March 4th, 2011
10:33 AM ET

How can I stop being hungry?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Asked by Jeff of El Centro, California

Losing weight has always been tough for me. It's even tougher for me now that I'm in my 40s. However, I made a resolution for 2010, and with diet and exercise, I've managed to lose 35 pounds.

I've managed to lose weight through grit and determination. The problem is, I am always hungry and my appetite is ravenous, difficult to satisfy. I want to eat until I'm full EVERY TIME I eat. If it wasn't for force of will, I would continue to eat and pack the pounds back on.

Is there anything I can do to fight the hunger? I try to snack on things that are healthy, but it seems no matter what I snack on, I get penalized with putting weight back on. I worry that if the only thing I have going for me is grit and determination, that might not be enough to stay in the fight.

Expert answer

Hi, Jeff! This is a common question. Hunger is a battle for many people who are trying to lose weight or have lost weight and are trying to maintain their weight.

Once you form and fill fat cells, the body has a well-designed system to maintain them, so hunger and weight regain are common. Hunger is particularly complicated, as it relies on numerous systems throughout the body including the brain, stomach and gut.

The science of satiety, or fullness, is a constantly growing field (along with our waistlines, unfortunately). There are a few things that have been proven to control hunger better and help you eat fewer calories without necessarily compromising the volume of food.

Fullness begins with the act of chewing, so solid calories tend to be more filling than liquid calories. A study presented by a well-known researcher in this field, Dr. Barbara Rolls, showed that an apple is more filling than apple sauce, which is more filling than apple juice.

Why? Because solid food requires chewing, thereby beginning the process of digestion and the release of digestive enzymes that begin to trigger fullness. It simply slows down the process of caloric consumption because it takes longer to chew an apple than to guzzle a 6-ounce glass of apple juice. In addition, an apple contains fiber, which has added benefits (see below).

So make sure the majority of your calories come from solid food, and limit sugary beverages and alcohol, which contain empty calories, and even juice, coffee drinks, shakes and smoothies if you don't find them as satisfying.

The one exception that you should include in your diet is noncream-based soups, which Rolls and others have shown can decrease calories significantly when consumed before a meal.

While liquid calories in beverage form are less satisfying, eating water-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy can help you eat fewer calories without cutting serving sizes. Try diluting calories in everything you eat by adding vegetables, fruit or fat-free dairy.

Examples including adding vegetables to pasta dishes and casseroles, topping frozen yogurt with fresh fruit, and making sauces or dressings with fat-free dairy instead of cream or oil.

Fiber, especially water-soluble fiber, may play an especially important role in feeling full, as it forms a gel with water in your stomach that slows the emptying of food from the stomach; slows the absorption of blood sugar, which also prevents the rapid drop that can lead to hunger; and allows the food to have more contact with the intestinal wall, which may help with the release of fullness hormones.

Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, beans, barley, apples, strawberries, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, grapes, oranges, peaches, pears, plums and prunes. Insoluble fiber can also be useful, as it takes longer to chew and is bulky, so it causes physical distension of the stomach without providing significant calories.

Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Be wary of products with added fiber as it is unclear whether added fiber has any effect on fullness or blood sugar stability and it does not provide added bulk in most cases.

Finally, lean protein is an essential component of fullness and weight maintenance, as it triggers the release of fullness hormones and can help keep blood sugar stable, thereby controlling hunger. I encourage my patients to try to eat some form of lean protein with every meal and snack if they struggle with hunger.

Good sources include skinless poultry, fish, lean red meat, low-fat or fat-free dairy, eggs/egg whites, and if you are on the go, protein bars without too much sugar or fat.

Congratulations on losing 35 pounds, and I hope some of my suggestions can help you keep the weight off for good!

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.