people eat and overeat at the table

In an effort to lose weight you have been eating a bowl of oats for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and some clear soup for dinner. At the end of the day, you notice a rich smell of food from your neighbor which makes you realize that you feel extremely hungry. You give in and make yourself some pizza from the freezer, that makes you feel full and satisfied. You end the evening by taking some chocolate before going to bed. This is a scenario many dieters know too well. But why is it so hard to stop eating and say no to foods like grilled cheese, chocolate, pizza, ice cream, … We’ll explain the reasons you crave food and share tips how to avoid overeating.

Satiation and satiety

In the story above two components that regulate food intake triggered overeating:

  • Hunger made it easy to crave any food that will give you the satisfying feeling of fullness.
  • Appetite was to blame for the chocolate afterward.

Hunger is a physiological response that happens when your body senses that you need to eat. It’s an unpleasant feeling that drives us to find food as soon as possible. When you’re hungry you’re going to eat anything that will make you feel full. That’s why it’s recommended to get rid off all junk food when you want to lose weight or make your diet more healthy. When you have satisfied your hunger the feeling of satiation will make you stop eating. Satiation determines how much food you’ll eat during a meal. It’s a reaction happening immediately after ingesting food: it’s the drive that causes you to stop eating.

Satiety, on the other hand, is the feeling of satisfaction you get after consuming a meal. It’s the key factor that determines how much time will pass until your next meal. So for weight loss to be successful both your needs for satiation and satiety need to be fulfilled. So in the example above the subject felt both hungry and unsatisfied with her daily food intake. Which made her overeat at the end.

More filling and satisfying meals

man choosing healthy food

The best strategy to prevent overeating and lower your intake of fattening high calorie low nutritious meals is to prevent hunger feelings in the first place. Here are some tips how you can achieve that.

  • Choose bulky foods with high fiber and water content
    Vegetables tend to have a lot of insoluble fiber and water which makes them a great choice for achieving satiation. Fresh fruits, beans, vegetables and whole grains are your best choice here.
  • Choose protein-rich foods
    Protein-rich foods have the highest satiety value. Foods like lean meat, fish, and beans will keep you full for a longer period of time than foods rich in carbohydrates.
  • Choose foods with complex textures
    Research has shown that consuming more texture rich foods is going to trigger your fullness feelings earlier than consuming bland foods with low texture. To feel more satisfied choose foods with different textures. Opt for crunchy lightly steamed or fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, add some whole wheat pasta to your soup, crunch up your oats with some nuts,…
  • Chew your food thoroughly
    Research suggests that longer chewing may decrease hunger feelings and food intake, possibly through alterations in gut hormone responses related to satiety. You’ll stop eating sooner if you chew your food for longer

Which one would you choose?

Look at the examples below. Which choice will make you fuller? And which food choice will make you more satisfied after eating?

calories in different food choices food dnesity


Both food choices have the same amount of calories. The left one can be eaten in a matter of minutes. It won’t stretch your stomach and small intestines enough to send back signals to your brain, telling you that you should stop eating. As a result, you’ll quickly feel hungry again, because your nerve cells and hormones are going to send hunger information to the hypothalamus making you feel hungry again.

The meals on the right are much bulkier and contain much more fiber and water. Also, you’ll need much more time to eat all of these foods. Your stomach and intestines will send signals of fullness to your hypothalamus making you feel full and satisfied until your next meal.

Why do you still crave chocolates

Everybody knows that even when you feel completely full you can still have cravings for foods making it hard to resist a chocolate cake, potato chips or whatever your ‘forbidden’ food is.

That’s because appetite is also a psychological desire to consume specific foods. Food intake is not only driven by physiology but by numerous environmental factors including, sensory, psychological, social, cultural and educational factors. Which of these factors are going to influence you depends on which time of day it is, how you feel, the social setting you’re in, which food is available to you, etc.

Sensory factor

Stimuation of senses in advertised burger

Food stimulates all of your senses. You tend to eat more of a food that looks, tastes, feels and smells nice. Even your sense of hearing can be stimulated by food, from the crunch of peanuts in your mouth to popping soda. All the information our senses send us about food play a key part in the decision what and how much you’ll eat. We tend to eat more of nice, colorful arranged food that smells nice. That’s the reason the food industry spends so much effort to pack and arrange their foods as appealing as they can.
When it comes to taste, sweet is a taste everybody likes but bitter is a taste many dislike. Sweet foods usually are full of carbohydrates that provide our body with quick energy. Whereas many spoiled or even poisonous foods in nature are bitter. That’s why the bitter and stringent taste of foods like asparagus, rocket, kale, and others are not everybody’s favorite.

Social and cultural factors

Traditional birthday cake eating

Culture influences what and how much we eat. People in Europe use potatoes and wheat bread as staple foods in their diet whereas in other cultures rice, maize, cassava or other foods have this function.

Social situations can also stimulate your appetite and make you overeat. Eating together with friends and family makes you eat more than when you’re alone. Just think about the holidays. Special occasions like birthdays and celebrations give you permission to indulge in foods you normally would avoid.
Being at a certain location can evoke appetite and cravings. Like the need to eat popcorn in the movies.
Your social setting can also have a crucial effect on efforts to change your diet. If the people around you don’t support you and even disapprove with your diet change, it can become very difficult to alter your eating habits. Also the other way around if you’re in a very supportive environment, change can be achieved much easier.

If the people around you don’t support or even disapprove with your diet changes it can become very difficult to alter your eating habits. That’s why it’s important to find a supportive environment when you want to change eating habits for the better.

Psychological factors

Sometimes appetite can be a response to an emotional issue. Often people change their eating behavior when they experience stress. Many people will use food as comfort and eat more when they are under stress. Others will have less appetite when under stress. Comfort stress eaters often get into a vicious cycle where they consume more food to cope with a stressful situation. Afterwards, they feel guilty about eating more than they should have. As a result, they turn again to food to deal with their guilt feelings and end up in a cycle of guilt, shame, and overeating.

Many people crave food when they’re frustrated, worried, or bored, or when they feel anxious. Others subconsciously seek food as a “reward.” Often we enforce this behavior with children when we give them sweets as a reward for good behavior, conditioning them to crave food for rewards later in life.

We can learn to eat differently

Choosing healthy more bulky foods for satisfying meals

Even before you are born you’re learning about the food in your environment. You are fed a certain diet by your parents and many of those early experiences stay with you for your whole life. But learning about food and diet can make you change the way you eat and incorporate new foods.
By changing the place you live you’ll probably come in touch with new foods. Food preferences and the reasons you eat certain foods change during your life. You can learn to like new things and start to dislike foods you once enjoyed. The good thing is that by educating yourself about diet and health you can decide to change some of your dietary habits for better.
Photo credit: photo by Kici, HBCU blog-photo 2 by