The Type of Food That Tricks You Into Feeling ‘Phantom Fullness’

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Photo: George Marks

One of my favorite Onion headlines of all time is this, which so perfectly captures the struggle of pretty much any weekday morning: “Man Says ‘Fuck It,’ Eats Lunch At 10:58 A.M.” Local man Kyle Dunedin, who, the Onion writes, “reportedly decided at 10:58 a.m. Wednesday that, fuck it, he was ready for lunch,” is the brave soul that so many of us wish we could be — it’s a long, tough stretch from the time the first morning hunger pangs till the clock strikes a socially acceptable lunch hour. Show me a person who hasn’t sat at their desk before noon and dreamed of sneaking off to eat, and I’ll show you a person with an iron will. Or a liar.

Or perhaps just someone who had a really thick, creamy smoothie for breakfast. According to a small study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one antidote to the late-morning witching hour may be thick beverages, which — regardless of calorie count — help you feel fuller for longer.

For the study, 15 volunteers each drank a milk shake that was either thick or watery, and either 500 or 100 calories. The shakes were all the same size and all had the same nutritional makeup — 50 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, 30 percent fat — meaning the viscosity alone was the differentiating factor. After they’d downed the drinks, participants sat inside an MRI machine while the researchers repeatedly scanned their stomachs and asked then to report how satisfied they felt.

The lower-calorie shakes took less time to leave the volunteers’ stomachs (and the thin low-cal one in particular left most quickly) — but it turned out to be thickness, not calorie level, that more directly influenced feelings of fullness. Forty minutes after drinking, those who had consumed the thin high-calorie shake rated their fullness as 48 out of 100, while those who’d had the thick low-calorie shake put themselves at a 58.

The study authors dubbed this phenomenon “phantom fullness” — the participants felt like they’d consumed more calories, even when they really hadn’t. “Our results show that increasing the viscosity is less effective than increasing the energy density in slowing gastric emptying. However, the viscosity is more important to increase the perceived fullness,” they wrote. “These results underscore the lack of the satiating efficiency of empty calories in quickly ingested drinks such as sodas.” In other words: Don’t count on calories alone to satisfy your hunger.

And for people trying to cut down on calories, the study offers what may be a useful hack: Thicker, more viscous liquids can satiate in a way that sodas and broths just don’t. Now someone go tell Kyle Dunedin, who, according to Onion reports, decided at 1:35 p.m. “that, fuck it, if his co-workers were heading out, there was no reason he couldn’t join them and eat lunch again.”