Ever wonder why some mornings you're ravenous and digging into your midday meal long before noon, while other days the clock strikes 1 p.m. and your stomach hasn't even made a rumble? Us too! So we dug into the science—and here's what we found.
Credit: Illustration: Joël Penkman

How to Eat for Satiety

Shift to simpler, more wholesome foods and become more conscious about how you eat, and you're well on your way to mastering satiety and achieving everlasting weight control.

Begin by choosing foods with short ingredient lists. Some packaged foods are engineered to sabotage you—delivering salt, sugar, fat, and different textures. Those contrasting flavors and textures light up your brain's appetite center and encourage you to overeat.

Second: Stick to a single flavor profile. We're not suggesting you eat a bland diet—that's neither delicious nor sustainable. But we're hardwired to crave the variety pack, in the same way that after a filling dinner, when the idea of dessert crosses your mind, poof—you magically have room for more. So to curb overeating, pair like flavors together at meals, such as Mexican mains with Mexican sides.

Lastly, set a scene when you eat. How you perceive your meals influences satiety, so serve and eat them in a way that will maximize enjoyment. In one study where people were fed a "supersized" lunch in the dark, they overate, then underestimated how much they actually ate and said they didn't feel as satisfied as they "should" after such a large meal.

What to Eat for Satiety

With food options at our fingertips 24/7 (hello, candy in the pharmacy checkout aisle), it's hard to differentiate between want and need and fullness and satisfaction. To achieve satiety, not just fullness, look to these food groups for big staying power.

Produce is big on volume and low in calories, with veggies typically having the least amount of calories. Foods that deliver on volume but are low-cal (a bowl of strawberries instead of strawberry jam) are key in achieving satiety.

Whole grains are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index (GI), so they raise and lower your blood sugar slowly. The opposite—a quick spike and resulting crash from a high-GI food, such as a doughnut—causes hunger to return quickly.

We're talking fish, white meat poultry, and eggs, which all boast high-quality protein and keep calories in check better than darker and red meats. Protein is important because it sits firmly at the top of the list as the most satiating nutrient.

Both are low on the glycemic index and high in fiber. Fiber is key because it fills your stomach, slows digestion, and positively influences your hormones. Beans and lentils also soak up water when cooked for pumped-up volume.

These are incredibly satisfying thanks to their trifecta of fiber, protein, and fat (another fairly satisfying nutrient), and nuts and seeds are low on the glycemic index. But mind your portions—they can pack quite the calorie punch.

Our Own Satiety Study

We put staffers to the test (in a very informal experiment) to see which foods were most satiating. Participants ate 250 calories of each food at 9 a.m. (over the course of a few weeks) and reported back how satiated they felt after five minutes and then after one, two, three, and four hours.

After eating 3.6 hard-boiled eggs, participants said they had enough to eat and their energy levels stayed strong for about 3 hours.

As with eggs, eating 1.7 cups (10.5 ounces) of beans left people feeling as if they'd had enough to eat for almost 3 hours.

Staffers were the most satisfied after 5 minutes than when they'd eaten any of the other foods. But after an hour, satiety leveled off.

These were the second-highest most satisfying food at the 5-minute mark. But satisfaction dropped after 1 hour and plummeted after 2.

Salmon, avocado, striped bass, and chicken all left participants feeling similarly—they had enough to eat, with their energy levels up and staying strong, for about 2 hours.

Participants reported getting enough to eat and staying satisfied for about an hour. After 2 hours, they wanted to eat soon, and by 3 hours, their stomachs felt empty.

Whole-grain spaghetti and steel-cut oatmeal were both, unexpectedly, only marginally more satiating than white bread. Two hours after eating, people said they wanted to eat soon.

These were, surprisingly, the least satisfying. Perhaps that's in part because 250 calories equals only 18 nuts—a paltry-looking volume, which can make you think it isn't satisfying.