Sometimes after a satisfying meal, you might find yourself hankering for some cookies or potato chips. But it's definitely not hunger talking: It's your appetite. Not quite the same as hunger, which is the physical need for food, appetite is influenced by a complex interaction between hormones, brain messengers and emotions – and can even be linked to the sight, smell or thought of eating a specific food.
These appetite triggers influence eating habits so much, they can sabotage your efforts to cut down your portion sizes or choose healthier foods. So to be successful at improving your diet and losing weight, you need at least some level of appetite control. While appetite suppressant medications or dietary supplements may seem like easy solutions, lifestyle and behavioral approaches – because they're more sustainable in the long run – might be the way to go.
Certain medications can curtail hunger and promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness, by influencing brain messengers and hunger hormones. Appetite suppressant drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, generally for short-term use, include phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), lorcaserin (Belviq), naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave) and liraglutide (Saxenda).
An analysis of 28 clinical trials and nearly 30,000 overweight adults found that all of these medications can be effective at weight loss – resulting in at least a 5 percent loss of weight after one year. However, in addition to gastrointestinal side effects, which may be bothersome but usually not serious, some appetite suppressants are not safe to use in people with certain health conditions, because they can increase blood pressure or heart rate, cause drug dependence, aggravate anxiety and even cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors. While taking these medications may sound like a quick and easy solution, it involves a lot more risk than making lifestyle changes.
2. Dietary Supplements
Numerous over-the-counter (OTC) herbs, dietary supplements and other products are also marketed as appetite suppressants. It's easy to get tempted to try these, as product reviews and testimonials can make them seem like an easy solution to controlling appetite. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, has reviewed many available appetite suppressant products, and has either deemed them unsafe or concluded there is insufficient evidence to support safety and effectiveness.
Instead of a short-term fix, managing weight or other diet-related health conditions requires a lifelong solution. Read on to learn a few lifestyle and behavioral strategies that have shown promise as effective ways to control appetite.
3. The Appetizer Effect
A diet strategy that can suppress your appetite and curb calorie intake is to eat soup or salad before a meal. One study reported a 20 percent reduction in mealtime calorie intake when soup was eaten before a meal. This study compared 4 different forms of vegetable and broth soup – clear broth with vegetables on the side, broth and vegetable soup and partly or fully pureed soup – and found all types reduced appetite and calorie intake. Another study, published in the February 2012 issue of "Appetite," found that when participants ate a vegetable salad before a meal, they were less hungry and consumed 11 percent fewer calories.
4. Focus on Fiber
High fiber foods have long been touted as a way to improve satiety, or fullness. There are many reasons that fiber-rich foods, particularly oats, rye, barley and legumes curb appetite. A review published in the February 2015 issue of "Today's Dietitian" suggests an increase in dietary fiber may reduce appetite by 5 percent. In addition, a high fiber diet has been linked to greater weight loss. One reason for this might be the increased chewing necessary to consume many high fiber foods, which can slow eating and ultimately suppress food intake. In addition, certain fibers swell and lead to slow digestion in the stomach, increasing the feeling of fullness after eating. Certain high fiber foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, contain water, which can also contribute to fullness and reduce appetite.
5. Choose Whole Foods
Eating whole, unprocessed or minimally processed plant foods can also suppress appetite. One study put this theory to the test, comparing differences in satiety after consuming a whole apple, applesauce, plain apple juice and apple juice with added fiber. Researchers found the whole apple increased satiety more than applesauce or either of the juices. The authors concluded that eating an apple, or perhaps any whole fruit, before a meal can your suppress appetite and reduce the amount of calories you consume at that meal. The appetite-suppressing effects of fiber and whole foods may explain why a whole food, plant-based diet is also linked to appetite control, according to a Spring 2013 review in "The Permanente Journal."
6. Meal Composition and Timing
Scientists are still debating the optimal amount of meals a person should have for appetite control, as well as the best composition of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). Protein and fat are known to slow digestion in the stomach, which can help control hunger. Carbohydrates, particularly fiber-rich foods such as beans and whole grains, are also filling and can curb appetite – and reduce food intake – in the hours that follow. So how much of each do you eat to keep your appetite at bay? A May 2015 article reviewed research on what macronutrient composition works best for weight loss and appetite control. The researchers concluded that the appetite-related differences among these nutrients is small, and suggest that your meals simply be healthful, balanced and moderate in portions.
Eating small, frequent meals has also been considered a strategy to control appetite and prevent overeating. However, one research review found that while eating less than three times per day increases appetite, eating more than three times daily does not appear to provide additional appetite control. This suggests that eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day is no more effective when it comes to appetite suppression than eating three larger meals.
7. Other Lifestyle Appetite Suppressants
You may find other dietary strategies help to decrease your appetite, such as drinking water before a meal, adding hot sauce to foods or adding fiber-rich chia seeds to yogurt. Unfortunately, scientists have not confirmed the effectiveness of every potentially helpful strategy. Other lifestyle and behavioral approaches are known to help, however. Moderate exercise positively impacts appetite hormones, in addition to its other benefits to weight control. Removing tempting foods from your home, participating in pleasurable activities and hobbies and eating slowly can also help reduce the appetite triggered by boredom, habit or emotions. Inadequate sleep and emotional stress have both been linked to increased appetite, but more research is needed to determine if managing stress and getting enough sleep play a role in appetite suppression.
Among available strategies to suppress appetite, lifestyle and behavioral approaches appear to be the safest and most effective long-term solution. For some people, weight-loss medications may provide short-term benefits when used along with diet and exercise.
If you are interested in using weight control medications or any supplements that promise to reduce appetite, be sure ask your doctor if they are safe for you to use. For a long-term approach to weight control, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian or therapist who specializes in weight management.
What Do YOU Think?
What do you normally do to curb your appetite? Will you be adding any of these strategies to your routine? Share in the comments section.
- Huffington Post Health; Appetite Control: Understanding Your Hunger Hormones; Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D.; October 2010
- “Future Medicinal Chemistry”; Anti-obesity Drugs: Are They Worth it? Mark K. Huntington & Roger A. Shewmake; March 2011
- "Regulatory Peptides"; Appetite Suppression Through Smelling of Dark Chocolate Correlates With Changes in Ghrelin in Young Women; E.T.Massolt, P.M.van Haard, J.F. Rehfeld, E.F. Posthuma, E. van der Veer, D.H. Schweitzer; April 2010
- Today’s Dietitian: Appetite Hormones.
- JAMA: Association of Pharmacological Treatments for Obesity With Weight Loss and Adverse Events: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: Prescription Medications to Treat Overweight and Obesity
- National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Weight Control
- Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: A Review of Weight Control Strategies and Their Effects on the Regulation of Hormone Balance.
- Appetite: Soup Preloads in a Variety of Forms Reduce Meal Energy Intake
- Appetite: Salad and Satiety: The Effect of Timing of Salad Consumption on Meal Energy Intake
- Appetite: The Effect of Fruit in Different Forms on Energy Intake and Satiety at a Meal
- Today’s Dietitian: Fiber: Fiber’s Link With Satiety and Weight Control
- The Permanente Journal: Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets
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