Hunger is the wolf at the door, the body saboteur, the diet killer. No matter what kind of diet you're on—whether low-fat, high-protein, low-carb, or something in between—this single enemy can quickly undo weeks or months of discipline. That's because the body is designed to consume calories, not resist them. But help is on the way, thanks to the latest nutrition science. The following 19 tactics will tame the hunger beast. Mix and match them and you'll be on the road to skinny. Bon, er, bad appétit!
In the Morning
1. Rise and Dine
Never miss breakfast; waiting till noon for your first meal can turn hunger pangs into irresistible cravings. Seventy-eight percent of 2,959 people in the National Weight Control Registry (a list of adults who've maintained a 30-pound weight loss for at least one year) regularly eat a morning meal.
2. If It Ain't Yolk, Don't Fix It
Eating eggs in the morning can help you fight flab. In a study at Wayne State University, test subjects were fed either a bagel or an egg breakfast, each containing the same number of calories. The egg eaters consumed almost 300 fewer calories by day's end than did the bagel bunch. The protein in the eggs likely kept them full longer, says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan (HarperCollins, 2005). To cut down onsaturated fat, mix in two servings of Egg Beaters with one regular egg, she advises.
3. Drench Your Thirst
German researchers found that people who drank 17 ounces of water boosted their resting calorie-burning rate by about 30 percent for 90 minutes. Why? Partly because your body burns extra calories to heat the water to body temperature. More is better: drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of ice water daily can zap an extra 70 calories (and save you lots more if you're replacing sweetened juice or beer).
4. Get Thick, Stay Thin
In a study, subjects who drank a shake pumped with extra air ate less at a meal hours later than did those who drank smaller-looking shakes, even though both contained the same calories. "Basically you can trick your system by making food look bigger," says Rolls. Try making a fruit smoothie by blending a handful of strawberries and blueberries together with half a cup of low-fat milk. You can also add six ice cubes to increase the volume without adding calories. Another pumped-up trick: add fat-free yogurt to a shake to make it thick and frothy.
5. Milk Calcium for All It's Worth
Have milk or yogurt in the morning with your breakfast and then enjoy another dairy food at lunch. (Option: take a 600 mg daily calcium supplement.) A Purdue University study found that women who consumed 1,000 mg of calcium per day from dairy products gained no body fat over a two-year period. Another group of women with lower daily calcium intakes saw their body fat creep up. Something in this vital mineral seems to cause the body to burn more calories, says Rolls. Make sure you're getting about 1,200 mg of calcium each day (more isn't necessary). In addition to dairy products, spinach, broccoli, and calcium-fortified orange juice can be good sources.
In the Afternoon
6. Eat Déjà Food
Eating the same healthy, balanced meal every day (such as a grilled chicken breast) can help prevent overeating. Too much variety in meals can lead you to keep eating to experience the taste, not to satisfy the hunger, says Hollie Raynor, Ph.D., of Brown University's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.
7. Wet Your Appetite
Foods with high water content fill you up easily. And they naturally pack fewer calories for their volume, says Rolls. Toss together a salad of lettuce, cucumbers, celery, and tomatoes. Or a fruit cup with watermelon, strawberries, and orange slices.
8. Buy a Pure Bread
Skip those boring white slices. Fixing your sandwich on bread made with flaxseed may help keep you slim by lowering your blood sugar levels, and it may also lower your cholesterol, according to some studies.
9. Find Joy in Almonds
Peckish before dinner? Eat a handful of almonds to ward off hunger between meals. In a study in the International Journal of Obesity, dieters who ate almonds every day lost 18 percent of weight and body mass index compared with 11 percent in the nutless group—even though they were consuming the same number of daily calories. Almonds are high in protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fat, so they keep you full. Just don't get carried away; an ounce has only about 160 calories, but eating substantially more will certainly expand your waistline.
10. Use Stalling Tactics
When a late-afternoon food craving hits, grab a magazine, take a walk, or surf the Net—any little distraction that will temporarily take your mind off your craving will do the job. "Hunger goes away if you can get through it for 15 or 20 minutes," says Raynor. Just get through that danger zone, and you may entirely forget about the craving.
11. Test a Model Tea
A small Swiss study found that people who took green-tea-extract supplements (consuming about the amount found in an eight-ounce cup) three times daily burned 4 percent more calories over 24 hours—which could add up to losing a few pounds in a year. Researchers believe nutrients called catechins may speed fat burning.
The Early Evening
12. Get a P.B. Shot
Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole wheat bread, a cracker, or a celery stick. Not only is peanut butter filling, but a study of 83,818 nurses by the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate peanut butter or nuts five times or more a week were much less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, an obesity-related disease.
13. Forget the Seconds Coming
At dinner serve your portions, then immediately put the extra food in the refrigerator or freezer before you sit down to eat, advises Raynor. Making it just a little harder to get second helpings can really curb overeating.
14. Don't Skip the Spuds
Eating a few boiled potatoes will keep you fuller longer after dinner than just about any other food, according to a study conducted by Susanna Holt, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney in Australia. The high water content and bulk of boiled potatoes make this low-calorie carb source very filling.
15. Fight Fat With Fire
Capsaicin, the hot substance in peppers, may help burn fat and curb hunger, according to studies. Plus, hot peppers can add flavor without fat.
16. Eat Pudding, Lose Padding
Buy a six-pack of low-fat pudding in the dairy aisle. This sweet dessert treat is low in calories but water-rich, so it's filling. Plus, the individually packaged servings are a weight-loss boon. "People tend to underestimate how much they're eating, but portion-controlled food keeps you honest," says Raynor.
17. Pinpoint Your Sin Foods
If you simply must have some junk food in the house, go ahead. But choose only one. In a study of 202 overweight people, those who kept fewer varieties of high-fat snacks handy lost more weight over an 18-month period than did their variety-snacking peers.
18. Still Awake? Eat Flakes
People who ate cereal 90 minutes after dinner consumed 225 fewer calories for the rest of the night than those who didn't, according to a Wayne State University study. The cereal eaters also lost two pounds in a month without intentional dieting. Best choice: high-fiber cereal. "It moves more slowly through the digestive tract," says Rolls.
19. You Snooze, You Lose
Slumber is slimming; a recent study found that people who slept only five hours nightly were 50 percent more likely to be obese than those who slept seven to nine. Researchers believe that lack of sleep affects hormones related to appetite, causing you to gain pounds.
Ted Spiker, a contributing editor to Men's Health, fights fat in Gainesville, Florida.