Being hungry sucks. Most times, in the face of hunger, my primary concern is FOOD, not quality of food. Hunger comes out to play and “willpower” goes out the window. Plus, my dieting history had me believing for a long time that losing weight meant being hungry all the time and constantly thinking about food. What a terrible way to go through each day! Fortunately, as I stopped dieting and lost 100+ lbs in a healthy, sustainable, anti-diet kind of way, I learned to control my hunger. I can honestly say that I never white-knuckle my way through hunger. Remember that hunger is a hormonal signal and we should aim to eat meals and snacks that keep hunger at bay. I don’t know about you, but I’m a much nicer person when I’m not hungry! It is TOTALLY possible to lose fat without being hungry all the time! Today I want to share with you 12 steps to reduce hunger. As always, keep in mind that you don’t need to implement all of these strategies at the same time! Pick one or two and try them out. Monitor how they work for you. If you find one that works, practice establishing at as a habit. Work on it every day. Once it feels effortless, then you can move on to tackling another fat loss strategy. Alright. Enough of the set up. Let’s dive into the 13 ways to curb hunger:
- Eat more cruciferous veggies
I’ve written in detail about cruciferous veggies here and they are incredibly effective for reducing hunger and keeping it at bay. They are rich in both water and fiber so they quite literally fill up your stomach and in the process, they reduce production of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is responsible for triggering feelings of hunger so when we decrease ghrelin, we keep hunger at bay. Veggies to focus on include brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower. One recipe I’m totally in love with right now is Nom Nom Paleo’s red cabbage slaw with carrot/ginger dressing. I’ll make a batch or two at the beginning of the week and grab a couple cups to eat with lunch and dinner and it keeps me full for hours!
- Eat more fat
I know this recommendation can make people nervous. They think of dietary fat and shudder because it is “high calorie”. Keep in mind, however, that calories are a measure of the energy potential of a given food. So, the fact that fat has twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbs means that fat has twice the energy potential! Fat is a very energy dense, slow burning fuel source that can really help to keep you satisfied. When my coaching clients are struggling with hunger the first thing I’ll look to see is if they are eating those cruciferous veggies and then I make sure they’re getting enough fat. Easy ways to incorporate fat include adding egg yolks, avocado, grass fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish like salmon or sea bass or high fat nuts like almonds or macadamias.
- Include protein at most or all of your meals & snacks
Protein is an incredibly satisfying macronutrient. Though it is less energy dense than fat, it doesn’t metabolize near as quickly as carbohydrates do. This slower metabolic process helps to really curb your hunger. Think about it: could you sit down and eat 5 chicken breasts? Doubt it! Could you eat 5 cupcakes? (Am I the only one nodding…?) If you have a big salad with lots of greens, cucumbers, tomatoes & avocado, don’t be surprised if you’re hungry shortly after. Similarly, if you have a blueberry muffin, you can expect to be hungry before you’ve swallowed that last bite! Include protein. This could include eggs at breakfast, beef jerky for a snack, or fish, chicken or beef at lunch or dinner. (Need specific meal ideas? Check out this podcast episode where I go through allllll my meal & snack ideas!)
- Eat fewer carbs
A while back I explained here how carbohydrates trigger hunger and cravings. They are a rapid-burning fuel source which can be great for fast energy but terrible for hunger and cravings. Ever had the experience of eating a big bowl of cereal (or two) for breakfast and feeling hungry almost immediately afterwards? That is an incredibly common response to carbohydrates but it can pull us into a vicious cycle. We eat carbs, we get hungry shortly afterwards, we eat more carbs, we get hungry again – over and over and over. In reality, we’re over-fueling but we’re never really satisfied. We can break free from this cycle and make a major impact on our hunger if we cut back on the grains, wheat, processed foods and even fruit and focus on those cruciferous veggies, fats and proteins. For more info on specific carbohydrate strategies for fat loss, hunger & cravings, check out the e-course here.
- Backload your carbs
Minimizing hunger and achieving fat loss does not mean going low carb or no carb. It also doesn’t mean mo’ carb, either!!! I don’t want anyone to read step #4 and think they need to go all ketogenic on me to burn fat. It’s just not true. There are, however, some smart strategies for carbs and fat loss. One of the most impactful ones is to backload your carbohydrates into the end of the day. Specifically, limit your consumption of carbs to your dinner time meal. If you’re going to have potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, fruit – pick one and eat it for dinner. In fact, I have 4 golden rules for carbs and fat loss. You can read all 4 here!
