The Power of Eating Enough

Foods for satiety.

“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 meat77 grams
chicken breast87 grams
almonds93 grams
salmon105 grams
feta cheese121 grams
eggs159 grams (3 eggs)
tofu167 grams
chickpeas242 grams
lentils263 grams
Grams of food to obtain 20 grams of protein.

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).

👉🏽 Tip: Too much protein can suppresse appetite which could be a problem if you’re in the situation of losing your period to undereating (even if you’ve been mistakenly diagnosed with PCOS).

Best foods for satiety.

For an example of the power of protein, consider my patient Mandy (excerpted from my book Hormone Repair Manual).

Patient story

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.

24 thoughts on “The Power of Eating Enough”

  1. Wow, your case study really hit home with me. In February of 2019 I had a BMI of 30 and was shaped like the classic apple (mid-40s). I couldn’t lose a pound and was in treatment for emotional eating. For whatever reason, I started eating eggs, cheese and veggies every day around 10, and then a nice big dinner of meat, starch, veggies and even dessert. I was happy. I lost and lost and then kept losing. (gave up alcohol in there too..)

    I have a BMI of 20 now, the smallest that I’ve ever been. And I out-eat my 200 lb boyfriend half the time.

    You’re the best, Laura. I so appreciate you!

    Reply
  2. Hello Dr. Briden, thank you so much for this! I wonder what you think about eating too little and not being able to fall pregnant. I have a friend who’s in her early 30s with a BMI of barely above 17 (and she is not one of those naturally thin Asian ladies). She eats almost nothing (stress-induced lack of appetite according to her) but has fairly regular periods, if somewhat short menstrual cycles. She’s been trying for a baby for years with a guy who has fathered 2 kids with 2 other women, so the reason is clearly not him. She’s been to several fertility clinics and they’ve done all kinds of tests which all came back “normal”, if somewhat low on progesterone. So the doctors labeled it “unexplained infertility” and suggested IVF – but never asked about her very low weight or eating habits which, quite frankly, shocked me.
    She can’t afford IVF but doesn’t want to change her eating habits either and has accused me of bullying her when I brought better nutrition up as an alternative path. So I’m wondering am I wrong here? It’s becoming hard for me to support her in what I perceive as a self-made mess, but maybe I fail to see the whole picture here. Thanks so much in advance for your input.

    Reply
  3. I find it somewhat irresponsible to only touch on the macronutrient “protein” when mentioning satiety. Fat is
    an integral part of our body systems and is essential to not only feeling full, but our well-being in general as
    fats nourish aspects of us that protein and carbohydrates simply cannot. I think it’s more useful to explore
    cutting out sugar and processed foods than it is to not mention fat. I spent decades doing “low fat, fat free”
    and was always hungry. 10 years ago I cut sugar and processed foods completely out , and now enjoy a 70% fat
    diet ,leaner and lighter than I’ve ever been, with tons of energy. Just saying. Everyone is different so why not mention more options?
    Maybe someone cant do 70% or 60% or even 40% fat but to not mention it, for fear of “eating fat makes you fat”
    rather than “eating sugar makes you fat” is doing a disservice to many who might benefit (and feel better) from more
    fat (and less protein) in their diets.

    Reply
    • thanks for your comment. Fat is also an important macronutrient and I have never (in 30 years of health writing) advised people to avoid fat or go low-fat. For example, I never stopped eating butter (or recommending butter to my patients) even during the peak of the low-fat craze in the 90s. All that said, fat is not as satiating as protein or starch.

      Reply
  4. Thanks Lara. I needed this reminder, especially being in peri-menopause and with wildly fluctuating (/tanking!) energy levels.

    I absolutely notice the difference in my sense of wellbeing and stability when i eat enough protein, yet i do sometimes skimp on it due to budget constraints, and that can set in a downward spiral of low mood and low appetite as a result. My intention for this year is to smooth out my blood sugar and protein-eating patterns (having ‘mastered’ some of the other peri-menopausal complaints!).

    As a pescetarian (mostly vegetarian, and gluten-free), I found over many years that my body craves different proteins at different times of my cycle. In the first days after my period: eggs; in the build-up/follicular phase: beans/legumes; in the ovulation phase: tofu; and in the wind-down/pre-menstrual phase: tempeh + more greens, and/or salmon/fish. In the first 3 days during menstruation i barely eat as i feel “full”, but drink herbal teas & liquids instead. I snack on nuts, cheese, nut butters (Fix & Fogg’s Everything Butter is divine!), dates, fruit, dark chocolate.

    This works well for me if i stick to it, and i stick to it when i can afford it. So in fact, the improvement i need to focus on this year is undoubtedly financial rather than nutritional! Probably need to check another blog for that one tho… 😉

    Thanks for your content, it is much appreciated 🙂

    Reply
  5. This is so interesting. Thank you. I didn’t know about this “drive” to get enough amino acids!

