The temptation to overeat is everywhere, so in today's society it can be difficult to control how much we eat and maintain a healthy weight. There are countless different weight loss diets around for us to try, but dieting often leaves us feeling hungry and deprived. Could there be another way to help control how much we eat, without going hungry?

Satiety is the feeling of fullness after eating that suppresses the urge to eat for a period of time after a meal. Such feelings of fullness can play an important role in controlling how much we eat. If we feel really full or ‘satiated’ after a meal then we are likely to go much longer before we feel hungry and may eat less at the next meal. But, if we do not feel very full then we are likely to get hungry again more quickly and may be tempted to snack or eat more at the next meal. So, if we can understand how to enhance these feelings of fullness or ‘satiety’, this may help to control how much we eat.

Satiety is controlled by a number of factors that begin when a food or drink is consumed and continue as the food enters the gut and is digested and absorbed. Signals feed into specific areas of the brain in response to the expansion of the stomach, our sensory responses and the brain’s perceptions of the food and drink consumed. Hormonal signals are released in response to the digestion and absorption of nutrients. There are also hormones that tell the brain how much fat we have stored in the body, which affect satiety over the longer term. These signals are integrated in areas of the brain involved in the regulation of energy intake, which lead to the feeling of satiety. Although we can feel the stomach filling up as we eat, it can take 15-20 minutes after food is first eaten, for the full range of satiety signals to reach the brain. By this time and for some time afterwards we will experience feelings of fullness.

Despite these sophisticated mechanisms that exist to control energy intake, people often still eat when they feel full or refrain from eating when hungry. There are many other factors that influence eating behaviour as well as the body’s satiety signals, such as portion size, the variety of food and drinks available, emotional states and the social situation around an eating occasion.

Tips on how to feel fuller

So how can we best try to enhance these feelings of fullness to help us control how much we eat? Here are some top tips for helping you feel fuller:

  • Foods high in protein seem to make us feel fuller than foods high in fat or carbohydrate, so including some protein at every meal should help keep you satisfied. Foods high in protein include meats such as chicken, ham or beef, fish, eggs, beans and pulses.
  • If you are watching your weight, opt for lower fat versions, using leaner cuts of meat, cutting off visible fat and avoiding the skin on poultry as this will help reduce the energy density of the diet, which can help to enhance satiety (see below).
  • Foods that are high in fibre may also enhance feelings of fullness so try to include plenty of high-fibre foods in the diet such as wholegrain bread and cereals, beans and pulses and fruit and vegetables.
  • Alcohol seems to stimulate appetite in the short-term and therefore drinking alcohol is likely to encourage us to eat more. Alcoholic beverages can make you forget about your intentions to eat healthily by making you lose your inhibitions. Alcoholic drinks are also calorific, so you should cut down on alcohol consumption if you are trying to control your weight.
  • The ‘energy density’ of food has a strong influence on feelings of fullness or satiety. Energy density is the amount of energy (or calories) per gram of food. Lower energy density foods provide less energy per gram of food so you can eat more of them without consuming too many calories. Low energy density foods include fruit and vegetables, foods with lots of water added when cooking such as soups and stews, and lower fat foods. Click here for more information on energy density.

Following these tips also helps to follow a healthy balanced diet as shown by the Eatwell Guide as you can include starchy foods, especially higher fibre varieties without much added fat or oil, plenty of fruit and vegetables and include lower fat, protein-rich foods such as lean meats and reduced fat dairy products. 

For more information about the Eatwell Guide, click here.

Last reviewed November 2013. Next review due November 2016.