- Eat more slowly
Most of us don’t chew enough. We wolf down our meal and then think, “Aw man, it’s gone already? How’d that happen?” Slow down. Put your fork down between bites. Chew twice as much as you’re chewing now. It sounds silly but it works. And hey, it’s worth trying, right? Slooooooow down.
- Get more sleep
Just one night of poor quality sleep throws off our sensitivity to the hormone insulin. Just one night. Now imagine the impact of weeks, months or years of poor quality sleep. Insulin is the master fat loss hormone and has a huge impact on both hunger & cravings. Don’t fight the urge to sleep so you can stay up and watch a show. It isn’t worth it. Don’t schedule meetings or events that will keep you out late unless you have to. One of my coaching clients shared a quote the other day that I totally love: Consider it a luxury to go to sleep when you feel tired. So many of us fight the urge when we don’t have to for stupid things like browsing facebook or watching TV. Get to sleep. And if you can’t increase the quantity of your sleep, increase the quality. Here’s a comprehensive podcast episode all about specific strategies for improving the QUALITY of your sleep when you can’t change the quantity.
- Stop the chronic cardio
Traditional cardio workouts (jogging, aerobics classes – think moderate-high intensity workouts that are 30+ minutes in duration) elicit a hormonal response that can trigger hunger. They can also inhibit fat burning and and trigger cravings, but that’s a whole other conversation. If you are really struggling with hunger, I’d urge you to reconsider your workouts. Strength training and high intensity interval workouts do not create the same hormonal response and therefore most often do not lead to excessive hunger. If you want to understand how this works on a more detailed level, check out this podcast interview I did with trainer and author Shawn Stevenson. We talked about the types of workouts that don’t work (and why) as well as what is best for fat loss and hormonal responses like hunger and cravings.
- Go for walks
Leisure walking is such a great activity and one that most of us really under-estimate. I mean, really, just walking? That’s it? No huffing and puffing? No sweating? No hating my life while I cycle my heart out? Nope. Just a slow, leisurely walk. There are a million reasons it’s great for fat loss but most of the benefits come from the hormonal benefits it delivers. Leisure walking decreases cortisol, one of our stress hormones. We all live with stress, right? Work stress, financial stress, emotional stress…you name it, we’ve got it. When we manage our stress response, even with something as simple as leisure walking, it can have a major impact on our ability to burn fat and our hunger. Remember that hunger is a hormonal signal so when we balance our hormones, we manage our hunger. Go for a walk. 🙂
- Watch out for artificial sweeteners
While I’ll maintain that artificial sweeteners are not a big rock for fat loss (for most people) I’ll also argue that some people struggle with them more than others. If you find that you’re struggling with hunger and can’t really reel it in, check for artificial sweeteners. In some people they can really influence both hunger and cravings. This includes the more “natural” artificial sweeteners like stevia.
- Eat mindfully
This is very much tied to #6. Satisfying hunger is both mental and physical. Sure, you might have filled your stomach but have you satisfied your mental/emotional need to eat? If you’re eating while you watch TV, surf the web or work, you’re missing out on the mental and emotional satisfaction. This can lead to searching the pantry or fridge after a meal, even when you aren’t hungry, because you just need something more. Be really mindful. Be present while you eat. Pay attention to how the food tastes. This really does go a long way.
- Skip processed foods
I’m not trying to be a hater on the food industry but the reality is this: they pay a lot of money to food scientists whose job it is to make you want to eat more. These foods are designed to dissolve quickly in your mouth, metabolize quickly in your body and not trigger any satiety (fullness) signals. Seriously. I am not exaggerating. Millions of dollars are spent on making these foods both addictive and minimally satisfying. Why? So you eat more. So you buy more. It’s not you and your lack of willpower. It is food science and it is very real. If you find that you just can’t stop after 1 cookie or you’re hungry even after eating that handful of potato chips: let it go. Choose whole foods. These processed foods will work against you no matter how strong your will is!
There we have it! Plenty of strategies for you to choose from to help you curb your hunger! What do you think? Which one are you going to start with? Let me know which one you’re going to target and then check back and let me know how it’s going!