There are many reasons to want more control of your appetite and cravings, even if you’re happy with your current weight. Controlling appetite is not just about eating less. The ability to direct cravings towards healthy foods and away from junk is important for establishing long-term and sustainable habits of healthier eating. Controlling when you get hungry allows you to optimize your daily schedule to accomplish what you set out to do with a clear mind.
Whether you're looking to curb your appetite to lose weight or simply to remain more focused on your work and not your gnawing stomach, what you decide to put in your body is critical. For most people, weight control comes down to the simple formula: burn more calories than you consume. A plant-based diet is a fantastic starting point for weight control because plant-based eaters naturally consume fewer calories by virtue of the caloric density of plant vs animal products. Appetite control and more specifically gaining control of the cravings that drive us to snack on junk is another key piece of the weight control formula.
It would be a mistake to see the weight loss formula as a battle against calories. Calories are not the enemy, they are the fuel to help you accomplish all you want to do including the exercise that’s critical for maintaining a healthy body. On a nutrition level, calories are not created equal. We all recognize sugar as a so-called “empty calorie” but there are many foods that carry hidden costs in their calorie count. On the bright side, there are foods that do more with their calories. For example, did you know that oats have an amino acid that reduces sugar cravings?
Our selection of which calories to consume impacts our cravings, what we decide to eat, and how much of it. Each meal sets up for the next and good choices lead to better ones just as bad choices make worse choices more likely.
What follows is a set of plant-based nutritional tips that will set you up for healthier eating and appetite control.
Controlling when you get hungry
Your body secretes the chemical called ghrelin as a food anticipatory signal to increase your desire to eat. Think of ghrelin as your hunger alarm clock, it’s set by repetition of similar meal times and goes off at the same time every day to make you hungry in anticipation of the meal. You get hungry at noon because eating lunch at the same time every day has trained your body to secrete ghrelin in anticipation of the mid-day meal.
You can shift your meal time out by about 45 minutes per day without feeling the pangs associated with ghrelin. If your goal is to move breakfast from 7 AM to 10 AM to make room in your morning for exercise or mediation, consider shifting breakfast by 45 mins per day over the course of 3 days instead of all at once. The gradual shift will allow your ghrelin system to adapt to the new mealtime. As a side note, studies have shown that most people can achieve equal performance exercising on empty stomach. If you want more tips on exercising in the morning, check out my blog “8 Tips for Working Out in the Morning Without Being Miserable.”
Choose foods that promote a healthy appetite
Protein makes you feel full
Eating between 15-30 grams of plant-based protein at breakfast will keep you satisfied and quiet the hungry mind. High protein meals take longer to digest than breakfast made up of mostly carbohydrates so you’ll feel more full throughout the day. There’s a wide variety of plant-based foods that are high in protein including; beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. Protein shakes are a great source of protein but it’s better to eat your calories. Eating your breakfast makes you feel more full than drinking the equivalent number of calories.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate over-eating
On a very basic level, we eat to forage for fat and amino acids. Although it’s not conscious, during a meal we will continue to consume until we feel we’ve consumed enough of those essential fatty acids. There are other signals that can regulate consumption but it turns out that omega-3 fatty acids like those found in chia seeds, walnuts, and seaweed are important regulators of appetite. They keep our appetite at a healthy level so we don’t overconsume.
Seek out foods that reduce sugar cravings
Foods high in glutamine can help reduce your sugar cravings. You can supplement with glutamine in powder or pill form or incorporate foods naturally rich in glutamine. Some plant-based sources of glutamine include; oats, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Avoid foods that make you over-eat
Products that claim to change the nature of ingredients
Look at the yogurt aisle of any supermarket and you’d swear that milk comes out of a cow without sugar or fat. Even plant-based products are awash in "sugar-free" and "fat-free" labels. The “free” versions of these products are often manipulated ingredients that help marketing but don’t deliver on the promise of a healthier body. Products that claim to change the nature of their ingredients are usually hiding something. These products often compensate for the loss of flavor when sugar and fat are removed from ingredients that naturally contain them by adding in a bunch of artificial junk. In turn, you compensate for the loss of flavor by eating more of it. Not a good recipe for losing weight or enjoying your food. As Michael Polland says, “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants”
Running a food company, I recognize the financial incentive to make our products last longer on the shelf. Additives like soy lecithin and other emulsifiers can extend the shelf life of food making it easier to warehouse and ship around the country. These additives boost the profits of food companies but subtract from their nutritional benefits. In fact, these additives can actually make you crave more of the very products that are harmful to your health. Emulsifiers found in processed foods strip the lining of your gut and interrupt the chemical signals that would otherwise tell your brain that you’ve had enough. Without the chemical signals of satiation, you keep on eating. Great for profits, bad for your health.
Added and refined sugars
Speaking of changing the natural state of ingredients, we should appreciate how historically strange sweetened products are in human evolution. The refined sugar used to sweeten many of the products in our supermarket is a novel occurrence in nature. Refined sugar was only introduced to western diets in the 14th century and even then it was a rare delicacy. Dukes and dutchesses might have enjoyed a silver spoonful at high tea but refined sugar was not widely available. Of course, such a delicious ingredient couldn’t stay hidden for long, not after Europe had gotten its sweet tooth. Expanding trade routes between Europe and the Americas rose to meet the demand for confections. By the 1800s sugar was on nearly every table in England. Added sugar has only become more ubiquitous since then to the point wherein 2016, researchers measured added sugar in 60% of products in American grocery stores.
Refining sugar is the process of removing and distilling sucrose from a fruit or vegetable to create a highly concentrated sweetener. It’s delicious but given only a few hundred years of consuming refined sugar, our bodies haven’t adapted to processing sugar without the fiber that would typically slow and mediates its absorption. The link between added sugar and weight gain is clear
- Added sugar high in empty calories that don’t deliver nutritional benefits
- It spikes blood sugar which can lead to inflammation and dysfunctional hormones
- It messes with our energy regulation to the point where we feel hungrier and store more energy as fat
Plant-based eaters need to be discerning about added sugar because many brands will sneak sugar into their plant-based products behind labels that claim to be better for you.
Plant-based breakfast recipes to curb appetite and control cravings
Try these quick and delicious plant-based breakfast recipes. Each recipe has no added sugar, and plenty of ingredients to keep you full and focused for the day ahead.Brave - Apple Spice - Overnight Oats: Pre-made packets make prep easy for plant-based breakfast on the go. Includes organic gluten-free rolled oats, organic chia seeds, organic hemp seeds, walnuts, and 20G of plant-based protein