Amongst its many jobs, the hypothalamus (in the brain) is responsible for appetite regulation by stimulating metabolic and behavioural responses to maintain energy balance. Many factors come into play here, including the roles and reactions of biological hormones and peptides as well as psychological cues.
A lot of people fear or find that when they cut out meat and dairy, essentially everything they have been conditioned to associate with protein, they won’t be satiated. Well, protein is indeed satiating, and lucky for us, it is in everything. So if it is protein you are worried about, simply ensuring you get enough calories daily should suffice to meet protein requirements (.8g/kg of body weight), read more here. While the effect of protein on appetite control is well-documented, increasing protein consumption beyond what is necessary does not appear to be helpful, and clearly shows a 75% increase in overall mortality, and a four-fold increase in cancer death risk! Interestingly, some experiments show that high animal-based protein diets might help with quick weight-loss and appetite control short-term, but these effects tend to dissipate after one year. Further, these diets deplete the bodies glycogen stores and the water that goes with them, so it stands to reason that participants lose (water) weight.
In one study, a vegetable-based meal (beans/peas) influenced appetite and energy intake favourably compared to an animal-based meal (pork/veal) with similar energy and protein content. Further, a vegetable-based meal with low protein content was as satiating and palatable as an animal-based meal with high protein content! So we can see, protein isn’t the only thing that is important to consider when it comes to appetite control!
Aside from protein, nutrient density and fibre are extremely important when it comes to satiety. Nutrient density is important because if you are eating nutrient-poor but calorie-rich foods (fast, processed, refined foods), your body may send you hunger signals, hoping that you choose to feed it the nutrients it so needs. There is ample evidence that increasing consumption of high-fibre foods may decrease feelings of hunger. High-fibre foods are shown to take a while to digest, controlling blood sugar, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, and having the added bonus of “cleansing” the system and feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
Without knowing an individuals diet, it is tricky for me to answer why they are feeling constantly hungry. A common mistake people make is forgetting to replace the meat in their meal with something else nutrient-dense e.g. a chicken salad, minus the chicken, will not fill you up. You must add staples like chickpeas, beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, nuts or seeds in place, to amp up the energy and nutrient-density, and thus the satiety.
Lastly, we are supposed to get hungry! “If I eat a vegan meal, I find I am hungry a few hours later”… Well, that is often a positive when transitioning to a vegan diet, we become more in tune with our appetite. We must stop looking at hunger as a bad thing. You need food to fuel your body to function, it is simply about choosing the right fuel. Waking up hungry, feeling hungry every 3-5 hours is a very natural, normal and healthy indicator of your body working efficiently. Food is not the enemy!
– Replace the meat in your meal with something nutrient-dense, fibre-rich and substantial;
– Ensure you reach adequate protein daily through a variety of plant-sources: fruits and vegetables (everything adds up), beans, legumes and grains, tempeh and tofu, nuts and seeds. If you wish to incorporate a protein powder, you may, but that isn’t always necessary. Remember, sufficient calories = sufficient protein, read more on this here. Include beans and legumes in your diet, evidence suggests that such plant-proteins provide a longer feeling of satiety than animal proteins;
– Fill up on non-starchy vegetables – 3+ cups per meal is not too much! Go hard! Snack on these freely;
– Nutritious mini meals, such as the three S’s – salads, soups and smoothies – can also be snacks and are often healthier and satisfying than packaged and processed snack options;
– Think nutrient density – perhaps your body is craving nutrition rather than calories;
– Don’t deprive yourself of carbohydrates – carbohydrates are a mainstay in a plant-based diet. Gluten-free grains, legumes, beans, fruit… these foods are not to be feared. They are the bodies primary source of fuel, crucial for healthy brain, thyroid and digestive function and keeping you full, happy and healthy.
– Not too long, not too short, just right – Don’t wait too long between meals to the point where you are famished, make poor choices and guzzle your food, but don’t eat too soon, as we need time between meals to cleanse the digestive system! Aim to wait at least 2-3 hours;
– Plate your food – if snack items are out of reach, studies suggest you eat less. Ensure you are seated when eating, not on-the-go (or standing over the sink!);
– Do not inhale food – eat slowly and mindfully, away from distractions. Chew each bite 10-20 times. Set an alarm in your phone to go off after 20 minutes, this is a good guide for how long you should eat. Place utensils down between bites, and swallow each mouthful before going for another!
– Sleep – a lack of sleep actually leads to heightened appetite and less feelings of satisfaction after a meal due to its relationship with the hormones Ghrelin and Leptin. Essentially, it reduces the amount of leptin in your body, the “stop-eating” hormone;
– Ensure you are hydrated – Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger, particularly with fruit cravings. Have a glass or two of water, wait a few minutes, then decide if you are truly hungry. Note: it is best to drink away from meals, so as not to dilute digestive enzymes needed to break down food;
– Apple cider vinegar – fights candida and may help with sugar cravings, bloating and stimulation of stomach acid;
– Cinnamon – trials ustilising cinnamon as a means for blood sugar stabilisation, particularly in diabetics, have yielded mixed results. However, given the little downside, why not try it in meals. Be sure to choose Ceylon as opposed to Cassia (more common/cheap), due to potential coumarin toxicity;
– Phenylalanine – Is an amino acid thought to help suppress appetite, due to its relationship with the satiety hormone cholecystokinin. Bee pollen and chlorella (can be taken as tablets) are nutritious superfoods, rich in phenylalanine;
– Peppermint tea – may help suppress appetite, and is a lovely way to end a meal. Note: avoid if you are prone to reflux.