Food cravings and a seemingly insatiable appetite can be annoying and inconvenient. After all, it’s hard to concentrate on work or socializing when you’re hungry all the time. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need nutrients. But what should you do if you feel like you’re eating enough, but you’re constantly ravenous? How could you change your diet so that you feel full and satiated for longer? And are there any safe, natural appetite suppressants that can be used to curb your cravings? The answer is more complicated than you’d think. Here’s what you need to know about natural appetite suppressants.
Why would someone need to suppress their appetite?
If you’re reading this, chances are you feel like you’re overeating, or you eat an adequate amount, but you still feel hungry. If you want to solve this problem, you have to consider its root cause. When it comes to suppressing your appetite, asking Why? is just as important as asking How? According to the experts we consulted, there are two main reasons why people overeat: either they’re not getting enough nutrients or calories from their current diet, or there’s an underlying psychological issue. If you’re overeating for emotional reasons, the “cure” needs to meet your emotional needs. “For many people, overeating is a response to restriction and deprivation,” says Alexis Conason, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher who specializes in overeating and body image. [pullquote align=”center”]“When we make certain foods off-limits, we tend to rebel and overeat that food.” —Alexis Conason, PsyD[/pullquote] Conason founded The Anti-Diet Plan, a mindfulness-based program to help people struggling with overeating and body image dissatisfaction. “When we make certain foods off-limits, we tend to rebel and overeat that food,” she says. Overeating can be used as an attempt to meet your emotional needs—becoming a response to sadness, boredom, and loneliness—especially when your needs aren’t being met in other areas of your life. “While occasional overeating is totally normal, when this is our primary way to cope with feelings, it becomes problematic because food can’t truly meet our emotional needs,” Conason explains. It is possible that you’re not overeating, but that you want to suppress your appetite so that you consume considerably less than you should be eating. If this is the case, remember that an appetite suppressant can’t and shouldn’t make you eat less than what your body needs to function; if it does, then you’re missing out on essential nutrients. If you feel the need to lose weight at the expense of your health, reach out to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) for support and more information.
Why should I avoid over-the-counter appetite suppressants?
When you’re hungry, your body is telling you that you’re lacking the foods you need to survive. When we lack these nutrients, we tend to feel very hungry. For that reason, the best way to keep yourself feeling full is to eat a diet rich in all the necessary nutrients. Some supplements can help you with that. Unfortunately, a lot of over-the-counter appetite suppressants are potentially dangerous. “A lot of the so-called diet pills on the market have serious side effects and are also often not well-tested,” says Abbey Sharp, a registered dietitian and food blogger. [pullquote align=”center”]“While occasional overeating is totally normal, when this is our primary way to cope with feelings, it becomes problematic because food can’t truly meet our emotional needs.” —Alexis Conason, PsyD[/pullquote] “My advice would be to avoid any over-the-counter diet pills, the exception being a fiber powder supplement, which is a safe way to increase your fiber intake while promoting satiety.” Some over-the-counter diet pills might market themselves as herbal or natural appetite suppressants, but these are often dangerous too. Instead, the experts suggest you focus on integrating certain foods in your diet to help you feel nourished and satisfied naturally. The correct nutrients in the form of foods and supplements are the best natural appetite suppressant there are.
What are some natural appetite suppressants that I can integrate into my diet?
If you want to feel less hungry without harming your body, listen to your appetite instead of suppressing it. As Conason says, “Our hunger is an important signal, and it should be used to guide our eating, not suppressed and fought against.” To feel less hungry, your diet can be modified to ensure that you’re getting the right nutrients. “The best ‘appetite suppressants’ are foods rich in fiber, good fat, and protein. All of these are digested slower in the body compared with simple carbs, which can help you stay fuller longer,” says Sharp. “Reach for foods like avocado, nuts, lean meats, beans, and high-fiber veggies.” “If low-calorie foods are consumed, but they spike insulin levels—for example, low-fat diet foods like shakes, bars, rice cakes, et cetera—the body is unable to learn how to use its own fat store for fuel. When the insulin level drops, the cravings for food increase,” says Keith Kantor, RD, PhD. Kantor is a nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking (NAMED) program. “It is important to dump the diet mentality and eat real, whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in heart-healthy fats, along with quality protein and high-fiber carbohydrates, preferably in the form of vegetables and some fruits.” Kantor says that this sort of diet will promote steady insulin levels and reduce cravings and hunger. Integrating the following foods in your diet can help you feel fuller for longer by providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Sometimes we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. Drinking water throughout the day can prevent you from overeating as it provides your body with the hydration it craves. “It’s a good idea to ensure you’re well-hydrated before indulging in a big meal as it may help you eat less,” says Sharp. “The same can be said for water-rich foods like veggies, fruit, tea, and broth-based soup.”
