, and toss them with salt, pepper, and your favorite red wine vinaigrette. Cool the salad in the fridge and garnish it with chopped parsley before you dig in. Not a spud fan? Try black beans (or any other bean) or split peas, warm or cold, for the same benefit.
Health.com: Delicious Ways to Savor Your Spuds
Front-load your day’s calories
We all know that breakfast helps keep your waistline trim, but here’s more solid proof: In a recent study, University of Texas at El Paso researchers found that people who ate breakfast took in 5% fewer calories over the course of the day. That’s only about 100 calories (if you typically eat the 2,000 calories per day recommended for adult women), but, over time, it adds up.
Saving 100 calories a day for one year equals a loss of more than 10 pounds. Experts estimate most of us eat 20% of our daily calories at breakfast, 30 percent at lunch, and 50 percent at dinner.
But you would probably be better off shifting more of your total daily calories to the morning, researchers say. If you can’t stomach a bigger breakfast (keep it healthy with a combo of low-fat protein, whole grains, and fruit or veggies), add a midmorning snack (a container of yogurt, some fruit with a few whole-grain crackers, or half a sandwich).
Pull out the blender
Froth beats fat. Researchers have found that study subjects who drank smoothies and other drinks blended for at least twice as long as necessary ate 12% less — and felt fuller — than those who drank beverages blended for a shorter period.
Why? Blending is a no-calorie way to increase serving size by adding air. Adding low- or no-cal ingredients to entreés (such as lettuce and tomato on top of turkey burgers or alongside broiled fish) has a similar effect: They work by increasing the amount of water instead of air.
Health.com: 7 Feel-Good Smoothies
Fool your sweet tooth with scent
A whiff of vanilla may be the antidote for your craving for a double dip of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. Here’s the theory, according to experts: The inherent sweetness of vanilla sends neuropeptides (gut-to-brain messengers) into a kind of sensory overload that fools you into feeling like you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth. Any vanilla scent? — extract, body lotion, or a candle — has a similar effect.
Stock up on lentil soup
According to a new study from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent health research organization, people on diets that call for fiber-rich, complex-carb-loaded foods such as lentils, sweet potatoes, and apples lost a little over two pounds more in five weeks, compared with people on low-fat or other types of diets. These foods rank low on the glycemic index (GI), which means they’re less likely to cause blood sugar spikes and leave you feeling hungry.
By now you know that snacking doesn’t have to be a bad thing for your waistline. But did you know that the right snacks can actually suppress ghrelin, the hunger hormone? Low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods like strawberries (49 calories a cup), broccoli (20 calories a cup), and sweet potatoes (103 calories — and ready in a microwave minute) are your best defense. They make you feel satiated on a lot fewer calories than potato chips will.
Breathe hunger away
Stress causes your body to pump out cortisol. And this, ultimately, creates a resistance to leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full. As a result, the more stressed out you are (and the more often you feel that way), the less able you are to tell when you’re full.
Short-circuit the problem with this stress-reducing breathing exercise: Exhale fully, counting to five as you release tension from your body; let your shoulders slump as if you’re a deflated balloon. Then count to five as you inhale gently, fully, down through the lungs into your belly; hold for a four-count. Exhale again, repeating the first step. Continue for five minutes; practice a few times each day — or whenever you feel inclined to make tracks to the snack stash.