Lean and Healthy

During heavy training for a marathon or triathlon, you, like many athletes, may feel hungry from the moment you wake up until your head hits the pillow at night. Worse, with a jam-packed schedule, those pesky hunger pangs can lure you to stray from your carefully thought-out nutrition plan and toward huge meals and unhealthy snacks.

So how do you reconcile the needs of your highly charged metabolism with your commitment to a healthy diet? The answer, it seems, may lie within one word: satiety.

Doctors and health scientists use the term satiety to refer to that feeling of satisfaction, or lack of hunger, which every person needs to sustain healthy eating habits. Let's face it: "If you're not craving food and feeling deprived, it's a heck of a lot easier to stay with your eating plan," says nutrition expert Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.

The concept of satiety has received a lot of attention lately, thanks to research demonstrating that very few people have the willpower to sustain a diet that leaves them feeling hungry most of the time. Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a nutritionist at Penn State University, has even called satiety "the missing ingredient in weight management." Fortunately, there are simple eating strategies that--despite your heavy training volume--allow you to keep your hunger in check, get the calories you need and perhaps shed a few extra pounds along the way.

How Satiety Works

You might say it's all in your head. The feeling of satiety involves a number of natural physiological actions that start in the stomach and ultimately affect the hypothalamus, the appetite center in the brain. The presence of food in the stomach stimulates the release of special proteins in the digestive tract. "Scientists call them appetite-regulatory peptides, but you can think of them as feel-full proteins," says Bowden. The most important of these is cholecystokinin (CCK), which Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, authors of You: The Owner's Manual, have nicknamed "the craving killer" due to its powerful hunger-squashing effect.

The presence of CCK and other feel-full proteins in the stomach initiates a number of actions. First, they close the valve leading from the stomach into the intestine, slowing the digestion of food. Then they travel to the brain, where they attach to specialized receptors. This action tells us to stop eating, and more importantly, causes the extended feeling of fullness.

Flip Your Hunger Switch

It takes about 20 minutes for the feel-full proteins to become fully active after you begin eating. If you wish to control your appetite and reduce the number of calories you eat, you can make this lag time work to your advantage. The best way, according to experts such as Bowden, is to effectively spoil your appetite by consuming a small appetizer 10 to 20 minutes prior to your main meal. "Eating an appropriate appetizer will cause the CCK level in your gut to spike just as you sit down to eat your meal, so you will feel full faster and eat less," Bowden explains.

Your appetizers should contain just enough calories (50 to 100) to stimulate your feel-full proteins. They should also contain the nutrients known to be the most powerful satiety activators. "Research has shown that certain key nutrients are especially potent CCK activators," says Steven Peikin, M.D., professor of medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden, New Jersey.

High concentrations of the most effective craving killers are found in olive oil, macadamia nut oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil, peanut oil and other healthy cold-pressed oils. Consuming a small amount of foods rich in these oils will activate your appetite-control switch before you begin eating a meal. Other effective hunger squashers include soy and dairy proteins.

Soups work especially well as light, filling appetizers. Thanks to their liquid form, broths take up a lot of space in the stomach, acting as a feel-full protein activator. In one study by Rolls, participants who ate a bowl of soup before a lunch entr?e consumed 20 percent fewer total calories than participants who skipped the soup and just had the entr?e.
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