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One of the most common complaints that I hear from my weight-loss clients is that they’re “hungry all the time.” Often when I hear this, I first have to help them sort what it actually means to be hungry. True hunger is usually felt first in the stomach. As blood sugar drops, the body releases hormones that stimulate the stomach to contract and you get hunger pangs. But some people confuse hunger with wanting to eat—which is actually appetite, not hunger. To help them learn the difference, I ask them to let a moderate amount of hunger set in; to really recognize the body’s signals that say “time to eat;” and to put the fork down when they feel comfortable, not stuffed.
It also helps to incorporate healthier, filling foods along the way. Because in the end, no matter how you define it when you feel hungry, it’s going to be a lot harder to stick with the program. So, here’s my list of some of the most filling foods you can eat.
Fish is one of the most concentrated sources of protein around. That’s critical because compared with fat or carbohydrate, protein is the clear winner when it comes to satisfying hunger. And since most fish is much lower in fat compared with meat or poultry, you get more protein per bite. Fresh baked or broiled fish is great, but if you’re short on time, don’t overlook canned tuna and salmon or frozen fish filets, shrimp and scallops.
High-fiber foods take time to digest, which gives them staying power. While all whole fruits provide some fiber, berries are some of the highest fiber fruits around. One cup of raspberries has a whopping 8 grams of fiber—twice what you’d get in an apple—for only about 65 calories. Frozen berries are always available, and they’re convenient add-ins to protein shakes. You can also thaw them slightly and use to top yogurt or cottage cheese for a filling meal or snack.
Vegetables are high on my list of filling foods, because they’re full of calorie-free fiber and water. So, they fill you up, not out. Broccoli is one of the highest fiber veggies: one cup of chopped cooked broccoli has 6 grams of hunger-busting fiber. And loading up your plate with cooked broccoli will only cost you about 50 calories per cup.
Beans provide a one-two punch against hunger. They’re high in fiber and they also pack a fair amount of protein. A half-cup of black beans will give you about 8 grams of protein along with 8 grams of fiber. Navy, pinto and kidney beans all run a very close second. Toss some beans into salads, soups or pasta to make them more filling and satisfying.
You can get a good amount of fiber from most whole grains. They hold more water than ‘drier’ grain foods like crackers or pretzels, so they’re more filling. Quinoa stands out because it also has more protein than most grains—about 8 grams per cup. And unlike barley and brown rice that require long cooking times, quinoa is ready in about 15 minutes. Try it as a side dish, or as the base for a main-dish salad with chopped veggies and grilled chicken or fish.
Most nonfat dairy products are good sources of protein, but Greek-style yogurt is a standout. Since it’s concentrated, a single-serve carton of nonfat Greek-style yogurt can pack nearly twice as much protein as the regular style—as much as 15 grams. Try it for dessert—the protein will fill you up and help curb evening snacking.
Vegetable soup is low in calories, and since it contains so much water, it’s really filling. Starting a meal with a portion of broth-based soup often means you’ll be satisfied with a smaller portion of your main meal. Soup makes a great afternoon snack, too.