Nobody wants to overeat, but stress, exhaustion, anger and other emotions can get the best of us. The result? The majority of adults are overweight or obese, thereby increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
When your stomach starts rumbling, ghrelin—known as the hunger hormone—is secreted. This sends “Feed me!” signals to the brain. Another hormone, leptin, is an appetite suppressor that tells your brain you’re full. But if you overeat on a regular basis, you can become inured to the power of leptin, so you continue to eat.
“Hunger hormones must be balanced by satiety hormones if wish not to be hungry or fatigued,” explains biochemist Barry Sears, best known for creating the Zone Diet.
What Are Appetite Suppressants?
For years, appetite suppressants in the form of pills, shakes and supplements have been sold both over-the-counter and by prescription for those who have lost touch with their leptin.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, medications classified as appetite suppressants act upon the body’s central nervous system, tricking the body into believing that it’s not hungry (1). Some examples of prescription appetite suppressants include: benzphetamine, diethylpropion, mazindol and phentermine. These medications generally come in the form of tablets or extended-release capsules.
While the pills sound like a magic bullet for getting rid of those excess pounds, the drugs’ effects tend to wear off after a few weeks. They also can have side effects, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, constipation and insomnia.
“Certain foods are a much better way to control appetite than appetite suppressants,” says Julene Stassou, a registered dietitian based in Fort Lee, New Jersey. “These foods create a feeling of satiety that lasts longer than a pill, without the side effects.”
By eating right and staying active, you’re far more likely to keep your weight—as well as the emotions that lead to overeating—at bay. Here are five R.D.-approved foods for staving off hunger naturally.
5 Best Natural Appetite Suppressants
When it comes to smart, satisfying snacking, you can’t go wrong with a handful of almonds. “They go a long way in keeping you full,” says Stassou.
In a four-week randomized study, published in the European Journal of Critical Nutrition, researchers found that those who snacked on almonds weren’t as hungry during meals (2). Even more important, they were not found to increase the risk for weight gain.
An ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts) has heart-healthy unsaturated fat and 6 grams of protein. But when snacking on almonds, portion control is key. A serving has 163 calories. If you’re one of those people who can’t keep your hand out of the bag once you’ve opened it, single-serve packs are a great option, Stassou suggests.
At breakfast or as a snack, protein-filled eggs help control appetite while also keeping your body fat in check.
A 2013 University of Missouri study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people who ate scrambled eggs for breakfast were less hungry at lunchtime than those who ate cereal (3). Blood tests also showed that those who ate the eggs had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
One large egg has about 70 calories and contains about 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 186 milligrams of cholesterol.
The study also concluded that eating breakfast, even if it’s something lower in protein like cereal or toast with butter, staved off hunger in study participants more than it did for those who ate no breakfast at all. But since the high-protein benefits kept those in the study feeling full for longer, Stassou suggests not limiting egg intake to breakfast.
“Hard-boiled eggs are a nutritious on-the-go snack,” she says. Some may also flip over the idea of an omelet filled with fresh veggies for dinner. The versatility of eggs makes them a go-to any time of day or night.
This summer staple is a go-to for suppressing appetite and satisfying your sweet tooth. “It’s a high-volume food,” explains Stassou, which means it’s rife with both water and fiber.
The concept of eating water sounds a bit strange at first, but a Penn State study published in 2000 suggests that water in food is chemically different than water you drink as a beverage (4). It leaves the stomach more slowly, making you feel fuller.
At 85 calories, a serving of watermelon contains 1.1 grams of dietary fiber for digestive health as well as potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure in check. All of this adds up to a dessert that will fill you up without filling you out.
Green tea has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for its healthful properties. When it comes to suppressing appetite, the evidence is mounting that sipping hot green tea or ingesting green tea in extract form may help curtail appetite, leading you to drop some pounds.
The substances in green tea actually increase levels of hormones that instruct fat cells to break down fat. Doing so releases fat into the bloodstream and makes it available as energy. In one study of 60 obese individuals, the group taking green tea extract lost 7.3 pounds and burned 183 more calories daily after three months (5).
However, not all studies pinpoint green tea as a metabolism booster—it really depends on the individual. Still, sipping on a hot cup of green tea is extremely relaxing, so it’s worth giving it a try between meals.
Turns out that bread made with barley kernels may be preferable to white or whole wheat if you’re trying to eat less.
Researchers at the Food for Health Science Centre at Lund University in Sweden found that certain indigestible carbs, like barley kernels, stimulate gut-derived hormones involved in appetite regulation (6). In the small study, 20 middle-aged participants ate barley kernel bread three times a day for three days. (Others ate white wheat bread.) The participants who were served barley kernel bread experienced decreased blood sugar and insulin levels as well as improved appetite control.
So, when choosing bread, opt for one that’s high in fiber.
Other Ways to Curb Your Appetite
In addition to the foods you eat, your habits can also help manage hunger and cravings. Here are a few habits worth adopting, according to science:
1) Drink More Water
2) Get Your Zzzzs
3) Stress Less
When your body experiences stress, it unleashes hormones (hello, ghrelin!) that push you to overeat—and chances are you’re reaching for cookies over kale. One published review, which took a close look at ghrelin’s impact on weight, found that stress increases ghrelin, which further stimulates appetite. This, in turn, might impede efforts to maintain your weight after you’ve shed pounds (8). In addition, numerous animal studies report that physical or emotional distress tend to increase intake of fat, sugar or both.
4) Meditate, Early and Late
According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, studies suggest that meditation reduces stress (9). While much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease, devoting a few minutes to quiet contemplation may also help you become more mindful of food choices. With practice, you will likely pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit it before you do something you’ll regret.
5) Eat a Balanced Plate
At mealtime, dividing your plate between protein, fat and low-glycemic carbs may make you less likely to feel hungry after lunch or dinner. “The best appetite suppressant is a balanced meal consisting of about 25 grams of protein, about 12 grams of fat and no more than 40 grams of low-glycemic carbs (primarily as non-starchy vegetables) as demonstrated by Harvard Medical in 1999,” says Sears. Stassou also warns against processed food like cakes and cookies, which can spike blood sugar and make you hungrier.
Risks to Consider with Appetite Suppressants
Are there any risks to consider with natural appetite suppressants? First, before altering your diet, speak to your doctor, especially if you have one or more health issues. In addition, keep portion sizes in mind, since too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect, causing you to gain weight.
Lastly, pregnant women or those breastfeeding should avoid using appetite suppressants altogether, particularly those from the local drug store or pharmacy.
“In the short-term, they can affect neurotransmission and increased sympathetic nervous system outputs that may have an adverse [effect] on the fetus,” explains Sears. Keeping your pregnancy pounds in check may be less important than the health of your baby, so definitely talk to your OB/GYN about how to control your appetite when you’re “eating for two.”