Do Appetite Suppressants Work?

Do Appetite Suppressants Work?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Enjoying delicious foods is one of life's greatest pleasures, but if your wellness goals include maintaining a healthy weight (or, at the very least, making it through an afternoon without a growling stomach that leads to you binge on junk food) perhaps you've wondered if an appetite suppressant would help.

While there are many options on the market (some with questionable claims and ingredients), fortunately, there are also some effective methods to help suppress your appetite so you can maintain a healthy weight.

Be mindful though, that an appetite suppressant is not a quick fix, but a tool to help you reach your goals. They can be especially helpful if you tend to eat not because of hunger, but because of food cravings.

What is a natural appetite suppressant?

Woman sitting on a park bench eating a salad

An appetite suppressant is a substance or nutrient that helps curb your cravings for snacking and gives you the feeling of fullness between meals. You can curb your appetite naturally by being strategic about which foods you eat, and when, and by drinking enough water in between meals.

There is also a plethora of powerful nutrients to help fight unwanted cravings and help you feel satiated. When coupled with daily exercise and a healthy diet, these nutrients—which you'll commonly find in supplements and teas—act like your "weight management buddy," supporting you in your journey to fight body fat, by making it easier to follow your plan. (And who doesn't want a cheerleader, helping them stick to their goals?)

Why do we eat when we’re not hungry?

Friends eating cookies for social reasons

When you feel compelled to eat, your digestive system is releasing hormones into the blood that travel to your brain, telling you that you are hungry and need to eat. Once you get your food intake and it starts to digest, other hormones tell your brain that you no longer need to keep eating.

Note that we use the words "compelled to eat" and not "hungry." That's because the relationship between your brain and digestive system is complex, and it's not always hunger that motivates you to open the pantry or refrigerator. Your emotions, daily habits and your immediate environment can affect the way you respond to food and behave.

In addition to eating because of hunger, many people also occasionally eat for entertainment, for pleasure, or because of social reasons—a party, a wedding, or another special event. This is a normal, healthy part of being alive, and if you do it occasionally, it should not impact your ability to maintain a normal weight.

However, if you find yourself eating often because there is nothing else to do or because you need to decompress after a long, hard day, you might be partaking in "emotional eating." This means that your mind and body conflate hunger and cravings, leading you to eat to make yourself feel better by filling emotional needs rather than to satisfy physical hunger.

How to avoid overeating when you’re not hungry

Feel like over-eating (or eating when you're not hungry) is becoming a bit of a habit? Fortunately, there are strategies to ensure you're primarily eating for fuel…rather than because pizza is hard to resist!

1. Examine your motivation to eat

A small healthy portion of salmon with greens on a plate

Get in the habit of asking yourself why you're eating before you lift a single morsel to your mouth. Is it because you're hungry? Because the clock says it's lunch time? Or, are you sad, angry, or bored?

It's especially important to analyze your motivation to eat when you find yourself craving those salty and sugary foods, as these foods may trigger the release brain chemicals like serotonin that make us feel good. This leaves you wanting to experience that good feeling again, meal after meal.

Sugar and salt come in many different forms and are usually present at high levels in overly processed foods. They trigger the release of dopamine which motivates us to engage in rewarding behaviors (aka, eating even more of them!). As time progresses, you can build up a tolerance to sweet and salty foods and crave even more to feel rewarded. When this happens, you're not actually eating to feed and fuel your body, but to chase that next wave of dopamine.

2. Eat enough of the right foods

Older man enjoying an ice cream cone

One way to make mindlessly noshing less likely is to be more thoughtful when you do eat, with the goal of fueling a healthy body. Focus on eating enough of the kinds of foods that will keep you feeling nourished and satisfied. Make sure that your plate is filled with lean protein, complex carbs and high-fiber foods, all of which serve to promote satiety.

Protein is the most filling macronutrient and changes the levels of hormones that signal to your brain if you are full. That's one reason why you should make sure that each meal includes chicken, eggs, beef, pork, fish, or a plant-based protein, like tofu. You'll also want to include foods that are high in dietary fiber, which help you feel full for a longer period of time and regulates the amount of time it takes to digest your food.

3. Don't snack on foods with added sugars and salt

In between your main meals, if you're hungry, choose a snack that is plant-based or high in protein, rather than turning to potato chips or a candy bar. Fresh fruit, nuts, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are all great options that will keep those cravings in check. A bag of pretzels or a can of cola, on the other hand, may taste good going down, but can impact your weight management goals in the long run.

4. Hydrate with the right beverages

Woman drinking green tea is which is a natural appetite suppressant

When it comes to naturally suppressing your appetite, H2O is the way to go. Consuming an 8 oz glass of water before a meal can help decrease hunger and increase the feeling of fullness after you eat. Additionally, starting a meal with a hot soup also naturally suppresses your appetite.

Also, good news for coffee connoisseurs: drinking a cup of hot coffee releases natural peptides in your gut and reduces feelings of hunger. And if you aren't a fan of the sudden burst of energy you get from a cup of Joe, decaffeinated coffee has been shown to produce the highest curbing of hunger of all types of coffee, with effects that last up to three hours after taking a sip of your morning brew.

Another liquid that helps suppress your appetite is green tea. This antioxidant-rich beverage has natural properties that can keep hunger at bay. Green tea also affects dopamine and norepinephrine in your body, which can lead to decreased hunger, supporting your weight management goals. Green tea, like regular coffee, also contains caffeine, which acts as a natural appetite suppressant.

Do supplements help you manage weight?

Woman taking a appetite suppressant supplement

If you're a veteran dieter, you've probably heard all of this advice before—yet, do you still find yourself snacking? Luckily there are supplements to help you suppress your appetite and keep your hunger cravings at bay:

  • White kidney bean extract.

    A little legume goes a long way when it comes to your weight management goals. White kidney bean extract helps support normal signaling of gut hormones that control appetite and satiety. This nutrient also helps to modulate the enzymes that convert dietary starches into simple sugars—which may help curb the desire for food and reduce the amount of food you consume.
  • Saffron.

    Saffron can help you maintain a healthy weight by interacting with those neurotransmitters that were driving you to snack. This pretty plant is a great option for caffeine-free appetite management support.
  • African mango.

    Irvingia gabonensis is an African tree that produces the African mango fruit, the extract of which promotes satiety and a healthy body weight. This high soluble fiber also is known for being a belly fat burner—meaning that in addition to curbing your appetite, it inhibits fat cell growth and boosts the breakdown of fats.

Is an appetite suppressant safe?

Various accessories for diet and exercise as part of your weight management goals

While these supplements are safe, it is best to speak with your doctor first prior to incorporating them into your weight management plan. Make sure to follow the dosage guide on the bottle and not take more than what is recommended. Be wary of products labeled "appetite suppressant" that do not have scientific validation supporting the ingredients used, and carefully examine any packaging for a list of side effects.

To maintain a healthy weight and already-healthy blood pressure, it is also important to adhere to a healthy, nutrient rich diet, coupled with at least 30 minutes of daily exercise.