The secret is learning how to achieve that feeling of comfortable fullness that lasts long after your meal has ended.
Here at Cooking Light, we talk a lot about how essential nutrients such as protein, fiber, and fat help you feel full. But it's not just about feeling full, it's also about staying comfortably full—that's satiety. "Fullness is transient," explains David Katz, MD, MPH, and past president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Satiety, on the other hand, lasts.
Research tells us that a lot of factors influence satiety—the characteristics of your food (as in what it looks like, how it smells, its texture), your senses, and your environment (the time of day and room temperature, for example). But one of the biggest players is your hormones. Leptin, a "feel full" hormone that your fat cells release, and ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, play a big role in satiety. (Another neat tidbit about leptin: Newer research suggests it might slowly raise baseline levels of dopamine—the "hormone" that is better known to trigger lust. So, over time, high leptin levels may make you less likely to eat just for the sake of eating, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.) But leptin and ghrelin aren't alone: There are many other acronym-named hormones and receptors in your body—such as CCK, PYY, GLP-1, PPARs—that affect satiety, too. These hormones and receptors respond to your stomach and intestines stretching when you eat, they dictate the pace at which your body digests food, and they determine whether to burn what you ate or store it as fat.
Then there's your brain: Mind over matter also sways satiety. In one 2012 study, people were given a cherry-flavored gelatin cube. They were told it would either turn to liquid in their stomach or stay solid. When they (correctly) believed that it would turn into a liquid, they were more likely to eat more at a later meal. When they (incorrectly) believed it would stay a solid, they ate less at a later meal.
Clearly, what drives us to eat is complex; every single one of these factors is intertwined. But the master influencers are what and how you eat—and, armed with the right intel, you can thwart your appetite and achieve satiation.