The otherwise innocuous pistachio shell is a great example of the counterintuitive way human beings consume food. While we think the amount of food we eat is driven primarily by hunger, that’s rarely the case. In reality, the amount of food we consume is usually dictated by the food environment around us.
For instance, research has repeatedly shown that we’ll eat more food regardless of how hungry we are if more food is put in front of us. And a study called “The Effect of Pistachio Shells As a Visual Cue In Reducing Caloric Consumption” demonstrates that simply seeing the remains of our food can have an impact on how much we’ll eat. Here’s how it worked:
The subjects were told they were going to evaluate a variety of brands of pistachios and were surveyed at the end of each day to determine their fullness and satisfaction. The subjects were offered pistachios on their desks for an 8-h period on two separate days and were able to consume the pistachios at their leisure during that time. Subjects began each day with a sixteen ounce bowl filled with four ounces of pistachios in the shell. They were also provided with a second sixteen ounce bowl, in which they were instructed to place the empty shells from the pistachios they consumed. Every 2 h throughout the day pistachios were added in two ounce increments. In condition one, the shells remained in the bowls until the end of the day, whereas in condition two, the shell bowls were emptied every 2 h throughout the day.
At the end of the day both groups reported being equally full and satisfied by their allotment of pistachios. However, the group that kept the empty shells in front of them ate 18 percent fewer pistachios than the other group. The study concluded that having a visual cue of how much they’d eaten (in the form of empty shells) is what made the difference.
This coincides with a similar study at Cornell University where two groups of people were given chicken wings to eat. For one group, the discarded bones from consumed wings were removed from the table right away, while in the other group the bones were left on the table in plain view. By the end of the meal the second group had eaten 27 percent fewer wings.
“The results suggest that people restrict their consumption when evidence of food consumed is available to signal how much food they have eaten,” said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell.
In practical terms, you can apply the “pistachio effect” to other things as well. If you’re eating food that comes in a wrapper, don’t throw the empty wrappers away until after you’re done eating so they’ll help you keep track of how much you’ve eaten. At big social settings where there might be lots of hours d’oeuvre offerings, don’t clean your plate to make room for more goodies. And if you’re eating food buffet style, don’t get a fresh plate to go back for seconds. Keep your original plate with you to remind yourself of what you’ve already had. The result is that you’ll eat less but still feel satisfied.
All right Weighthackers, I know you were probably wondering today “would a small snack satiate me just as much as a larger one?” Well you’re in luck, because not only do I have an answer for you, it’s an answer you’re going to like.
The smart folks at Cornell University did some research and found out that, yes, small snacks are indeed as filling as large ones. Here’s a summary of what they learned (I added the underlines for emphasis):
The study found that, as expected, portion size has a direct impact on calorie intake – but it also discovered that portion size did not have a direct impact on the level of satisfaction of the person eating the snack. Researchers came to these conclusions after testing 104 adults, who were given large and small portions of the same snack. Those who ate large portions consumed 77 percent more calories than those who ate small portions. Yet, despite consuming substantially more calories, hunger pangs of people eating large portions decreased by the same amount as those eating small portions. In both conditions, craving tendencies were significantly decreased 15 minutes after eating.
This is another Weight Hack I use every day myself. Back when I was 65lbs heavier than I am today, I’d happily have eaten a standard size Hershey’s chocolate bar as a snack, which weighs in at 210 calories and has 24 grams of sugar (that’s the same as 4 packets of sugar…ugh). Now I buy individual squares of high-end dark chocolate (from Le Maison du Chocolat if you must know) and have one of those instead. I’m just as satisfied and I’m only eating about 30 calories, which makes it win-win in my book. And oh, I’m also 65lbs lighter!
So next time you go for your usual snack, try only eating half of it and then put the other half out of sight. If you wait 15 minutes, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t want the rest.
Bonus Weight Hack: You can also try drinking a big glass of water with your half-snack, which will make you feel even more full.
Okay Weighthackers, here’s some more good news about exercise: Not only does it help you lose weight and tone up (i.e. look better), it can make you less hungry too. This new finding comes from a study done last year at the University of Wyoming, which showed that exercise actually changes the way your body reacts to food.