The capsaicin compounds in spices help you feel fuller, says Sharp. This is because capsaicin compounds might be linked to supporting metabolic health. Sharp suggests that you try to add spicy peppers or hot pepper sauce to your meals more often. Spices have a range of other health benefits, too. “Spices and herbs are loaded with antioxidants, and I recommend people get them out of the spice cabinet, into their cooking, and onto the table, both for flavor and for potential health benefits,” says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate clinical professor at Einstein College of Medicine.Saffron is often recommended as a natural appetite suppressant, but Ayoob points out that the available evidence on saffron as an appetite suppressant is too preliminary to suggest it to clients. Sharp warns that saffron could cause vaginal bleeding if ingested in large amounts—a claim that corresponds to its traditional use as an abortifactant—so you should avoid consuming it in supplemental doses if you’re pregnant.
Caffeine can work as a natural appetite suppressant, says Sharp, so a cup of green tea or coffee might help you reduce your cravings. Don’t overdo it, though! “Caffeine obviously can be dangerous if consumed in excess. Risks include anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and other heart issues,” says Sharp. “Most people should stick to no more than 400 mg a day—that’s about 4 cups of brewed coffee.”
Fiber is an essential nutrient that will help you feel fuller for longer. Sharp and Ayoob both agree that fiber supplements are the only over-the-counter supplements they’d recommend for natural appetite suppression, and even then, they would recommend fiber-rich food before supplements.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Recommended by Kantor, CLA is a naturally-occurring fatty acid found in dairy and meat that can also be taken as a supplement. Kantor points out that this is not primarily an appetite suppressant, rather, it supports the metabolism and regulates insulin levels, which will help by naturally reducing your cravings for carbohydrates.
Chromium is a mineral we need in trace amounts according to Kantor. Again, this isn’t a natural appetite suppressant in itself, but it helps regulate our blood sugar levels. Chromium is found in broccoli, grape juice, garlic, whole grains, potatoes, seafood, and nuts, and it can also be taken in supplement form. As always, it’s important to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements—even if they are natural. Adding a little fiber to your diet might not produce a noticeable effect, but creating a well-balanced diet should satiate you. “With the exception of fiber, protein, fat, and water, consuming foods with mild appetite suppressant properties will likely only have a negligible effect and, depending on your tolerance, you may need to consume unhealthy amounts to get the effect,” says Sharp. “It’s best to see these as little boosters to compliment an otherwise high-fiber, high-protein diet.” Remember that none of these appetite suppressants should replace a meal. If you drink all the green tea or water in the world, but you aren’t eating sufficient, nutrient-rich meals, you’ll still feel hungry because your body won’t be getting the nutrients it needs.
Is it safe to take natural appetite suppressants?