    I wonder what you would advise for someone with a compromised gut (for example post anorexia)? Or someone with autoinmune disease(s)?

    What is your take on the Autoimmune Protocol diet for instance? Would you advise any woman to cut out all simple carbs, milk and gluten to heal an autoinmune disease?

    Reply
  6. Would you recs on protein/diet change for an active woman? If so, how?
    I feel hungry if I only eat protein and fat. I have to have rice and potaoes, otherwise my stomach is growling.

    Reply
    • If you’re active, you probably need starch so go ahead with rice and potatoes.
      As for protein requirement, it can be as high as 1.5 grams per kg for active women.

      Reply
  7. As a nutrition specialist, I have yet to have a female client who ate enough, and it breaks my heart. I’m so grateful to have this post to refer people to!

    I will say that in my experience, depending on a person’s activity level and genetics, many people will feel even better on even higher protein levels than is recommended in this post, the warning for protein closing down appetite not withstanding. I have my clients aim for 80g at least, and for very active people 1g of protein per lean pound of body mass (I’m in the US). That is often 120g protein or more. It seems ridiculous, but I’ve seen some amazing healing events! Pregnant and lactating women need 80g or more as well (Real Food for Pregnancy is an amazing resource!).

    I’ll also add, I have certification on the therapeutic use of low carb/ketogenic diets, which can be problematic for some women (myself included at one time). I’ve found that the women I’ve worked with who make sure to meet their protein requirements recover their menstrual cycles, or never have problems to begin with with if that is in place.

    Reply
    • Hi Melissa,
      thanks so much for chiming in. That’s all very helpful.
      And yes, I agree that some women feel well on 120 grams.
      Interesting about protein restoring menstrual cycles. That makes sense.

      Reply
  8. I love that you did not endorse a no carb diet. If I eat a decent amount of protein with a meal, I don’t feel terrible adding a small side carb like potatoes or rice. What kills me is when I’m out and haven’t eaten in 5+ hours with no good alternatives available. I eat relatively low- carb protein bars in that scenario, but I’m sure that’s probably not the best choice. Thoughts on protein bars?

    Reply
  9. Hi Lara, is higher protein in menopause the same if you’re on HRT. If so much how much more, and what would be a good carb and fat intake? I went back onto HRT as I am struggling with weight and not having any luck balancing my blood sugar, it’s a bit better now, but I wouldn’t be able to intermittent fast, I have to eat first thing in the morning and am also having a low GI snack before bed as my adrenaline kicks straight in if I don’t eat, even waking in the middle of the night, hungry, hot and racing heart. Any other suggestions? Thankyou for your great posts.

    Reply
      • Thanks Lara, yes I have read your post about insulin and I do all that, about 800mg mag divided throughout the day and taurine, and no sugars/desserts etc, walking everyday. I have not done the 2 hour tolerance test but my fasting insulin is usually between 11-14, I know not under 10 but not super high either, I just can’t seem to get it down any further. Just wondering if the ratio between oestrogen/prog would make a difference? What should it be on BHRT?

        Reply
  10. I agree with everything said in this article, but I actually have the opposite problem. In my mid-thirties (during a particularly stressful time), my appetite came to a screeching halt. Now, at age 40, I have to carefully plan my small meals so that I will be hungry enough to eat the next meal. I generally eat at 5:30am, 11:30am, and 6:30pm, without the desire to snack. I tend to get satiated very quickly and feel embarrassed when I am eating with others and eat so little compared to everyone else. I had my thyroid tested a couple years ago and it was normal, except my T4 was 0.1 below normal.

    I have stopped eating anything that is too filling (soup, salad) or that I’m just not very motivated to eat. I get most of my fruits and veggies from dried fruits and supplement powders. My arsenal of digestive aids has expanded to include digestive bitters, enzymes, ginger, fiber, specialized probiotics, and magnesium. I wish I could feel that my body has a healthy desire for food again, but have not found a solution.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your story. Low appetite is a distressing symptom and there has to be an explanation. Have been screened for celiac serology and thyroid (anti-TPO) antibodies? (I sometimes use positive thyroid antibodies as a marker of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.)

      Reply
  11. Thank you for this article. I crave so many high protein meals, but a lot of times when I am out and about, I cannot find them without them being processed foods. Thank you very much for the measurements, but do I base it on what I weigh now or what my ideal weight would be?

    Reply
    • Because protein is relatively expensive, it can be hard to find it in cafes and shops. I usually reach for nuts or cheese or a cafe meal of a frittata or salad with meat. If I’m really stuck, I might just buy lunch meat like turkey slices.

      Reply
  12. I love your articles, thank you very much Lara.
    But this one in particular really resonated with me, as I see similarities in ‘Mandy’s’ story & my own. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  13. You’re awesome Lara! Again, such a great read. Really meaningful to me and tons of women, no doubt. Thanks so much for taking care of us, you are very generous. May your new year be peaceful and healthy and may you get back some of what you give out.

    Reply

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