Inspired living

How to feel full and look fabulous


Eating well and aiming to stay within a healthy weight range isn’t about deprivation (heaven forbid never being able to eat chocolate again!). Nor is it about having an embarrassing rumbling tummy because you have hunger pangs.

After all, the point of eating food is to nourish your body. So when you eat, you should reach optimum satiety levels where your tummy feels contented. You feel relaxed but not uncomfortably full (no need to discreetly undo that top button!)

Wholesome food, and sharing meals with family and friends, is a delightful part of living. But sometimes we overdo it, eating the wrong kind of foods or even too much of the right kind.

It becomes a bit of a balancing act. But the good news is nature has provided a bountiful harvest of powerhouse foods that help us stay on track. Some keep your body feeling full for longer, while others rev up your metabolism or boost your antioxidant levels.

Did you know the size of your plate and the colour of your serviette also influences how much you’ll eat? Or that just a little sniff of peppermint before a meal can help you eat much less?

But that’s just the start. And so, with a little dash of trickery and a sprinkling of fun, we’ve cooked up some simple ways to tip the scales in your favour.

Turn up the heat

Adding a little chilli to foods not only contributes flavour but it can also help you to lose weight. This is because chilli contains a substance that has a mild thermogenic effect, which helps your body’s fat-burning process.

Capsaicin, the component that gives chilli its pungent burning taste, works to rev up your metabolism. And the hotter the chilli, the more capsaicin it contains. The most potent variety of them all is the tongue-scorching and oddly shaped Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, which was developed by Australian plant scientists at the University of Sydney, but handle with care — these babies burn!

Colour me healthy

Whipping up a meal and serving it on blue plates, using a blue tablecloth or blue serviettes, will help you eat less, according to colour therapists. Colour therapist and international colour teacher Vicki Engeham says blue promotes communication and a sense of calmness. “When you are feeling calm you don’t hurry your food, you’ll eat more slowly and are likely to eat less,” she says. Don’t like blue? Green works, too. Avoid red, though, suggests Engeham. Red craves excitement; it catches your attention and can be destructive — you may eat more. And what colours should you be eating? “Dish up a rainbow of colour of what’s in season on your plate,” she says.

Bigger definitely isn’t better

There is a curious optical illusion showing that smaller plates or bowls lead to smaller serving sizes, while larger plates or bowls can tempt you to pile up your plate. The Delboeuf illusion, attributed to French philosopher Franz Delboeuf, was repeatedly put to the test by American researcher Brian Wansink from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.

In one study, 68 university students dished themselves up pasta from either a large bowl or a medium-sized one. When serving up from the large bowl, they ate a staggering 71 per cent more. In another study, moviegoers eating popcorn were given different-sized bowls. They munched their way through 45 per cent more popcorn from the larger containers and, even when fresh buttery popcorn was swapped for stale, they still ate 34 per cent more.

Breakfast matters

Eat the right kind of breakfast and you’ll not only kickstart your metabolism for the day but you’ll boost your energy levels to help avoid the mid-morning munchie meltdown.

According to Dr Peter Holsman, a medical practitioner and naturopath from the Wellbeing Institute of Australia, the ideal breakfast is made up of protein and vegetables. For example, he suggests frittata, made from eggs and stir-fried vegetables, including broccoli, as it’s full of nutrients.

If you enjoy breakfast in a bowl, try porridge topped with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. “It’s a great spice for regulating sugar levels,” says Dr Holsman. And if fruit is usually on your breakfast menu, eat it in moderation. “Fruit is high in fructose, so it’s effectively sugar; eating fruit on an empty stomach doesn’t give you stamina or staying power,” he says.

Eat more beans

Beans nature’s nutritional rockstars. Eating beans is linked to increased nutrient uptake, reduced blood pressure, lower bodyweight and a smaller waist circumference in adults.

This is no surprise to naturopath, author and passionate foodie Lisa Guy, who says beans such as chickpeas, broad beans, red kidney beans, lentils, peas and green beans are fabulous sources of dietary fibre. “They help keep you full for longer, help keep cholesterol levels down and promote healthy bowel function,” she says.

According to the Dietitians Association of Australia, the average Australian is not eating anywhere near enough fibre-rich foods. Australians eat, on average, around 20g of fibre a day, instead of the recommended 30g.

“Beans are also loaded with B vitamins, vital for energy production and good nervous system health, and zinc for a strong functioning immune system,” adds Guy. Boost your bean intake by including beans in salads, soups and sides. Step outside your culinary comfort zone and experiment with different types of beans that you might not have tried before.

Spice it up

Adding herbs and spices to your meals boosts flavour and health benefits. Instead of creamy sauces or salt- and sugar-infused store-bought flavour bases, try some of Lisa Guy’s suggestions:

  • Flavour curries, lentil dhals and rice dishes with antioxidant-rich turmeric or add it to stir-fried vegies.
  • Try minted green peas or sprinkle paprika over your oven-baked root vegies or grilled zucchini.
  • Sweeten up your sweet potato chips by tossing them with some cayenne and cinnamon.
  • Mix roast vegies with a little pesto; blend together some fresh coriander, yoghurt, lemon juice, olive oil and pinch of sea salt for a lovely dressing to drizzle over.
  • Toss fresh coriander through baby carrots with some lemon juice and toasted almonds.

