“Eat to feel good” is my advice to patients. Why? Because eating should be relaxing and create satiety, which is the feeling of being sated or full.
Achieving satiety with solid meals such as meat and potatoes is 1) a good way to achieve optimal nutrition, and 2) the single best way to avoid overeating and just live your life without having to fight cravings or constantly exert willpower to avoid snacks and desserts.
Best foods for satiety
According to the satiety index, the most filling or satisfying foods are whole foods high in protein, fiber, and some types of starch such as oats and legumes. Potatoes, in particular, are highly satiating because they provide resistant starch and a possible appetite suppressant called proteinase inhibitor 2 (PI2).
Sugar, on the other hand, is not satiating and high-dose fructose can lead to overeating. That’s true for processed fructose like table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, that’s also true for natural sources of high-dose fructose like dates, fruit juice, and agave syrup.
Protein to feel full
According to the protein leverage hypothesis, protein is the most satiating macronutrient because protein is our primary appetite. And protein is our primary appetite because amino acids are essential for the healthy functioning of every part of the body including the brain, nervous system, digestive system, and more. Because amino acids are so important, we’ve evolved to just keep eating until we’ve obtained enough of them—even if that means overeating calories.
Your daily requirement for protein depends on your age, state of health, level of activity, and whether you’re in menopause or not (women in menopause need more protein). In general, you need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight per day. For example, if you’re 65 kilograms and that’s your ideal weight, then you need about 65 grams of protein per day, which equates to about 22 grams of high-quality protein with every meal.
What does that look like? Here’s a rough guideline of the amount of actual food you need to obtain 20 grams of protein.
|red meat||77 grams|
|chicken breast||87 grams|
|feta cheese||121 grams|
|eggs||159 grams (3 eggs)|
It’s like your body wakes up every morning wondering, “Am I going to obtain all the amino acids I need today?” If your goal is 65 grams and if you’re not even close to that by midday, you could start to feel hungry, distressed, and prone to snacking.
If you get all the way to evening without obtaining 65 grams, you’re likely to binge, which is eating to excess without being able to stop yourself. It’s your body saying, “Right. I need amino acids and I’m just going to keep eating until I get them.”
Evening binge foods could be anything including sugar, but they’re often “protein decoy” foods, which are not protein but taste like protein thanks to their umami flavor. Chips are the best example.
The solution to evening binging is to harness protein leverage to your advantage by eating plenty of high-protein foods early in the day before you get too hungry. That means eggs, cheese, or meat by at least 12 pm, and preferably by 10 am (because morning protein also helps to entrain a healthy circadian rhythm).
For an example of the power of protein, consider my patient Mandy (excerpted from my book Hormone Repair Manual).
Mandy had struggled with her weight for years, going on and off diets and always regaining it all and more. By the time she came to me, she was also seeing a psychologist for emotional eating and trying hard to eat less.
Most of Mandy’s weight was distributed around her middle in the classic apple shape that suggests insulin resistance. Her cholesterol was high, which is another sign of high insulin.
I ordered a glucose tolerance test with insulin, and Mandy’s insulin results were 10 mIU/L (60 pmol/L) fasting, then 72 mIU/L (541 pmol/L) at the one-hour mark and 60 mIU/L (423 pmol/L) at two hours, all of which are above the normal range.
“You have insulin resistance,” I said, “which is prediabetes and is making you both gain weight and crave sugar. The only way out of this situation is to find a way to feel a lot more satisfied with your meals so that you’ll eventually be able to quit all dessert type foods.”
We made a plan for Mandy to start her day with coffee (which she loves) and if she had time to prepare it, a 10 am meal of an omelette or leftover dinner. If she didn’t have time, then Mandy had a quick meal of 3 eggs plus cheese or a protein smoothie. She then enjoyed two more solid meals (often meat and potatoes) for lunch and dinner and stopped eating by 7 pm, which was a nine-hour eating window. She also took magnesium to improve insulin sensitivity.
By the time I saw Mandy a month later, she had lost a centimetre around her waist and was feeling a lot more energetic. She had even signed up with a personal trainer. At this point, Mandy was still eating sugar, because we were still at the “feeling better” part of the plan and had not yet reached the “quit dessert” part.
“I feel so much better,” Mandy told me. “You’re the first person who ever told me I could eat enough to feel good, considering how I look.”
By “considering how I look,” Mandy meant her body shape. She meant I was the first person to see her weight and still say she should eat in a way to feel good.
Mandy continued her protein breakfasts and time-restricted eating and found that, because her energy was so much better, she was eventually able to quit desserts.
When we retested her insulin six months later, all her readings were in the normal range. By that time, she had lost 10 centimetres around her waist.
Ask me in the comments.