How to Minimize Hunger on a Diet
You know that feeling when you finally get into the groove of a diet and you’re looking fabulous? And then, all of a sudden, at 3 pm or at night time, your stomach starts growling so hard it feels like it's going to punch through your ribcage.
It makes it hard to sleep, and impossible not to reach for some snacks.
Hunger is a self-inflicted wound in the battle of dieting.
It's hard not to fall prey to it, especially when you're surrounded by food around the office or at home with your kids.
Hunger can make any morsel of food look appealing and that might get you into trouble because you'll eat anything that looks appetizing even if it's not a fit for your macro plan.
I’ve been there before. We all have. You're on a diet, and you can't get through the day without hunger pangs driving you crazy!
But don't worry - I've got this! This blog is gonna give you some foods and tactics that will help take the edge off your ravenous appetite so you can stay on track for weight loss success.
WHY DOES DIETING MAKE US SO HUNGRY?
There are two main hormones that control our hunger and fullness:
1. Ghrelin: The “hunger hormone”, and it is released when the stomach is empty. When the stomach is filled, it is suppressed.
2. Leptin: The “fullness hormone”. It is a little more complicated than ghrelin. Leptin is correlated with fat cells. The more adipose tissue you have, the more leptin you have. The leaner you are, the less leptin you have. For this reason, once you get lean enough you will feel more hunger more often.
There are other hormones in the body that inhibit hunger like insulin, pancreatic polypeptide, amylin, peptide yy, and cholecystokinin (CCK), which are all released in response to eating food.
All of these hormones are decreased as you lose weight.
Our bodies are not optimized to want to lose weight... rather, they’re optimized to not starve to death, and they’re very good at it.
→ STRETCH RECEPTORS
There are neurons, or “stretch receptors” in the intestines that tell our brain we are full and can stop eating.
The food passes through the stomach and into the intestines where the intestinal wall is stretched, and the receptors send the signal through the vagal nerve to the brain that enough food has been eaten that you can stop and that releases the hormones listed above that inhibit hunger.
When you reduce your calories but don’t switch up any food choices you reduce food volume, so you don’t have as much stretch in the intestines.
→ EMOTIONAL HUNGER
A lot of hunger and cravings come from habits or emotions. A lot of people turn to food for comfort, to fill time, to celebrate, or just out of habit at certain times of the day.
If you have a snack at 8 pm every night before bed you’ll eventually get hungry at that time out of sheer habit, not out of true physical hunger.
Ironically, fasting can be a useful tool when trying to stay full on a diet.
You have a smaller amount of calories to eat when trying to lose fat, so consolidating those calories to a smaller window during the day means you can eat a larger meal during the eating window.
A lot of people aren’t hungry or don’t prefer to eat breakfast in the morning anyway, and if that’s you you may want to try intermittent fasting.
Many find it easier to be really hungry for a couple of extra hours in the morning rather than a dull hunger all day long.
How to implement fasting:
Let’s say your target calories for the day is 2000.
- 7am: 500 calories
- 11 am: 500 calories
- 3 pm: 500 calories
- 6 pm: 500 calories
You could try...
- 1 pm: 800 calories
- 3 pm: 200 calories (small snack)
- 6 pm: 1000 calories
This way you get to have larger meals later in the day because you’ve saved up calories by skipping breakfast.
If you are someone who has any binge-eating tendencies this tactic could backfire, so know your personality and if this would work for you or cause problems.
→ INCREASING PROTEIN
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient.
Aside from maximizing muscle retention, and having a high thermic effect, protein is great to set high in a fat-loss phase because it is filling.
Set your protein anywhere from 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight (or higher if you really like protein and it doesn’t cause you any digestion problems).
→ HIGH VOLUME FOODS
High volume means a food takes up a lot of space for very few calories. This means for less calories, you can get the stretch receptor response that cues your brain that you’re full.
These foods usually have a high fiber and water content, which also helps fill you up.
Some examples of high volume foods:
- Salad: Salads are great because they take a long time to eat, they are full of water and fiber, you can mix in lots of other vegetables, and they’re a good vehicle for lean proteins. Whenever a client is having a lot of hunger, we always suggest adding a big salad to their day.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Cruciferous veggies include things like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts. They are high fiber and very few calories. You don’t want to overdo these because they could cause digestive distress, but they’re very filling.
- Fruit: Yes, fruit is not only OK to have on a diet, it’s great to include plenty of fruit! Fruit is full of water, fiber, and micronutrients. It’s great for killing a sweet tooth, too. If you want to stick to the highest volume fruits, go for things like berries, oranges, watermelon, or apples.
- Popcorn: Popcorn is great because it takes a long time to eat, and it’s very low calories for a large serving size. Air-popped popcorn is only 31 calories per cup and has 1.2 grams of fiber. Just be aware of any toppings like butter or oil.
