Does it seem like you’re hungry all the time? You may be finding yourself back at the fridge (or the pantry or the vending machine) sooner than you should be, and not out of boredom. Feeling less-than-satisfied after eating, a lack of satiety, often happens when we rush through meals, overly restrict ourselves, or load up on “empty” calories instead of nutrient-dense ones. Beyond the annoying hunger pangs that result, you’re also likely to overeat and reach for less-than-ideal foods that require little preparation—your classic junk food fare. These highly processed choices, even when eaten by the handful, won’t do much to keep a rumbling stomach at bay. In fact, they’ll just leave you right where you started—ravenous.
You’ll be more satisfied with your meals if you look for options that have the trifecta of healthy fullness: lean protein, fiber-rich complex carbohydrates and good-for-you fat. These components take the longest time to empty from your stomach. Slowing down the digestion process in this way also gives your mind the time it needs to both register and enjoy the meal, an essential factor in feeling satisfied.
Here are some common scenarios that may leave you feeling hungry too soon, and solutions to help you choose foods that will keep you content until your next meal.
“No matter what diet I follow, there never seems to be enough food, and I find myself using all the day’s calories before I get to dinner.”
When reducing your calories to promote weight loss, don’t be tempted by highly processed foods, even if they appear to be low in calories. Low-calorie “diet foods” add up when you need to double or triple the serving to feel satisfied. Instead, switch from eating three large meals to six small meals a day, and continue to have some of your favorite foods, though in smaller portions. Double up on the fiber-rich vegetables that help fill you up without making a large dent in the calorie bank. Finally, set a goal of drinking at least 20 ounces of water or green tea between meals to keep your mind and stomach entertained.
“After eating a banana for breakfast, my stomach is grumbling for more by the time I get to the office.”
While a banana or any single piece of fruit is a convenient choice for a busy morning, this carbohydrate-rich food alone isn’t going to carry you through until lunch. “A banana is a good food but it has almost no fat,” explains Marilyn Majchrzak, M.S., R.D.N., Canyon Ranch’s corporate food development director. “You’ll feel fuller if you pair it with peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread.” Other easy breakfast options that contain protein, fiber and fat are whole-fruit smoothies made with milk, fruit-and-nut bars and hard-boiled eggs on whole-wheat crackers or toast.
“My fast-food lunch never holds me over longer than an hour, no matter how much I supersize it.”
A fast-food meal paired with a soda can contain a full day’s calories (or more), but because it’s unlikely to have much fiber or healthy fat, it will leave you hungry soon after. “Healthy fats provide satiety,” Majchrzak says. Try adding avocado to turkey on a whole-wheat wrap. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle some crushed nuts over last night’s fish leftovers placed over a bed of spinach or arugula. If time is of the essence, pick up some healthy frozen options like a black bean and cheese burrito or a brown rice stir-fry that you can heat up quickly. For the days when only the drive-thru will do, skip the fries and cola and opt for a grilled chicken sandwich or single hamburger with a side salad. Flavored seltzer and unsweetened iced tea are great options, if plain water seems too boring.
“When I get home from work, I’m too hungry to think about making dinner; the snack cabinet always ends up being my first stop.”
Typical snacks—pretzels, potato chips, crackers, cookies—all tend to be high in calories, but low in staying power. Make your pre-dinner snack more nutritionally balanced; a small portion of nuts or popcorn is a quick, easy option. (Pop your popcorn in olive oil for a bit of healthy fat.) In a couple minutes, you can also throw together a small snack plate with some hummus, cheese, apple slices and baby carrots to enjoy while you get dinner ready.
More: Be a Savvy Snacker
“I like a big bowl of pasta for supper, but I’m ready for seconds or a snack soon after.”
Due to its low fiber content, a large serving of white-flour pasta, ringing in at around 500 calories before you add sauce, isn’t going to satisfy you for very long. Instead, look for a whole-grain pasta with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. If you aren’t a fan of the richer, nuttier taste of whole-grain pasta, you can try a multigrain version, Majchrzak says. Putting a lean protein like chicken sausage in your sauce, and adding veggies like broccoli and red peppers, will also help round out a more filling meal. (Tip: Spaghetti squash makes a great substitute for noodles.)
“I leave my workout feeling starved and don’t know what to eat to avoid undoing all my hard work.”
When you exercise regularly, you need to adjust your eating habits to accommodate for how hard you’re taxing yourself. First, avoid starting a workout on an empty stomach. Even if you exercise first thing in the morning, give your body something to burn—this the one circumstance when a simple carbohydrate like a banana or a small granola bar will propel you to work harder and longer. Plan to eat something more substantial, like a veggie-heavy omelet with whole-grain toast, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 20 to 30 minutes after you finish your sweat. If you wait too long, the hunger will be overwhelming and you’ll be likely overindulge.