If you get the munchies soon after eating, you are probably choosing the wrong kinds of food. Refined carbohydrates quickly turn to glucose in your bloodstream, giving you an energy spike, which is soon followed by a crash. You then feel hungry and tempted to eat again, even if you don't need the extra calories. Break the cycle and choose high-fiber carbohydrates and lean protein foods at each meal or snack to keep you satiated so you don’t overeat.
Why You Gain Weight
In nutrition, a rule of thumb is that 3,500 calories is equal to one pound of weight. So, if you consume 500 more calories a day than your body needs to function, you will gain about one pound in a week. In just one month, you could pack on 4 pounds if you don’t burn off the excess calories through physical activity.
Some of the biggest culprits in weight gain are the empty-calorie foods and beverages your body digests quickly, leaving you feeling hungry again not long after you ate them. These foods contain added sugar and solid fats, and have few, if any, nutrients to support the healthy functioning of your body. For example, a medium cola at a fast-food restaurant has 180 calories. Add a medium serving of fries, and you’ve surpassed 500 calories in that one snack.
The list of empty-calorie foods includes some of the most common fare in the American diet – in addition to sodas and french fries, steer clear of baked goods and pastries, candy, breakfast cereals, white bread and pasta, ice cream, pizza, potato chips, and fatty meats such as sausage and fast-food burgers.
Nutrients to Keep You Full
When you’re trying to stay full without overeating, look for foods that have the two nutrients known to boost satiety. Plant foods high in fiber should be on your plate at each meal. Fiber-rich foods take longer to chew, and because your body can’t fully digest fiber, these foods help slow the emptying of the stomach. Foods with fiber don’t make your glucose rise and fall rapidly, which means you won’t be reaching for more food shortly after eating. As an added bonus, these foods have fewer calories per serving, so you can fill your plate with them – a visual cue that you have plenty to eat.
Protein is the other nutrient that contributes to a satisfied feeling after eating. Foods that have protein not only fill you up, they also have a thermogenic effect -- you burn more calories simply by eating them. Protein foods have a minimal effect on blood sugar, so you won’t get the spike-and-crash effect you experience when you eat refined carbs.
Filling High-Fiber Foods
For filling meals and snacks, incorporate foods that have the greatest quantity of fiber per serving. The Institute of Medicine recommends at least 25 grams of fiber daily for women and 38 for men. That’s easy to get when you select whole grains, fruits and vegetables. A serving of amaranth, barley, teff, bulgur, quinoa or whole-wheat spaghetti will give you 5 or more grams of fiber. The highest fiber fruits are berries – a cup of blackberries or raspberries will give you a whopping 8 grams. When it comes to fiber, vegetables are also your friends. A cup of cauliflower or broccoli delivers 5 grams, while the same serving of Brussels sprouts has 6. Winter squashes are fiber powerhouses, too, as 1 cup of acorn squash yields 9 grams of fiber. Beans and legumes give you 9 to 19 grams of fiber in a 1-cup serving.
To feel full without gaining weight, limit the fatty accompaniments to your fiber-rich foods. Avoid creamy sauces on your whole-wheat pasta, skip the butter on your squash or broccoli, and don't use ice cream as a base for your fresh fruit.
Lean Protein to Keep You Full
People who increased their protein intake from 15 to 30 percent of calories ate fewer calories overall and lost more weight, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005. Make sure you stick with lean protein to avoid eating too much saturated fat, which is linked to cardiovascular problems. Animal protein is more satiating than plant protein, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, but it also contains more saturated fat. Choose skinless chicken or turkey, fish, seafood, meat that's at least 90-percent lean, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Keep your protein healthy by broiling or baking it instead of frying, to avoid added oils that may make weight gain more likely. In addition, portion sizes are important, especially with animal proteins that have more calories than plant proteins. Stick with 3 ounces of meat -- about the size of a deck of cards. Fill the rest of your plate with lower calorie, fiber-rich foods.
Eating to Stay Full
Incorporate nutritious, filling foods into meals and snacks, whenever you can. At breakfast, have a cup of oatmeal with berries and chopped walnuts, or try a container of plain Greek yogurt mixed with fresh fruit and flax seed. Your plateful of lunch greens might be topped with 3 ounces of baked chicken or tofu, or you might have a cup of bean salad made with black beans, brown rice, scallions and red bell pepper. For dinner, have a cell phone-sized serving of broiled salmon or trout, with steamed broccoli and quinoa; or prepare a tomato, chopped zucchini and ground turkey sauce to accompany your cup of whole-wheat spaghetti. A filling snack any time of day could be a celery stalk filled with a tablespoon of almond butter; or you could have a large pear or apple, instead.
- Nutrition.gov: Commonly Asked Questions
- USDA: Foods Search
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Empty Calories
- Today’s Dietitian: Fiber: Fiber's Link With Satiety and Weight Control
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Protein, Weight Management and Satiety
- Today’s Dietitian: The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: A High-Protein Diet Induces Sustained Reductions in Appetite, Ad Libitum Caloric Intake, and Body Weight Despite Compensatory Changes in Diurnal Plasma Leptin and Ghrelin Concentrations
- The President’s Challenge: Choose Lean Sources of Protein
- American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Serving Size vs. Portion Size: Is There a Difference?