by Tom Venuto
You often hear the well-intentioned advice, “eat only when you’re hungry.” But if you eat every time you feel the slightest twinge of hunger, regardless of whether your calorie needs for the day have already been met or not, you will constantly be taking one step forward and one step back. A little bit of hunger on a fat loss program is normal and sometimes simply needs to be tolerated. Your body’s natural response to calorie deprivation is to increase hunger and it’s not just because your stomach isn’t full; it is far more complicated than that. A lot of it has to do with hormones secreted by your fat cells (leptin) and by your stomach and gastrointestinal tract (Ghrelin, CCK, Neuropeptide YY and others).
These hormones interact with your central nervous system (brain/hypothalamus) in a way you could describe as turning up the appetite dial a notch. Calories go down, appetite goes up, you go looking for food!
Hunger: yet another reason why slow and steady wins in the end
This is why, with my fat loss program, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle I don’t promote quick fixes that depend on extreme calorie cuts. Your body’s hunger responses react on an order of magnitude relative to the degree of restriction you put it through. I encourage a patient, gradual approach to fat loss. A conservative calorie deficit means slower weight loss, but less hunger, less chance of bingeing and less chance of relapse.
If you’ve been tempted to use a very low calorie “rapid weight loss program,” provided it’s adequate in nutrients and does not recommend anything dangerous or unhealthy, that’s certainly your prerogative. However, there is no way to completely avoid the hunger when you’re on very low calorie diets. If you’re the type of person prone to hunger, cravings, emotional eating or bingeing, extreme diets are the worst thing you could do.
Some people have the willpower and dietary restraint to grin and bear the hunger and so they manage to lose weight more quickly. But in the end, hunger, cravings and “missing favorite foods” gets the best of almost everyone, and post-diet overeating and bingeing puts the weight back on.
It’s a verified fact: Research from Oxford University and the National Weight Control Registry says that 80-95% of people who diet the traditional way gain back all the weight they lost. Unmanaged hunger is one of the reasons why.
That’s why you need strategies to handle hunger and control your appetite.
Since we are dealing with both a physical and mental challenge, your strategies need to be both mental and physical. Even the most powerful appetite suppressants won’t help you if you have no mental strength. And even if you have the strongest willpower in the world, it won’t last you forever in the face of hormonal hunger.
No post-diet binge for you? Yeah, that’s what they ALL say. Your intentions are good… but everyone is susceptible. Most people who do before and after transformations start pigging out the second the “after” photo is taken.
I’ve seen national champion bodybuilders (who should know better), gorge themselves the night after a competition as if it were the last meal they would ever get. An old friend of mine gained 30 pounds above his onstage weight after a week-long binge-fest on doughnuts and pizza.
In this article, we’re going to focus mostly on the physical strategies, but let me give you two quick mental reframes that will make everything else you do work better.
Psychological strategies for handling hunger
Cognitive psychologist Judith Beck gave some of the simplest, but most effective advice I have ever heard on this matter. She said: “hunger is not an emergency.”
What a great concept. It’s true. We are so conditioned to leap into action and grab food when we feel the slightest hunger, but the truth is, we may not need to eat at all. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t eat when you feel hungry, assuming you’re following all the common sense strategies of a good nutrition plan for fat loss. But good things will happen… like seeing your abs! And building a very strong “discipline muscle” (which will carry over to other areas of your life).
In a similar train of thought, I like to say, “hunger is the feeling of fat cells shrinking.”
With that said, you should NOT feel starving or ravenous. If you do, there may be some nutrition issues you need to address and you need some physical strategies to curb hunger as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if you have the discipline of an Olympian and the willpower of a monk, you can’t resist the temptations of the modern world surrounded by food and eating cues when you are in constant and severe hunger. Food becomes the only thing you can think about.
Fortunately there are natural ways to control hunger when it’s getting tough to bear. Here are 10 of the best:
10 Strategies To Handle Hunger
1. Eat a lean protein with every meal. Lean protein foods suppress appetite better than any other macronutrient. A study from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle found that swapping out a small amount of carbs and putting lean protein in its place (increasing from 15% protein to 30% protein) improved weight loss by increasing leptin sensitivity and reducing appetite. By the way, casein protein, which is available as a protein powder supplement, is a slow-released protein. A study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands reported that having casein protein makes you feel fuller.
2. Eat a substantial breakfast and eat small frequent meals throughout the day. Skipping breakfast correlates very highly with late day hunger and even binging. People who eat breakfast are far less likely to experience night eating syndrome, a clinically recognized eating disorder. If you eat something, at least a snack approximately every 3 or 4 hours – (4 to 6 meals, or snacks/mini meals per day), it curbs hunger very effectively for most people, as long as you choose the right foods in the right combinations.
3. Avoid very low fat diets. Don’t cut all the fat out of your diet. Nonfat diets often increase hunger. Physiologically speaking, dietary fats don’t curb hunger as well as lean protein. However, they do slow down gastric emptying and help even out blood sugar levels by providing a mixed meal that is not all carbs. Dietary fat also provides psychological satiety and satisfaction, as it adds flavor and texture to a food or meal.
