Like most people, you likely have experienced the midafternoon munchies or late-night sweet cravings. It is completely normal to crave something or feel hunger because it is the body’s natural survival mechanism alerting you when it needs more energy.
However, inappropriately timed hunger can cause some issues with overeating at the top of the list.
Unlike what popular diet programs may say, you cannot just “push through the hunger” forever. Sure, you may be able to ignore the feeling for a while, maybe even a month or so.
However, feeling hungry is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of simply supplying your body with the wrong type of energy.
Energy comes in the form of food – any food, in fact. However, not all food is created equal. Not one type of energy source is better than the other, either.
Each type of food has its purpose for feeding energy, although the type of energy you select can impact your body’s feelings for hunger later on.
For example, if you are an athlete, you will want to focus on quickly utilized foods. These types of foods act fast in the body, supplying glucose straight to the muscles and allowing them to perform without becoming depleted.
An athlete may even “carb load” before an event such as a marathon. They may enjoy a large pasta dish night before their big run and snack on sugar-filled chews and drinks during the event to keep their muscles fed as they burn through glucose.
Are large amounts of carbohydrates and sugar good sources of energy for a person working at their desk job? No, of course not! If you are not burning glucose consistently, your body is not going to react as it would in a burning state.
While you can certainly get away with choosing quickly utilized energy choices before, during, or after a workout (depending on the type and intensity of activity), the types of energy sources you choose to eat during the day while you are driving the kids to school, picking up the mail, and casually walking the dog are going to determine your hunger levels as the hour’s pass.
How should I structure my meals to beat hunger?
If you find yourself feeling hungry often or always reaching for a snack, you are likely missing good protein sources and nutrient-dense carbohydrates with your meals.
Protein takes more energy for you to digest than refined carbohydrates do. Research also shows that high-protein diets tend to lead to reduced overall energy intake, a plus for those who want to lose a little weight. (1)
Besides, reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates and replacing them with whole-grain options can also prolong digestion time and keep you feeling full for longer amounts of time.
Refined carbohydrates lack the fiber content that whole-grain carbohydrates contain. Fiber is key to feeling full immediately following a meal and will sustain you throughout the day.
To reduce hunger and cravings, you should incorporate protein and fiber-filled carbohydrates with every snack and meal you consume. (2) This does not mean you have to eat more food, but it does mean you need to eat smarter.
Often, eating a large breakfast filled with protein will decrease your food intake over the course of the day. (3)
If you do not like eating a large breakfast, make sure your lunch packs an extra hard punch to get you through the afternoon and into dinner.
Use these guidelines to craft a filling and hunger-reducing meal or snack:
- Select your protein source: Aim for 10 grams of protein per snack and about 20 grams of protein for each meal as a starting point.
Exact protein needs vary per person based on weight, so ask your doctor about your specific needs. Look for lean sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, beans, and lentils.
- Select your carbohydrate source: Pair your protein with a moderate amount of unrefined carbohydrates. This could include whole-grain crackers for a snack or a piece of whole-wheat toast for a lunch sandwich. (4)
- Add in a high-fiber fruit or vegetable: Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber and offer the body plenty of vitamins and minerals. Great high-fiber options include berries, carrots, and broccoli. (5)
Are there specific foods that can help me stay full?
You can create a high-protein and high-fiber meal using a large variety of foods. However, there are a few “superfoods” that stand out from the rest.
Here are 10 filling foods that will keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours.
1. Black beans
Just ½ cup of black beans provides you with 6 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 17 grams of nutrient-rich carbohydrates. You can add beans to a soup or use them as a meat replacement in some dishes such as tacos.
Similar to black beans, edamame is a great option for vegans or vegetarians who need to increase their protein intake. One-half cup of edamame contains 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and 12 grams of carbohydrates.
As a great lean meat option, 4 ounces of chicken contains a whopping 24 grams of protein. Pair chicken with whole-grain pasta or rice for a savory dinner.
Unlike the chicken, salmon is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids. One 5-ounce filet of salmon contains 27 grams of protein and 22 grams of healthy fat.
Aim to incorporate 2-3 servings of fish into your weekly diet.
Oatmeal is an amazing grain that contains both protein and fiber. Start your morning off with a filling bowl of oatmeal and fresh berries to easily hold you over until lunch.
One cup of whole-grain oatmeal contains 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 42 grams of carbohydrates.
Barley is an under-praised grain that is often forgotten about. You can use this grain to make any vegetable soup extra hearty. One-half cup of whole barley contains 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 2 grams of slow-digesting carbohydrates.
Tofu, which is a soy product like edamame, is a good meat replacement for cooking and quickly takes on the flavor of what you prepare it with.
About ¼ of a normal tofu package (85 grams) contains 9 grams of protein.
When shopping for beef, look for grass-fed or free-range for the best quality meat. Just 3 small ounces of beef contains 17 grams of protein.
9. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are delicious alternatives to white potatoes. They contain almost twice the amount of fiber and half the amount of carbohydrates. You can eat them with the skin on, and they are a good option to pair with protein.
One small sweet potato contains 2 grams of fiber and 12 grams of carbohydrates.
10. Pumpkin seeds
You can easily incorporate raw pumpkin seeds into your diet as a snack, salad topping, or ingredient in breads and treats. One-half cup of raw pumpkin seeds contains 3 grams of fiber, 9 grams of protein, and 4 grams of carbohydrates.