- Top 20 natural foods to suppress hunger
- What is hunger? Homeostatic vs. hedonic
- Controlling hunger in the short term – cravings
- Controlling hunger in the long term
- What about “hunger blocking” supplements?
- Physical Hunger vs. Cravings
- Why would I Want to Do That?
- Hunger Training: How to Do it Right
- Summing it Up
- Your brain on a diet
- WHAT A NUTRITIONIST WANTS YOU TO KNOW
- Lean Protein Can Reduce Hunger
- Curb Your Appetite Simple Tips for Controlling Hunger
- 7 Tips for Controlling Hunger
Top 20 natural foods to suppress hunger
Trying to lose weight, gain weight or maintain your current weight? It can be a tricky affair with pronounced consequences.
At some point, we’ve all fallen victim to raging and unexplained hunger, which in turn causes us to snack on high calorie carbs, which leads to weight gain. Akansha Jhalani, Registered Dietitian and health blogger, suggests healthy options to keep our weight in check.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away and hunger at bay. It is a great source of soluble fibre and pectin. These bulky fibres take time to chew, which allows the stomach to signal the brain when you have achieved satiety and prevents overeating. It also avoids absorption of additional calories and carbs, which reduce extra fat storage in the body. Apples also have hunger satiating fibre and water content, which will keep your belly full for a long period and will prevent you from reaching out for high calorie nibbles.
Ginger controls our appetite, which means it will help reduce cravings and fulfil our hunger. It acts as a stimulant that moves through a slow pace through the GI and energises the body through the bloodstream. It has high antioxidant properties, cholesterol lowering effects and reduces gastric secretions. Ginger is also widely used for its medicinal properties and can be added to our diet as a spice or condiment.
#3: Oat bran
Bran contains a unique type of soluble fibre, beta-glucans, which exhibits remarkable health properties and is beneficial for weight loss. Oat bran is low in calories and has satiating fibre, which soaks up water and increases in volume during digestion, thus giving you a feeling of fullness. It also reduces the absorption of calories from the intestine, which keeps blood sugar levels stable.
The live bacteria present in yogurt maintains a clean digestive system and provides you with exceeding health benefits. Yogurt is a great source of easily digestible proteins, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. A small portion of yogurt provides you with thiamine, which helps maintain appetite and growth. Yogurt also boosts immunity, develops resistance to fight diseases and helps in weight loss.
Eggs have been proven to make us feel full for over a longer period and suppress the hormone ghrelin that acts as an appetite booster. They also contain good quality protein that keep cravings away. Eggs can be a great addition to your diet if you want to shrink your waistline, eliminate your cravings and keep a check on your blood sugar.
Hot peppers not only add delicious flavour to our dishes, but also provide an array of health benefits. Red pepper is known to have capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory effects, kills off cancer cells, prevents against risks of cardiovascular disease, boosts metabolism and increases energy expenditure. On the other hand, cinnamon is known to have blood sugar lowering effects and keeps you full for a longer period. So layer your dishes with bell pepper or sprinkle it with cinnamon, for maximum benefits.
Legumes and pulses such as chickpeas, beans, lentils and peas are an excellent source of protein. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, known as resistant starch and oligosaccharides, which slow the process of digestion. The protein and fibre have a combined effect, which delays the emptying of our stomach and keeps us sated for a longer period of time.
Avocados are full of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and fibre. These monounsaturated fatty acids take a long time to digest and so keep us full for a longer period. An excellent source of soluble fibre, avocados slow the process of digestion. Though avocados are high in calories and fats, an avocado a day can help you get a healthier heart, glowing skin and reduce cravings.
#9: Dark chocolate
Consumption of dark chocolate has incredible health benefits. A few squares of 70% dark chocolate slow down your digestion process and triggers your “feel good” hormones. A piece of dark chocolate also keeps you satisfied.
Salmon is a potent source of protein and is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to induce hormonal changes that significantly suppress appetite. It is also a good source of vitamin D, which plays an important role in fat metabolism and weight management.