Work it

Choose foods that you have to peel, hull or shell and chances are you’ll not only eat less but feel equally full. James Painter, chair of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University in the US, developed the “Pistachio Principle”, a school of dietary consciousness that works on the belief that if you have to “work” for your food you’ll eat far less of it. His studies showed groups who had to shell their pistachios ate 41 per cent fewer than those who could simply pop the already shelled nuts in their mouths — and they felt just as satisfied.

The nose knows

If you like the taste of peppermint, taking a sniff before you eat could help to reduce how much you eat. Researcher Dr Bryan Raudenbush conducted a study at Wheeling Jesuit University, in the US state of West Virginia, and found people who sniffed peppermint periodically throughout the day ate a staggering 2800 fewer calories during the week.

If you have a green thumb, try growing potted peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Its fresh summery flavour adds a fragrant tang to meat, egg and leafy salad dishes. A few sprigs of mint and lemon added to water with ice also makes a refreshing thirst quencher.

Suck on this

Flavoured ice will help you feel fuller than white bread. That’s the research finding by Dr Alan Hirsch from The Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago in a 2012 study of women in their 30s. The research compared the women’s satiety levels after eating high-kilojoule white bread, plain ice or ice flavoured with sugar-free flavourings. Flavoured ice was the definite, hands-down winner.

Munch mindfully

Have you ever eaten a meal, scraped your plate clean and, minutes afterwards, can’t remember eating your food? Chances are you were miles away, thinking about a bill you have to pay or remembering to pick up your dry cleaning. Focusing on the food on your plate, appreciating the universe that has provided the bountiful harvest in front of you, will help you eat less.

Carmen Huen, author of The Cosmos in a Carrot: the Zen Guide to Eating Well, says a mindful approach to eating centres on five contemplations:

  1. Look at the carrot on your plate and think of where it originated from: where it was grown and harvested. There is more to the story than just a humble carrot on your plate. After all, it couldn’t thrive without warm sunshine, rain, soil and those who grew it.
  2. Food should be thought of as a gift. What are you doing to be worthy of this gift?
  3. When you consume food, only take what you need — to eat more is mere greed.
  4. Food is a salve, a medicine to the human body. Look at it this way and greed doesn’t manifest in your mind.
  5. All beings need food. When you eat, think, “This food can help me be healthy so I can work towards enlightenment of myself and all beings.”

Get fishy

How often is fish on your menu? If it’s less than three times a week, you aren’t eating enough. Eating fish helps you feel satisfied, so you’ll be less likely to snack after dinner. In fact, fish eaters felt fuller than beef eaters and chomped their way through 75 fewer calories at the next meal, according to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Guy says oily fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines and trout are all excellent choices. “They contain high levels of beneficial omega-3 fats, essential for cardiovascular health and brain function, and they are low in heavy metals such as mercury,” she says.

Bottoms up

Here’s the skinny on alcohol glass sizes. You’ll pour more into wide glasses and less into thinner ones. A 2013 Cornell University Food and Brand Lab study of 73 students determined you pour 11.9 per cent more into wide red-wine glasses than narrow white-wine glasses. And you’ll pour 12.2 per cent more if you are holding your glass rather than if it’s placed on the table.

If wine isn’t your alcoholic beverage of choice, the same applies to tall and short beer glasses. Researchers have shown you’ll top up tall glasses with less than you will short squat glasses. Of course, the same rule of thumb applies if you are topping up soft-drink or cordial.

Fun (& slightly weird) ways to eat less

Try eating with chopsticks or swapping hands while you eat
It will slow you down and it’s great for your hand-eye co-ordination (and the amusement of your family). Your pets will probably also love the titbits you’ll drop on the floor.

Eat in the nude
Yes, really. Although it’s recommended that you sit up at the table if you’re eating hot foods and, if you’re having a barbecue, make sure you wear your cooking apron. Enough said.

Sit at the head of the table
If you’re eating out, breads, shared starters and wine are often placed in the centre — out of your reach, unless you ask for them. Of course, the idea here is that you don’t.

Brush your teeth (lightly) after every meal
You’ll be less likely to snack soon after and, as a bonus, you’ll have minty fresh breath and sparkling pearly whites.

Tell your brain the meal is over before you clean your plate
Put down your knife and fork and step away from the table. Do not go back there. If you are still hungry five minutes later, it’s OK — you can sit back down.

Eat more, not less
And, no, this doesn’t mean stuffing your face with sugary treats. Eat meals rich in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals five to six times a day and you’ll boost your metabolism. Also, try drinking a glass of room temperature water at least 15 minutes before you eat, to take the edge off your appetite.


Carrol Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for lifestyle and health magazines across Australia.


Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.