- Oatmeal: Since oatmeal is cooked with water, it ends up being a large amount of volume per calorie. A half-cup of oatmeal ends up being about a cup when cooked and has 150 calories. For comparison, a cup of granola has 560 calories.
- Broth-based soups: Broth-based soups are great because they take time to eat, the broth is very low calorie, and you can include lots of vegetables and protein.
Including fiber in your diet is a good idea to keep you full longer.
Fiber has two types:
1. Soluble: Soluble fiber mixes with liquid in your gut and forms a gel that expands. (Think of chia seeds that bulk up and form a gel that expands. Same concept.) This means you get the stretch of your gut that causes fullness quicker with fewer calories.
2. Insoluble: Insoluble fiber doesn’t form a gel-like soluble, but it does activate the stretch receptors in the colon and helps you feel fuller for longer.
Fiber also comes packaged in foods listed above in the volume food section that will also provide fullness.
Good Fiber Sources:
- Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes
- Brussel Sprouts
- Chia Seeds
→ SINGLE MACRO FOODS
Single-macro foods go right along with volume foods because eating foods with predominantly one macronutrient typically means you’re eating more food volume.
Which one has more volume and is more filling?
A.) 4 oz chicken breast + a whole avocado
B.) 4 oz ribeye
Both have the same amount of fat, and the chicken and avocado meal actually has more protein. It's easy to conclude that the first option will likely yield much more fullness per calorie.
Here’s another example:
A.) 1 cup plain fat-free greek yogurt + 24 almonds + 1 cutie
B.) 1 Protein bar
Both of these options also have the same macros.
The first option in each example is more filling because you’re having a protein source, a carb source, and a fat source, instead of having one food with mixed macros.
This means you get more food volume/it’s more filling.
→ WATER & FIZZY DRINKS
Water and other zero-calorie drinks will fill your stomach which will temporarily help you feel full.
A lot of people will also feel hungry when they really just need to drink some water. Carbonated drinks have the added benefit of bubbles which make these drinks extra filling.
This can include things like flavored carbonated water and diet soda, which are also sweetened so if you have a sweet-tooth these can help curb that craving as well.
→ SLOW DOWN
Have you ever heard that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full? It’s true, and if you’re speed-eating you may eat past the point of fullness by mistake.
You’ve probably experienced a time where you ate too quickly and ended up feeling stuffed a while after finishing, even though you felt comfortably full when finishing the food.
Slowing down the pace of your eating means your intake won’t outpace your brain.
There are a few different ways to force you to slow down when you have a habit of eating quickly:
- Eat with your non-dominant hand. If you do this you probably just aren’t coordinated enough to eat too fast.
- Chew a certain number of times. This is probably annoying, but it can work because you may not be chewing your food thoroughly enough if you’re eating fast. Bonus side-effect of this is you may experience less bloating because you’ll be gulping down less air if you’re chewing thoroughly.
- Set your fork/spoon down between bites, or take a couple of breaths between each bite. This automatically adds time between each bite so you can’t go too fast.
- Eat without distraction. You may be eating too fast just because you’re distracted. If you eat mindfully and without doing anything else at the same time you will probably naturally slow down.
→ ZERO OR LOW-CALORIE FOODS
Zero and low-calorie foods can be a way to swap out high-calorie items like condiments, sauces, and other “extras”.
Some examples of these foods:
- G. Hughes sugar-free BBQ, Teriyaki, Ketchup, and Honey Mustard sauces
- Sugar-free syrup
- Powdered peanut butter
- Almond or other nut milks
- Low-fat dressings
- Sugar-free Jello
For example, instead of using up 50g of carbs on pancake syrup, you can use sugar-free syrup and have those carbs in the form of potatoes later in the day which will fill you up a lot more than syrup.
One word of caution to keep in mind with these foods....
They do contain calories most of the time even if they say they don’t. When a food has a negligible amount of calories per serving, the company is allowed to put 0g carbs/fat and 0 calories on the label even though the entire bottle may add up to hundreds of calories.
These foods also commonly use sugar alcohols which can cause big-time digestive problems, so be careful with the amount you are using.
Two of the types of hunger we talked about earlier were...
...and gum can help with both of these.
If you know you have a habit of snacking on something at 8 pm every night and this is a habit you want to break, putting a piece of gum in your mouth at 7:45 gives you something to chew on and taste, and it makes the food less appetizing.
You would have to consciously take the gum out of your mouth to eat the snack, which brings mindfulness into the equation so you’re not grabbing something and eating it without thought.
Hunger may be unavoidable toward the end of a diet or if you are getting very lean, but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable or constant.
With the use of some of these tactics, you can mitigate the discomfort of severe hunger pangs to make sticking to your diet more doable so you can reach your body composition goals.
Two other critical factors to whether your diet succeeds or not?
2. Structure & a clear plan to follow
Our online coaching service provides you with both. To apply to work with our team, click here to schedule a strategy call. We’ll create a tailored plan to get you to the physique you’ve always wanted, and expertly guide you through every step of your transformation.