#11: Chewing gum
Chewing gum can not only freshen your breath but also manage your hunger, reduce cravings and aids in weight loss. The biggest benefit of chewing gum comes if you reach out for a stick of gum instead of unhealthy snacks when you feel like nibbling something in-between meals. Chewing gum does not help you lose weight, but it helps you to burn calories.
#12: Flax seeds
Flaxseeds are a good source of fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and protein. The tiny seeds do not take up too much space in our stomach but they help in suppressing appetite. Consume ground flax seeds with your early morning smoothie or top your salad with it and enjoy its nutty flavour.
#13: Green tea
Green tea has been found to suppress hunger and the functional compound involved is catecholamines. Due to the presence of polyphenols, green tea increases thermo genesis and aids in fat burning. Green tea also has high antioxidant properties, which take care of your heart, and it also helps in reducing anxiety.
Made from curdled soyabean milk, tofu is a rich source of protein, vitamin E, isoflavones, calcium, iron and has zero cholesterol. Soy protein unlike other plant-based protein, is considered a complete protein and it keeps you feeling full. Tofu is also low in carbs and is a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
Except for enhancing your memory, almonds are also a great source of healthy fats, which keep you satisfied for a longer time. As long as you keep a check on your portions, almonds can be a great in between snack. A couple of almonds can help you keep away from unhealthy snacks and satisfy your hunger.
Mint leaves have great hunger suppressing properties. Just pop in a few leaves or consume it in the form of tea or any other dish, if you wish to keep your weight in check.
#17: Green leafy vegetables
Greens are not only good for your health but are also good for you, if your are watching your weight. Green vegetables are rich in water content and fibre, which helps to keep your stomach full for a longer period.
#18: Chia seeds
These tiny seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fibre. All these sources help in suppressing your hunger. So, use this amazing seed to control your weight and stay healthy.
Yes, just a glass of water can help stay full. So, keep on sipping on water at regular intervals. This will also help you stay hydrated and cleanse your organs.
Beans are a great source of fibre and protein, plus they are low in calorie. Choose this vegetable to stay full for a longer period of time.
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Whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain weight loss or just stay healthy, at some point, you’re going to get hungry. But simply eating whenever the urge strikes isn’t always the healthiest response — and that’s because hunger isn’t as straightforward as you may think.
A complex web of signals throughout the brain and body drives how and when we feel hungry. And even the question of why we feel hungry is not always simple to answer. The drive to eat comes not only from the body’s need for energy, but also a variety of cues in our environment and a pursuit of pleasure.
To help you better understand and control your hunger, Live Science talked to the researchers who have looked at hunger every which way, from the molecular signals that drive it to the psychology of cravings. Indeed, we dug into the studies that have poked and prodded hungry people to find out exactly what’s going on within their bodies. We found that fighting off that hungry feeling goes beyond eating filling foods (though those certainly help!). It also involves understanding your cravings and how to fight them, and how other lifestyle choices — such as sleep, exercise and stress — play a role in how the body experiences hunger.
Here is what we found about the science of hunger and how to fight it.
Jump to section:
- What is hunger? Homeostatic vs. hedonic
- Controlling hunger in the short term – cravings
- Controlling hunger in the long term
- What about “hunger blocking” supplements?
What is hunger? Homeostatic vs. hedonic
Before we begin, it’s important to understand exactly what hunger is — what’s going on inside your brain and body that makes you say, “I’m hungry”?
As it turns out, feeling hungry can mean at least two things, and they are pretty different, said Michael Lowe, a professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Of course, there’s the traditional concept of hunger: when you haven’t eaten in several hours, your stomach is starting to grumble and you’re feeling those usual bodily sensations associated with hunger, Lowe said. This feeling of hunger stems from your body’s need for calories; the need for energy prompts the signal that it’s time to eat, he said.
Researchers refer to this type of hunger as “homeostatic hunger,” Lowe told Live Science.
Homeostatic hunger is driven by a complex series of signals throughout the body and brain that tell us we need food for fuel, said Dr. Amy Rothberg, director of the Weight Management Clinic and an assistant professor of internal medicine in the University of Michigan Health System’s Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Diabetes.
