Unfortunately, weight loss diets often lead to increased appetite and severe hunger.
This can make it extremely difficult to lose weight and keep it off.
Here is a list of 18 science-based ways to reduce excessive hunger and appetite:
1. Eat Enough Protein
Making protein about 20–30% of your total calorie intake, or 0.45-0.55 g/lb of body weight (1.0–1.2 g/kg), seems sufficient to provide the benefits (4).
Bottom Line: Getting sufficient protein in your diet can help promote weight loss, partly by decreasing your appetite.
2. Opt for Fiber-Rich Foods
In fact, a recent review reports that adding fiber-rich beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils to your meal can increase feelings of fullness by 31%, compared to equivalent meals that aren’t based on beans (9).
Eating an extra 14 grams of fiber each day may decrease your calorie intake by up to 10%. Over 3.8 months, this could lead to a loss of up to 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg) (10).
What’s more, few negative effects have been linked to high-fiber diets. Fiber-rich foods often contain many other beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and helpful plant compounds (11, 12).
Therefore, opting for a diet containing sufficient fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds can also promote long-term health.
Bottom Line: Eating a fiber-rich diet can decrease hunger and help you eat fewer calories. It can also promote long-term health.
3. Pick Solids Over Liquids
Solid calories and liquid calories can affect appetite differently.
One recent review found that compared to a solid snack, people who ate a liquid snack were 38% less likely to compensate by eating less at the next meal (15).
In a second study, participants who were fed a semi-solid snack reported less hunger, a lower desire to eat and a greater sensation of fullness than those fed a liquid snack (16).
Solids require more chewing, which can grant more time for the fullness signal to reach the brain (17).
Scientists also believe the extra chewing time allows solids to stay in contact with the taste buds for longer, which can also promote feelings of fullness (18).
Bottom Line: Eating your calories rather than drinking them can help you eat less without feeling more hungry.
4. Drink Coffee
Coffee has many benefits for health and sports performance — and may also help decrease your appetite.
Scientists believe that PYY levels play an important role in determining how much you’re likely to eat (21).
However, more studies are required to pinpoint exactly how this works.
Bottom Line: Drinking coffee, especially decaf, could help reduce hunger for up to three hours.
5. Fill Up on Water
Drinking water can help decrease the hunger you feel before meals.
In fact, studies show that people who drink two glasses of water immediately before a meal eat 22% less than those who don’t drink any water (23).
Scientists believe that about 17 oz (500 ml) of water is sufficient to stretch the stomach enough to send signals of fullness to the brain (23).
That said, water is also known to empty from the stomach quickly. For this tip to work, it may be best to drink the water as close to the meal as possible.
Interestingly, starting your meal with soup may act in the same way.
Researchers observed that eating a bowl of soup immediately before a meal decreased hunger and reduced total calorie intake from the meal by about 100 calories (24).
Bottom Line: Drinking low-calorie liquids before a meal can help you eat fewer calories without leaving you hungry.
6. Eat Mindfully
Under normal conditions, your body is well equipped to tell your brain whether you’re still hungry or have eaten enough food.
However, eating quickly or while you’re distracted can make it more difficult for your brain to recognize these signals.
Solve this problem by eliminating distractions and focusing on the foods in front of you — a key aspect of mindful eating.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness during meals can help people experience more pleasure while eating. This can help keep the focus on quality rather than quantity, and is very useful to reduce binge eating behavior (25).
There also seems to be a link between hunger, fullness and what your eyes see.
One experiment offered two identical milkshakes to participants. One was called a “620-calorie indulgence,” while the other was given a “120-calorie sensible” label.
Believing that a drink contains more calories can also activate the brain areas linked to feeling full (27).
How full you feel may be influenced by what you see, and paying attention to what you eat can be very beneficial.
Bottom Line: Eating mindfully has been shown to decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness. It can also reduce calorie intake and help prevent binge eating.
7. Indulge in Dark Chocolate
Interestingly, the simple act of smelling this treat might produce the same effect.
One study observed that simply smelling 85% dark chocolate decreased both appetite and hunger hormones just as much as actually eating it (31).
Nevertheless, further studies are needed to examine the effects of dark chocolate on feelings of fullness.
Bottom Line: Eating or even just smelling dark chocolate may help diminish appetite and cravings for sweets.
8. Eat Some Ginger
Interestingly, recent research adds another benefit to the list: hunger reduction.
One study found that consuming 2 grams of ginger powder diluted in hot water at breakfast reduced the hunger participants felt after the meal (36).
However, this study was small and more research in humans is needed before strong conclusions can be reached.
Bottom Line: Ginger may help decrease feelings of hunger, but more research is needed to confirm this effect.
9. Spice Up Your Meals
Ginger may not be the only hunger-reducing spice.
It found these compounds may help decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness (37).