4. Eat 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories of caloric intake. Fiber is satiating and provides bulk to your meals without large amounts of calories. Think veggies first, fruits second, and high fiber whole grains and legumes and root veggies third. Aim for approximately 25-35 grams a day. A recent study from the University of Kentucky provided a customized recommendation: 14 grams per 1000 calories per day energy expenditure. For a female at 2000 calories, that would be 28 grams fiber per day. For a male at 2700 calories per day, that would be 38 grams of fiber per day.
5. Drink a lot of water or find a non-caloric beverage to drink when you feel hungry. Water isn’t necessarily a strong appetite suppressant, but it does fill up your stomach and satisfy a psychological need to consume something. I know some folks who use sparkling water as they say the carbonation makes them fuller, at least temporarily. If you dislike artificial sweeteners, more and more non-caloric drinks are being made with the natural sweetener stevia and or sugar alcohols which are very low in calories. Given that regular soda and dessert coffees are two of the largest sources of excess calories leading to obesity, a non-caloric drink as a substitution for calorie-containing drinks has value to the fat loss seeker. Tea is also a great choice as is coffee in moderation (sans the cream and sugar).
6. Experiment with food substitutions – especially carbs – to see what makes you feel fuller. Some foods make you feel much fuller than others. For example, most people say that oatmeal gets them extremely full, while a boxed cereal like wheat flakes leaves them hungry. There are some generally accepted guidelines here (refined sugars and processed carbs being major culprits), but ultimately, it’s an individual thing. You need to experiment. A journal will help. Eat a food or meal, and then take note of hunger and how you feel immediately afterwards and for the three hour period afterwards. This type of food/hunger journal will reveal a LOT to you.
7. Use calorie/carb cycling or refeed days and allow yourself free meals. It’s a lot easier to stick to a program if you have planned free meals and refeeds. Lets suppose that nothing else helps; you are always hungry with the calories reduced. Well, who says you always have to stay in a calorie deficit 100% of the time? It’s actually a built-in feature of the Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle program to give yourself free meals that will satisfy your cravings and to give yourself refeed days where you eat more. Even if you do feel hungry, you can tolerate it because you know a higher calorie day is on the way. If you get a craving for a specific food, you can hold out because you know you’re allowed to eat it… just not quite yet. It’s a real psychological relief knowing you won’t be on low calories forever and that no food is totally ‘forbidden’
8. Training. Contrary to the nonsense that some anti-exercise pundits keep spewing out, the majority of research says exercise does not increase appetite and may even decrease it. What many people also don’t realize is that exercise helps psychologically to improve compliance to a diet. When you exercise you tend to eat better to stay consistent with your lifestyle (morning exercise in particular, sets a healthy tone for the day). There are some exceptions though. For example, cold water swimming is known to increase hunger. And some people are simply compensators who eat more after any kind of exercise because they feel like they earned the extra food if they worked out, but they end up putting back all or more of the calories they burned. Their bad. Not a reason to avoid training.
9. SLEEP! Get your zzzzz’s. Research from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin has conclusively proven that sleep deprivation increases hunger hormones and leads to more inadvertent snacking during the day. DON’T IGNORE! This is a bigger culprit than you might think.
10. Keep alcohol to a minimum. Research has consistently found that alcohol can distort your body’s perception of hunger, satiety and fullness. If drinking stimulates additional eating, or adds additional calories that aren’t compensated for, and that leads to positive energy balance, then you get fat. Men should be on guard more than women. The correlation between drinking alcohol and body fat gain is stronger in men in almost all of the studies. It seems that women might be better at compensating for alcohol calories than men. In other words, men tend to drink and eat, while women tend to drink instead of eating.
But What About Appetite Suppressants?
The phamaceutical or supplement indsutres might just come up with an appetite suppressant someday that could be useful, but weight loss drugs do NOT have a good track record and there’s nothing on the supplement market now that’s really worth shouting about. And let me ask you a question:
How many of the strategies in this list of 10 have you actually implemented? Just a few? One? NONE? Well check this out: my strategies are all natural, they are all free, and they all work. But how many people do you know who won’t eat more nutritious foods, they avoid working out like it were the plague, fail to get enough sleep and refuse to reduce their alcohol intake, but they DO want a magic pill to take?
How To Eat More And Burn More
One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed is that while it’s not realistic to think that everyone will be free of hunger during a calorie deficit (especially during the final stages of a fat loss program), many people who follow my Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle program nutrition strategies find that they are actually eating more than they were before and they rarely feel any hunger they can’t handle…
It’s not uncommon at all for my clients to say they are full all the time, and can’t even eat all the food I recommend to them, even as their body fat keeps going down.
How is this possible? Because when you switch from appetite-stimulating processed foods and refined calorie-dense sugars to all-natural, low-calorie-density, high-protein, high-fiber “clean eating”, it’s remarkable how much food volume you can eat and still feel satisfied. It’s all about managing calorie density, and these types of food swaps are the basis for my entire eating program.
For more information go to www.burnthefat.com
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in Iron Man Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.