Hormones in the body signal when energy stores are running low. When this occurs, levels of ghrelin (sometimes referred to as the “hunger hormone”) start to rise, but then become suppressed as soon as a person starts eating, Rothberg said. In addition, as food travels through the body, a series of satiety responses (which signal fullness) are fired off, starting in the mouth and continuing down through the stomach and the small intestine, she said. These signals tell the brain, “Hey, we’re getting food down here!”
And up in the brain, another series of signals is at work, Rothberg said. These are the sets of opposing signals: the hunger-stimulating (“orexigenic”) peptides, and the hunger-suppressing (“anorexigenic”) peptides, she said. These peptides are hormones that are responsible for telling the brain that a person needs to eat or that a person feels full.
What filling foods should you choose? (Image credit: zstock .com )
Unsurprisingly, the best way to get rid of homeostatic hunger is to eat. And your best bet to maintain that full feeling for a healthy amount of time is to eat nutritious foods that, well, fill you up, Rothberg told Live Science.
A diet that contains fiber and lean protein is very filling, Rothberg said. And protein is the most filling of the macronutrients, she said. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that eating larger amounts of protein does increase feelings of fullness compared to eating smaller amounts of protein.
But it’s also important to be careful about certain foods. Zero-calorie sweeteners, for example, can confuse fullness signals and trick your brain into thinking you haven’t eaten much when you actually have, thus leading you to eat more, Rothberg said. (There is much debate among health experts about the effects of these sweeteners in the body. For example, although they may help people control their blood sugar levels, evidence is mixed on whether they help people lower their calorie intake or lose weight. In our interview with her, Rothberg was referring specifically to how zero-calorie sweeteners may impact feelings of hunger and fullness.)
Another food group to be careful about is ultraprocessed foods, which are loaded with fat and sugar. People don’t just eat for calories, they eat for pleasure, but foods like these can drive the brain to want more of them, essentially overpowering the normal fullness signals firing in the brain, Rothberg said.(Ultraprocessed foods are those that, in addition to sugar, salt, oils and fats, include additives like emulsifiers, flavors and colors — think potato chips or frozen pizza.)
It’s probably best to pass on these… (Image credit: Syda Productions .com)
Of course, if people only ate because their bodies needed calories, things would be simple. But that’s not the case.
People “don’t eat necessarily because of the signals that govern our energy stores,” Rothberg said. Rather, sometimes, you just want food.
This type of hunger is called “hedonic hunger.” But hedonic hunger — wanting to eat, dwelling on food or maybe craving something — isn’t nearly as well understood as homeostatic hunger, Lowe said. The term “hedonic hunger” was coined in 2007 in a review led by Lowe and published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
The most widely accepted theory about hedonic hunger is that the human predisposition to highly palatable foods, which humans developed long ago, has run amok in the modern environment, with the wide availability of really delicious foods, Lowe said. People want to eat even when they don’t need to, he said. And the more often people eat highly palatable foods, the more their brains learn to expect and want them, he said. You can call that hunger, but the reason for that “hungry” feeling appears to have much more to do with seeking pleasure than with needing calories, he said.
But it’s important for people to realize that pleasure plays a role in all types of eating, Lowe said. Pleasure is relevant to both homeostatic and hedonic eating, whereas the need for calories only comes into play during homeostatic eating, he said. For example, when someone is homeostatically hungry, that person is motivated by both the calories and the pleasure that eating brings, he said. Someone who is hedonically hungry, on the other hand, is motivated only by pleasure, he said.
The two types of hunger are not completely distinct but rather represent two ends of a continuum, Lowe said. Certainly, there are cases of hunger that fall at each end of the spectrum: A person who hasn’t eaten in 12 or more hours is experiencing homeostatic hunger, whereas a person who wants dessert after finishing a filling meal is experiencing hedonic hunger. But there isn’t a specific point where someone could say their hunger has switched from being motivated by calories to being motivated purely by pleasure, he said.
Even if a person can recognize whether their hunger is more of a hedonic hunger than a homeostatic hunger, hedonic hunger can still be a little harder to fight.
