Dieting can be a struggle for even the most disciplined. Going against your cravings, turning down tasty desserts, and making wise restaurant choices is difficult for even those of us who give advice about it. And although recent studies show that caloric restriction has wide-ranging health benefits and may offer protection against age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease*, feeling hunger pains can make it a Herculean task. Anyone that was sent to bed as a child without dinner can attest to how uncomfortable falling asleep can be when your stomach is empty. Thanks a lot, Mom.
We’re all well aware that in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories in a day than you consume. And for most people, consuming small meals several times a day is much more effective than consuming one or two giant ones, but what happens if you have followed your eating plan to the letter, and that grumbling in your tummy is still there? Fear not! There are a plethora of low-calorie foods out there that can fill up your stomach without affecting your calorie count for the day too adversely.
Most of us don’t crave vegetables in our time of dieting need, but because of their low calorie count and high fiber count, they can push away hunger very quickly. If you’re craving salt, a touch of fat-free dressing can spruce up even the most boring produce. For the purpose of low-calorie snacking, aim for the non-starch variety (avoid potatoes, corn, peas, carrots). And, remember, the more water in the vegetable, the better. Some great choices include:
- Celery. This super crunchy friend has 6 calories, 1.5 grams of carbohydrates, 0.7 grams of fiber, no fat, and 0.3 grams of protein per stalk.
- Cucumbers. Previous to pickling, cucumbers have 14 calories, 2.8 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, no fat, and 0.4 grams of protein per 1-cup sliced serving.
- Bell peppers. Colorful and slightly sweet, bell peppers have 20 calories, 4.8 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fiber, no fat, and 0.7 grams of protein per 1/2-cup serving.
Fruit is a bit tricky, as the calorie counts vary per item, and there is a lot of sugar in fruit. Remember the water rule, and you will be in fairly good shape. Also, really watch your portion size. A cup of watermelon is a great choice, while an entire watermelon will not serve you well. If you’re looking at the frozen varieties, make sure that there’s no sugar added to your choices. And avoid the gallon-size smoothies sold in every mini-mall in this great country. Calorically, they should replace a meal, and the amount of sugar they contain can send your insulin through the roof. Some fantastic choices, in 1/2-cup servings, include:
- Melons. Cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are all between 25 and 30 calories, 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrates, 0.4 to 0.7 grams of fiber, no fat, 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per 1/2-cup serving.
- Berries. When in season, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries can satisfy a sweet tooth and your hunger. They each have between 20 to 40 calories, 5 to 10 grams of carbs, 2 to 3 grams of fiber, no fat, and 0.5 grams of protein.
- Apples. Always in season, apples each contain about 82 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 3.8 grams of fiber, no fat, and 0.2 grams of protein.
Protein is known to rebuild muscle; however, for the dieter, the best part about protein is that it is filling and has some substance to it. In this instance, dealing with low-calorie snacking, your protein choices will have to be small in size and low in fat. In other words, do not eat 2 pounds of bacon and consider it a snack. It’s also wise to combine these small protein portions with a choice from the vegetable category. It will add flavor and fiber, which will add to your situation. Some low-cal favorites include:
- Egg whites. Sometimes, they take a bit to get used to, but scrambled egg whites pack a high-protein punch. Egg whites contain 29 calories, 0.6 grams of carbohydrates, no fiber and fat, and 6 grams of protein per 1/4-cup serving, before cooking.
- Light cheese. There are tons of light cheese options out there, but to make it simple, we are leaning toward the pre-portioned variety. Light string cheese and Laughing Cow® wedges have 35 to 50 calories, 1 gram of carbs, no fiber, 2 grams of fat, and 3 to 6 grams of protein.
Starchy and sweet snacks
With the advent of the 100-calorie pack, one would assume starchy carbohydrate snacking would be completely figured out. The problem is that most people don’t stop at one pack, and three packs later, you could have had a sandwich or a sundae. In this particular situation, we suggest snacks that don’t add more than 50 or 60 calories to your daily intake, so unless you can only eat half of that SnackWells® pack, perhaps look at these more filling options:
- Whole-grain brown rice cakes. Rice expands in your stomach, and makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time. One whole-grain brown rice cake contains 30 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, no fat, and 1 gram of protein.
- Air-popped popcorn. Air-popped popcorn is very filling, and unlike its movie-theater cousin, it’s not a caloric nightmare. Air-popped popcorn contains 31 calories, 6.2 grams of carbohydrates, 1.2 grams of fiber, 0.4 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein per 1-cup serving.
- Sugar-free Fudgesicle®. I think this is one of humankind’s greatest creations. Each sugar-free Fudgesicle contains 35 calories, 16 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 1.5 grams of fat, and 4 grams of protein.
OK, so it’s not actually food, but beverages and broths can have a very filling effect on a very empty belly. Warm liquids, in particular, expand in your stomach and make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Some choices include:
- No-sugar-added hot chocolate. On a chilly night, hot chocolate can be filling and comforting. No-sugar-added hot chocolate contains 50 calories, 10 grams of carbs, no fiber or fat, and 2 grams of protein.
- Low-sodium chicken broth. This diet wonder can be spiced up a bit, or even added to, with choices from the vegetable category. Chicken broth contains 15 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, no fiber or fat, and 2 grams of protein.
Remember, these suggestions are not replacements for high-quality meals, but just a way to chase hunger away when those meals have already been consumed. Many people on calorie-restricted diets stop feeling excess hunger after several days, so be patient with yourself. Eventually, the amazing machine that is your body will become acclimated to what you are doing, and will thrive on the fuel you are giving it. In the interim, utilize these low-calorie snacks and avoid the growling in your tummy. It may not be as filling as some slices of Domino’s® Pizza, but you will feel much better about yourself in the morning.