Research reveals that a ‘low satiety response’ makes it harder to lose weight – and shows how to beat it

Millions of people in the UK are struggling to manage their weight, with serious health implications for themselves and for our hard-pressed health services. Yet many of us find it difficult to lose weight or stick to a weight loss plan. Opinion is divided as to why some people struggle more than others, though most scientists agree that there’s no single reason – it’s down to a complex combination of factors including environmental and social influences, and the often deep-rooted psychological nature of our relationship with food.

But research has uncovered a key factor which explains why some people find it harder to maintain a healthy weight than others. Some of us struggle because we have a ‘low satiety response’ – meaning that we find it harder to satisfy our appetite. We have difficulty in recognising appetite signals, are more likely to reach for snacks and take longer to feel full after eating – and therefore end up consuming more calories. Those people who have weaker satiety signals find it especially difficult to follow a restrictive or calorie-counted diet plan, and so find it harder to lose weight on that kind of programme.

However, there is some good news. The researchi also shows that choosing certain types of food – foods lower in energy density (or calories per gram) – can help people with a low satiety response feel more in control of their appetite – and protect them from the risk of over-consuming calories, making it easier to lose weight.

The study, led by Dr Nicola Buckland and a team of researchers at Leeds University, examined the role of satiety response in relation to weight loss as part of a major projectii exploring the links between energy density, satiety and the psychology of weight control. Researchers compared two groups of female slimmers, one following a typical calorie-counting diet, the others following Slimming World’s Food Optimising plan based on healthy, low energy dense foods, eaten freely. (These low energy dense foods are everyday staples such as fresh fruit and veg, lean meat and poultry, eggs, pasta, rice and fat free dairy products.)

The two groups contained people with both low and high satiety responses. The aim was to investigate the impact of these low energy dense foods on appetite satisfaction, and the role that feeling satisfied plays in feelings of self control and sticking with a weight loss programme.

Further analysis by researchers found that when people with a low satiety response ate meals based on low energy dense foods (which tend to be lower in fats and sugar, and higher in protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre) they were more in control of their appetite and their food choices than when they were given high energy dense meals. They also found that slimmers were able to eat a greater volume of food, while naturally limiting their calorie intake.

Professor James Stubbs from the Leeds research team says: “People who have a low satiety response feel less satisfied after eating. They’re more likely to crave high fat foods, to snack between meals and generally are less able to stick to their plans around food choices – therefore they’re more likely to consume more calories than people with a high satiety response and find it harder to manage their weight. They’re also less likely to be able to lose weight because of how hungry they feel and how difficult they find such a weight loss regime to sustain.

“What this research looked at for the first time is how, for those people who have a low satiety response, choosing foods low in energy density (those foods naturally low in calories per gram) could help them feel fuller, limit their calorie intake and so help their weight loss,” adds Professor Stubbs.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Research and Scientific Affairs at Slimming World who contributed to the study, says: “The findings suggest that encouraging slimmers to base their meals on generous amounts of low energy dense foods is likely to have a protective effect, helping them manage their appetite better, and thereby protecting them from consuming excess calories.”

Overall, in the study, slimmers who were following Slimming World’s eating plan based on eating low energy dense foods freely, felt more in control of their food intake and lost significantly more weight than the group following a calorie-controlled diet.

“Slimming World’s Food Optimising plan has always been based on an understanding of how the macronutrient content and energy density of foods affect satiation and satiety and we’ve been actively involved in research in this area for nearly 30 years. We’ve been building on evidence that filling up on low energy dense foods naturally limits energy intake, reduces hunger and results in better weight loss, and weight maintenance. In our eating plan, those foods lowest in energy density are designated as Free Foods, and we encourage our members to eat them freely to satisfy their appetite – however big their appetite is,” says Dr Lavin.

“It’s important to recognise that any dietary approach to weight management has limited effects in isolation. However, when it’s achieved hand in hand with a multi-component group-based support programme like Slimming World’s which empowers slimmers to make deep-seated shifts in their mindset, and their behaviour around food and activity, they’re more likely to achieve and maintain their weight loss goals in the long term,” she adds.