The best practice for fighting hedonic hunger is to keep those highly palatable, tempting foods out of the house, Lowe said. But if you don’t want to clear your pantry, another tip is to try to curb the desire by eating something “less damaging” — for instance, a piece of fruit instead of a piece of candy — and then seeing if you still want something sweet, he said.
Finally, keeping treats in portion-controlled servings also may help, Lowe said. For example, instead of keeping a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer, buy chocolate ice pops or ice cream sandwiches, and eat just one, he said.
Controlling hunger in the short term – cravings
The “desire” to eat may sound similar to cravings, and there’s definitely overlap between the two. However, a craving is a desire for a specific food, whereas hedonic hunger is a desire for palatable foods in general, Lowe said.
How can you get this image out of your head? (Image credit: Africa Studio .com)
Jon May, a professor of psychology at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, agreed that food cravings are a part of hunger.
But the way a person ultimately responds to feelings of hunger determines whether a craving develops, May told Live Science. One theory of how cravings develop is called the elaborated intrusion theory, which was first proposed by May and colleagues in a 2004 paper in the journal Memory.
To understand the elaborated intrusion theory and how it applies to food cravings, consider this: People aren’t always aware that they are hungry until the feelings become very strong, or until a person has nothing else to attend to, and thus an awareness of hunger comes to the forefront of their attention, May said. For example, when you’re working really hard to finish a project at work and it’s finally done, you realize you’re hungry. “This transition from unconscious to conscious makes the hunger seem very important, so we attend to it — and we call this an intrusive thought,” he said.
If a person then were to go and eat something, the thought would be handled, and there would be no need to crave or desire anything, May said. But if a person did not eat, they may dwell on that intrusive thought. Perhaps they would imagine the sight, smell and taste of the food, think about where they could get some of it, and so on, May said. Because thinking about foods is pleasant, we continue to do so, making our awareness that we’re hungry (and still not eating) worse and worse, he said. By elaborating on the initial intrusive thought, the person has developed a craving, he said.
Imagining foods in greater detail can lead to emotional responses that further fuel cravings, May said. In fact, research has shown that visualizing foods plays such a strong role in cravings that even asking people to picture a food can trigger a craving, he said.
So, to stop a craving, your best bet is to thwart the mental processes needed to imagine food, he said. And thinking about other visual imagery is a good place to start.
In a growing body of research, May has looked at fighting hunger by engaging the brain in other tasks. “We’ve used a variety of tasks, ranging from direct instructions, to imagining scenes that are not associated with food, to making shapes out of clay without looking at your hands, playing ‘Tetris,’ where you have to visualize the shapes rotating and fitting into gaps,” May told Live Science. “‘Tetris’ is great because it is so fast-paced that you have to visualize shape after shape,” he added.
Ultimately, “the more a task requires continual visual imagery, the more it will reduce a craving” because “the food images cannot sneak” into your mind, May said.
Of course, individual cravings are brief and can vary in intensity, May said. While a person can resist a craving by stopping the mental elaboration, it’s still possible that a new craving will pop up a few minutes later, he said.
But studies have shown that trying these specific tasks may reduce the intensity of people’s cravings as well as the amount they eat. For example, in a 2013 study published in the journal Appetite, researchers found that women who looked at a smartphone app that showed a rapidly changing visual display whenever they had a craving reported that the craving became less intense. What’s more, they also consumed fewer calories over a two-week period. In another, shorter study, researchers found that asking college students to vividly imagine engaging in a favorite activity when a craving struck reduced the intensity of those cravings over a four-day period.
“Just knowing how cravings start and stop can help you let them fade away without having to react to them,” May said. “Most cravings fade by themselves if you can resist them, but if you need help to bolster your willpower,” visualizing a familiar, pleasant scene can help, as can fiddling with something out of sight and concentrating on making shapes without looking at them, he said.
Since May first proposed the elaborated intrusion theory in 2004, a number of other researchers have explored the theory, and there’s a growing amount of evidence to support it. In 2015, May wrote a retrospective detailing how the theory caught on in the world of cravings and addiction research.
Controlling hunger in the long term
Beyond our in-the-moment thoughts about food, the mechanisms in our bodies that regulate hunger are complex. Indeed, many factors beyond the foods we tend to eat on a daily basis can influence these mechanisms. These factors include sleep, exercise and stress.
