If you're struggling through another day of dieting and nagging hunger, you may want to bamboozle your brain into thinking your stomach's full. It's permissible to do this, experts say: You won't be fooling anyone but yourself, and when you get down to the nitty-gritty, you're not actually even misleading yourself — you're just tricking the part of your brain that controls hunger into saying, "OK, that's enough for now." Here are seven expert tips for filling your stomach with imagination instead of calories: 1. Start with the right appetizer
Eating hors d'oeuvres before a meal to jump-start fullness may have a basis in science, says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, who cites a study that appeared in Cell Metabolism. She says it takes time for the hormones in our stomach and intestines to tell us when we're full, but we get the first signals to our brain telling us when we've eaten enough as soon as food hits our stomach. The trick, then, is to eat an appetizer that has a lot of air, water, and fiber which packs the gut, causing it to send out "I'm getting full" messages.
Apples may be the single best appetizer, because they're 25 percent air and produce the satiety hormone GLP-1 as they're digested. "They get you to feel fuller early on, and the evidence shows you don't compensate for this later by eating more," Robert Welch, professor of food science and nutrition at Ulster University, told the Daily Mail.
The next best option is a salad, but only if it's the right kind. Choose dark green lettuce such as red leaf or romaine instead of iceberg, since many people feel it's more filling, not to mention more nutritious. Add tomatoes (see the next tip), mushrooms, fresh broccoli, cucumbers, or other vegetables in season. Add low-fat or non-fat dressing as if it cost $500 an ounce.
[--pageBreak:"Add Tomatoes"--] 2. Add tomatoes to your meal
An effective way to fool your brain is by eating tomatoes, whether in salads, sandwiches, or just by themselves. Research indicates they're rich in compounds that control the levels of appetite-regulating hormones, including lowering the level of the hormone ghrelin, making us feel full.
A study involving a small group of women aged 18 to 35 bore out tomatoes' ability to fill us up. The women were given cream cheese sandwiches made either of white bread, bread enriched with carrots, or bread enriched with tomatoes. According to the Daily Mail, the researchers thought the carrot bread would be the most filling, but were surprised when tomato bread turned out to be the most satisfying. Lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, may be responsible for taking the edge off the appetite; it's already credited with numerous other health benefits, from boosting fertility to defending against cancer.
[--pageBreak:"The Blue Plate Special"--] 3. Use a blue plate
Buy blue plates and use them religiously, because the color acts as an appetite suppressant. According to ColorMatters.com, when our early ancestors were foraging for food, anything purple, black, or blue was potentially poison. Therefore we don't have an automatic appetite response to blue since very little edible blue food is found in nature. When you tire of blue plates, try green ones.
If you really want to turn off your craving for food, you might experiment with plates that are Baker-Miller pink, which is roughly the color of bubble gum. Several studies have shown it to be perhaps the strongest appetite suppressant. To see the actual color, go here
. Some experts even recommend staring at a swatch of this color several times a day for 30 seconds to suppress your appetite.
Whatever you do, don't use red or yellow plates because those colors stimulate the appetite.
[--pageBreak:"And Use Small Plates"--] 4. Use small plates
Little plates mean little waists. A Cornell study called "Ice Cream Illusions: Bowls, Spoons, and Self-Served Portions" showed conclusively that bigger bowls, larger spoons, and dipping it yourself meant larger ice cream portions at a gathering of nutrition experts — 57 percent more, in fact. The researchers believe the results are due to our perceptual tendency to judge the size of objects by comparing them with neighboring items. In the words of one of the researchers, "While 4 ounces of food on an 8-ounce plate might look like a good helping, 4 ounces on a 10-ounce plate could seem skimpy."
One of the most diet-dangerous places, therefore, is a serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat buffet with big plates, big spoons, and big calories. While no one is suggesting you never dine out, it's much easier to pull a fast one on your brain in your own kitchen.
[--pageBreak:"Eat Protein"--] 5. Eat protein
Don't overdo protein, but keep in mind that researchers believe a high-protein diet may deceive the brain by causing it to receive fewer appetite-stimulating hormones. Eggs and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna fill the bill, and some experts tout lean beef to tame your hunger pangs. Many believe it's no accident that the centerpiece of most meals is traditionally protein.
According to Purdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, a small portion does the trick. "We found that an additional 20-30 grams of protein or a 3-4 ounce portion of lean protein was enough to influence appetite," he said in a statement on MedicineNet.com. "We have also shown that when diets are inadequate in the amount of protein and don't meet national recommendations, desire to eat increases."
[--pageBreak:"Slow Down"--] 6. Slow down
You've probably heard of the five-second rule that says you can safely eat food that has fallen to the floor if you pick it up within five seconds (not true, by the way), but have you heard of the 20-minute rule that applies to dieting? According to HealthyLivingSite.com, it takes 20 minutes for our brains to fully register fullness. Chew slowly, put down your fork between bites, and hold a conversation, if only with yourself. Pause halfway through your meal for a couple of minutes — you may be full or almost full and not yet know it.
[--pageBreak:"Take a Hot Shower"--] 7. Take a hot shower
If all else fails and you're still thinking about that hidden box of cookies in the back of the cabinet, the antidote for your hunger could be a hot shower or bath, according to naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner. She says anything that raises your body temperature, whether it's a hot bath, a mug of hot water, or even some push-ups to warm yourself up, will quiet your appetite.