What’s more, the ability of these compounds to generate heat may also increase the number of calories burned after a meal (37).
However, these effects have not been seen in all studies and remain small. In addition, people who eat these foods often may develop a tolerance to the effects.
Bottom Line: Compounds found in hot and sweet peppers may help curb hunger and increase fullness, but further research is needed.
10. Eat on Smaller Plates
Reducing the size of your dinnerware can help you unconsciously reduce your meal portions. This is likely to help you consume less food without feeling deprived (38).
Interestingly, this effect can fool even the most aware eater.
For instance, a study observed that even nutrition experts unconsciously served themselves 31% more ice cream when given larger bowls (39).
Another study further reports that participants who served themselves snacks from large bowls ate 142 calories more than those who ate from smaller bowls (40).
Bottom Line: Eating from smaller plates may help you unconsciously eat less without increasing your feelings of hunger.
11. Use a Bigger Fork
The size of your eating utensils may have dramatic effects on how much food is needed for you to feel full.
One study observed that participants who used bigger forks ate 10% less than those eating their meals with a smaller fork (41).
The researchers believe that small forks may give people the feeling that they are not making much progress in satiating their hunger, leading them to eat more.
Of note, this effect does not seem to apply to the size of all utensils. Larger serving spoons may increase the food eaten at a meal by up to 14.5% (39).
Bottom Line: Using larger forks may help decrease the amount of food needed before reaching fullness.
Exercise is thought to reduce the activation of brain regions linked to food cravings, which can result in a lower motivation to eat (42).
It can also reduce hunger hormone levels, while increasing feelings of fullness (43).
Research shows that aerobic and resistance exercise are equally effective at influencing hormone levels and the size of a meal eaten after exercise (44).
Bottom Line: Both aerobic and resistance exercise can help increase fullness hormones and lead to reduced hunger and calorie intake.
13. Lose Body Fat Around Your Middle
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone that influences appetite and energy balance.
Higher NPY levels are believed to increase appetite and may even change the percentage of calories you store as fat (45).
Because of this, losing weight around your middle may help reduce your appetite and hunger levels.
Bottom Line: Losing fat around your middle may reduce levels of the hormone neuropeptide Y. This may lead to reduced appetite and hunger.
14. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough quality sleep can also help reduce hunger and protect against weight gain.
Research also shows that individuals who sleep less than seven hours per night rate their fullness levels after breakfast as 26% lower (51).
Bottom Line: Getting at least seven hours of sleep per night is likely to reduce your hunger levels throughout the day.
15. Reduce Your Stress
Excess stress is known to raise levels of the hormone cortisol.
Stress may also decrease levels of peptide YY (PYY), a fullness hormone (61).
In a recent experiment, participants ate an average of 22% more calories after a stressful test when compared to a non-stressful version of the same test (62).
Bottom Line: Reducing your stress levels may help decrease cravings, increase fullness and even protect against depression and obesity.
16. Eat Omega-3 Fats
A diet rich in omega-3 fats may also increase fullness after meals when calories are restricted for weight loss (67).
So far, these effects were only observed in overweight and obese participants. More research is needed to see if the same applies in lean people.
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fats may help decrease hunger for overweight and obese people. However, more research is needed in lean individuals.
17. Opt for Protein-Rich Snacks
Snacking is a matter of personal choice.
If it’s part of your daily routine, you may want to choose snacks that are high-protein rather than high-fat.
High-protein snacks can increase feelings of fullness and decrease total calorie intake at the following meal.
High-protein yogurt eaten in the afternoon may also help you eat approximately 100 fewer calories at dinner, compared to the other two options (68).
One study comparing yogurt containing 5 grams of protein to one containing 14 grams found no differences in hunger or calories consumed at the next meal (69).
Therefore, snacks with just 5 grams of protein may be enough to reduce hunger (69).
Bottom Line: Eating a protein-rich snack will likely decrease hunger and may prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
18. Visualize Eating the Foods You Crave
According to some researchers, picturing yourself indulging in the foods you crave most may actually decrease your desire to eat them.
In one experiment, 51 participants first imagined eating either three or 33 M&Ms before being given access to a bowl of the candy. Those who imagined eating more M&Ms ate 60% less of the candy, on average (70).
The researchers found the same effect when they repeated the experiment using cheese instead of M&Ms (70).
It seems that the visualization exercise may trick your mind into believing you’ve already eaten the desired foods, significantly decreasing your craving for them.
Bottom Line: Visualizing yourself eating the foods you crave may reduce your desire to eat them.
Take Home Message
Hunger is an important and natural signal that should not be ignored.
The tips mentioned here are just a few simple ways to reduce your appetite and hunger between meals.
If you’ve tried these things but still find you’re excessively hungry, consider talking to a healthcare professional about your options.