If you’re taking over-the-counter suppressants or diet pills, be wary that they’re usually not approved by the FDA—which is why we’re recommending safer supplements and dietary adjustments instead of pills. Virtually any food or supplement can be unhealthy in the wrong amounts, says Ayoob. “As with anything, the dose makes the poison—but also provides the benefit,” Ayoob shares. “High-fiber foods can be great and help you feel full with fewer calories, but introducing too much fiber too quickly can result in some unpleasant side effects.” [pullquote align=”center”]“While using appetite suppressants in and of itself doesn’t indicate an eating disorder, I see it as cause for concern and warrants further assessment.” —Alexis Conason, PsyD[/pullquote] The expert-recommended supplements and foods are less risky than pharmaceutical appetite suppressants, says Kantor. That said, “if you take absurd amounts and totally disregard the recommended dosages, there could be side effects, like upset stomach, et cetera, [even] from natural supplements,” he adds. Of course, it’s also important to consider the psychological safety of taking natural appetite suppressants. If you’re using potentially harmful appetite suppressants to lose weight, you may have an eating disorder, Conason says. And yes, this includes diet pills that market themselves as herbal appetite suppressants. “I think that the use of appetite suppressants, especially over-the-counter or ‘all-natural’ medications that are not prescribed under the guidance of a medical doctor, should be a sign to assess for symptoms of an eating disorder or disordered eating,” she says. “While using appetite suppressants in and of itself doesn’t indicate an eating disorder, I see it as cause for concern and warrants further assessment.”
Which lifestyle changes can help me manage my appetite?
Sometimes, the best natural appetite suppressants aren’t things you eat or drink, but changes in your mentality. As mentioned before, food can be as much of a psychological issue as it is a physical one.
Not feeling satisfied after a big meal? Give yourself some time before reaching for seconds. “Perhaps one of the best natural appetite suppressants is time,” says Ayoob. “It takes about 20 minutes after being actually full for the brain to tell you that you’ve had enough. I will often recommend eating the lower-calorie foods first.” Additionally, he recommends slowing down the speed at which you are eating. “Inhaling food is the worst thing—there’s less enjoyment and more likelihood of overeating.”
Listening to Your Body When You’re Full
If you often find yourself eating until you’re stuffed, Ayoob suggests you listen to your body and pause when you’re no longer hungry. “The goal is to feel full, not stuffed. If people are used to overeating and feeling stuffed, then feeling comfortably full may not be as satisfying for them,” says Ayoob. He emphasizes that we often eat even when we know we’re full. “For example, you order a steak dinner. You’re full so you have the remainder wrapped up to take home. Then you look at the dessert menu and order something.” His example highlights some of our unhealthy eating habits. “Learning to recognize when your body has eaten enough is a huge step here,” he says.
Conason’s Anti-Diet Plan helps people use mindfulness to curb overeating. A useful tool for people who tend to overeat is mindful eating. “Mindful eating is the process of being completely aware and present in the current moment in our eating experiences and in our body,” she says. “It involves being attuned to our body’s internal signals of hunger, fullness, taste, and how our body reacts to certain foods. It also involves using all of our senses to eat and enjoy our food.” In other words, you use mindfulness to be in the moment and savor all that’s good about your foods. Yum! According to her research, mindful eating is healthier than a lot of the diet- and weight loss–focused approaches to dealing with overeating. “The foundation of mindful eating is self-compassion and acceptance,” she says. “In my experience, we need to embrace a non-restrictive approach to eating in order to truly eat mindfully. After all, how can we listen and honor what our body is telling us when we are depriving our body of what it is asking for?”
What happens if I constantly eat despite being full?
As Conason said, occasional overeating does happen, but if you find yourself binging regularly, a natural appetite suppressant isn’t the answer. You might have binge-eating disorder (BED). When it comes to eating disorders, many of us know about anorexia or bulimia. BED is a lesser-known disorder, despite the fact that it’s the most common eating disorder in the United States. According to NEDA, BED is characterized by overeating even when you feel physically full. Often, this overeating is accompanied by feeling out-of-control and distressed. Take a look at the NEDA website for the full diagnostic criteria. Fortunately, BED is treatable, as are other eating disorders that might tempt you to use appetite suppressants. “You don’t have to go at it alone,” says Conason. “Search for a local therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. If needed, your therapist can help you assemble a treatment team that may include a registered dietitian, a psychiatrist, and other medical professionals.” Conason recommends contacting NEDA or the Binge Eating Disorder Association for more help and information. When it comes to natural appetite suppressants, our best bet is getting the nutrition our bodies need to function at optimum levels. After all, hunger is how our bodies tell us they need nutrition. If we feed ourselves the correct foods and supplements, we’re less likely to feel hungry after we’ve eaten. Giving our bodies the right sorts of food and supplements can help us address our appetites healthfully instead of trying to make them go away.