Diabetes & Nutrition

Cutting back on—or burning more—calories is the only way for you to shed pounds, which is crucial for keeping your blood glucose under control and preventing diabetes complications. But reducing calories can also mean hunger pangs—psychological more than physical—and we all know how hard it can be to keep from eating too much when available food beckons.

Fortunately, researchers are finding that you can fool your body into feeling full with fewer calories—and it may be easier than you think.

Think Smaller

First, start by looking at how much is on your plate. Overeating often has less to do with appetite than with the amount of food we have in front of us. That's because big meals can override the cues that tell us we are full and should stop eating.

Research shows that when people reduce their portion sizes by about 20 percent or leave four to five bites on their plate, they feel just as satisfied as when they consume larger servings. You can take advantage of this observation by using smaller plates that accommodate less food, ordering the small- or medium-sized meal instead of the large, and buying single-serving snacks.

Also, a major marketing trick is to offer a super size at little more cost than the regular size. Even though you appear to save money with the super-size, small portions do less damage to your body.

The 80 Percent Rule

Along the same lines, residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa have perfected an eating habit known as hara hachi bu, which literally means "eat until you're 80 percent full." The Okinawans are famous for being among the oldest and healthiest people on the planet. Research suggests that part of the reason may be their diet.

In general, Okinawans eat 10–40 percent fewer calories than Americans. To follow their example, try eating until you feel mostly full, then wait 20 minutes to judge how satiated you feel. Studies show that many people are satisfied after following the 80% rule, even though they eat less. In contrast, overweight people report that they eat until they feel overstuffed far more often than lean people.

Super Size Right

Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables contain lots of water and fiber, which can quickly fill you up without the extra calories. For example, 1 cup of fruit contains only 45 calories, and 2 cups of lettuce with a sprinkling of tomatoes, skinless chicken, almonds, and a tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing has roughly 60 calories. So increase your intake of the right foods—fruits and vegetables—rather than fast food.

This recommendation does not come unfounded. A recent study found that people who stuck to a low-calorie meal plan involving plenty of fruits and vegetables lost more weight, despite eating a larger weight of food, than those on a high-calorie diet.

Try a variety of fresh produce to keep your diet interesting. Don't give up on all fruits and vegetables if you don't care for a few.

Choose Lean Protein

A high-protein, low-carb diet is unhealthy in the long run and not necessary for controlling diabetes, despite what certain diet gurus may claim, often because what is billed as high-protein—such as a hamburger—is also high in fat. Yet eating a reasonable amount of lean protein—such as skinless chicken and turkey, fish, low-fat dairy and soy products, and lentils or other beans—may fill you up and help you cut back on fatty foods, according to some small studies.

For example, researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine followed 19 people who kept to a 2,000-calorie diet for several months. At first, they got 15 percent of calories from protein. Then they upped their protein to 30 percent. Throughout the study, the men and women ate the same percentage of carbohydrates, while cutting back on fats. The volunteers reported feeling more full when they ate more calories from protein and also lost more weight.

Limit Sweets

Sweet treats like cookies and cake are a dieter's nightmare, and regular-calorie soft drinks may be the worst threat of all. Almost all sweets pack a lot of calories and do little to fill you up. But liquids are also much less filling than food to begin with, and research shows that people do not compensate for high-calorie beverages by cutting back on food calories.

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that diners ate the same amount of food at lunch when they were given a sugary soda that added an extra 128–158 calories to the meal as they did when they drank a zero-calorie beverage like water or diet soda. Moreover, people with a "sweet tooth" may have trouble stopping at one piece of candy.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina asked 163 men and women to rate their tastes toward sweet foods. Those who had the highest preference for sweets reported the greatest mood-altering effects after eating sugary foods and had less control over their cravings than the rest of the group.

You can offset your sweet tooth by becoming a fruit lover—the two foods are a lot closer in taste than commonly believed, studies show. And the next time you grab a can of soda, think twice and reach for a glass of water or club soda instead.

Snack Smart

Snacking between meals can lead to weight gain, especially if you indulge in traditional snack foods like cookies or chips. But sensible snacking may keep your hunger in check between meals and leave you less tempted to overeat at mealtime.

To investigate the dietary habits of the French, generally noted for their thinness, researchers in France asked 54 of their countrymen to keep a diary of everything they ate for a month. On average, the participants ate nearly three meals and a little over one snack a day. The regular meals were about twice as high in calories than the snacks, but the participants said they felt more satisfied after snacking and gave the highest satiety ratings after having a little bite to eat in the afternoon.

To make sure that several small meals don't add up to just another big meal, try picking out a range of foods that are low in calories—carrots and celery—or potentially more filling to you, such as a handful of nuts or a slice of cheese.

Publication Review By: Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 22 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015