Here’s how it works. Normally a hormone called ghrelin is one of the things in your body that stimulates hunger. When you workout, your body actually makes more ghrelin, which should in turn make you hungrier.
But the researchers up in Wyoming found that exercise also stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel satiated. According to The New York Times:
These hormones, only recently discovered and still not well understood, tell the body that it has taken in enough fuel; it can stop eating. The augmented levels of the satiety hormones, the authors write, “muted” the message from ghrelin.
But wait, the news gets better. The Times said another study done in December confirms that moderate exercise helps regulate hunger. “It found that after 12 weeks, formerly sedentary, overweight men and women began recognizing, without consciously knowing it, that they should not overeat.”
This jibes (yes, I used the word jibes) with my own experience, where I found that after I started being more active each day, my hunger went down, as did the amount of food I ate when I was hungry. The only trick though is that it takes 3 months of steady effort for the effect to kick in. So, get started!
SATISFIT-LTG, a new version of a chemical food additive called methyl cellulose, can be dissolved in cold water to create a thick solution that turns into a gel when heated. It was recently tested as an “anti-hunger ingredient” that could be added to foods like yogurt and smoothies to make them more filling and satisfying.
Carsten Huettermann, Ph.D., works for Dow Wolff Cellulosics, the company that makes SATISFIT-LTG. According to Medical News Today he discussed the trial results at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society:
“This ingredient would make people feel full after eating smaller amounts of food,” Huettermann explained. “With that sense of fullness and hunger-satisfaction, they would not crave more food. In our first study, we saw that fewer calories were consumed at the following meal after eating our new product. Our next step now is to investigate in further studies the mechanism of action and whether this may have an impact on weight management.”
I’m not a huge fan of adding chemicals to food, but the concept of an anti-hunger ingredient is an interesting one. You can achieve the same results naturally by adding more fiber to your diet, which I do every day by putting 2 teaspoons of ground flax seed in my oatmeal (make sure you grind the flax as your body can’t digest the whole seeds). I also sometimes dissolve chia seeds in my drinks, which also form a thick gel that makes you feel more full. As a bonus, chia seeds have great anti-oxidants in them.
If you’re wondering, Wikipedia tells us that “Methyl cellulose (or methylcellulose) is a chemical compound derived from cellulose. It is ahydrophilic white powder in pure form and dissolves in cold (but not in hot) water, forming a clear viscous solution or gel. It is sold under a variety of trade names and is used as a thickener and emulsifier in various food and cosmetic products, and also as a treatment ofconstipation. Like cellulose, it is not digestible, not toxic, and not an allergen.”
Um, I think I’ll stick with flax and chia seeds :)
If you start off your morning by eating a high quality protein like eggs, it can make you feel more full throughout the day, which means you’ll eat less later on. Those were the findings of a study at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, which also found that people who ate eggs had lower ghrelin levels in their bodies 3 hours after they ate the eggs. Ghrelin is a hormone stimulates your appetite. Check it out:
Researchers compared the hunger-satisfying effect of eggs to a ready-to-eat cereal breakfast matched for energy density and macronutrient composition, but with differing protein quality. The participants were tested under supervision for one week, with a two week gap period between crossover groups, who then swapped diets. A structured buffet lunch was provided on days 1 and 7 of each test week, in order to evaluate how hungry participants were following their respective breakfasts. Researchers found that individuals given the egg breakfast felt fuller before lunch and their lunchtime food intake on days 1 and 7 was lower when compared to the cereal breakfast.
In addition, researchers noted that participants also had lower concentrations of the hunger-stimulating hormone acylated ghrelin and increased PYY3-36, a hormone that signals satiety secreted by the intestines, during the three hour period after breakfast.
“This study shows that diets with higher protein quality may enhance satiety, leading to better compliance and success of a weight loss diet,” Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D., and professor at Pennington Biomedical, said.
Here’s the better news: There’s an awesome Eggsterminator egg cup you can eat your protein packed eggs out of.
P.S. Don’t be afraid to eat the egg yolks. Here’s why.