Much research has shown that not getting enough sleep increases hunger, said Erin Hanlon, a research associate in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Chicago. For example, sleep restriction may lead to increases in ghrelin and decreases in leptin, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Shifts in leptin and ghrelin levels are thought to be involved more in homeostatic hunger, but there’s growing evidence that sleep deprivation also may increase hedonic hunger, she said.
Researchers know that when people’s sleep is restricted, they report higher levels of hunger and appetite, Hanlon said. But studies in laboratories have shown that sleep-deprived people seem to eat well beyond their caloric needs, suggesting that they’re eating for reward and pleasure, she said.
For example, Hanlon’s February 2016 study, published in the journal Sleep, looked at one measurable aspect of hedonic eating: levels of endocannabinoids in the blood. Endocannabinoids are compounds that activate the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana does, leading to increased feelings of pleasure. Endocannabinoid levels normally rise and fall throughout the day and are linked with eating. However, it’s unclear whether these compounds drive a person to eat or if, once a person starts eating, make it harder for him or her to stop, Hanlon said.
The researchers found that in a 24-hour period following sleep deprivation (in which people slept 4.5 hours rather than 8.5 hours), the levels of endocannabinoids peaked later in the day, and also stayed elevated for longer periods of time, than they did when people were not sleep deprived. Those peaks coincided with other measurements in the study, including when people reported being hungry and having increased desires to eat, and also when they reported eating more snacks, according to the study. Overall, the results of the study add further evidence to suggest that insufficient sleep plays an important role in eating and hunger, the researchers said.
But although there’s growing evidence to suggest that not getting enough sleep increases both types of hunger, there’s still the question of whether the reverse is true, too — namely, if people get more sleep, will they be less hungry?
Researchers have only just started looking into that question, Hanlon said. For example, some research has suggested that increasing sleep time may reduce cravings for certain foods, she said. But so far, most of these “sleep extension” studies have focused more on how sleep affects blood sugar levels than on which foods people choose and how much they eat, she said. Therefore, more research is needed to answer these questions.
To anyone who’s ever felt ravenous after working out, the idea that exercise can suppress appetite may sound counterintuitive. But some research suggests that certain types of physical activity — namely, a short, intense workout — may suppress levels of the hormones known to drive appetite.
Based on the scientific literature, “it certainly seems that exercise would decrease the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin,” said Tom Hazell, an assistant professor of kinesiology and physical education at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. (However, not all studies on this topic have shown this effect, he added.) Exercise also appears to increase levels of other hormones, such as cholecystokinin and peptide YY, which play a role in inhibiting appetite, Hazell told Live Science. However, more research into precisely how exercise affects the suppression and release of these hormones is needed, he said. This is still a relatively new topic of research, he added.
But not all types of exercise appear to have the same effect. Most people actually feel hungrier after doing low- to moderate-intensity exercise, Hazell said, and this is the preferred type of workout for many people.
It seems logical that the body would try to replenish the energy it used during exercise, and when the intensity is low to moderate, it’s relatively easy to do so after exercise, Hazell said. In other words, to restore balance, the body wants to eat food to replace the calories it just burned. But, in contrast, when someone does a high-intensity workout, the body experiences many more changes in metabolism than just losing calories, he said. So although the body does want to replenish its energy stores, it prioritizes dealing with these other changes before doing so, he said.
All of this begs the question, if you’re feeling hungry, could exercise possibly squash the feeling?
“I think if the person were hungry and performed an exercise session of sufficient intensity, there would still be a benefit by reducing hunger,” Hazell said. Exercising around times when you know hunger tends to strike “could be an interesting preemptive option too,” he added, though this idea has not yet been looked at in a formal study.
When it comes to factors that influence eating, it’s hard to ignore good old stress eating. But different types of stress can have different effects on different people, said Dr. Michael Lutter, a psychiatrist at the University of Iowa.
Major stressors — such as war, famine and severe trauma — are associated with an increased risk of developing serious mental illnesses, such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which have been linked to changes in appetite, said Lutter, who has researched the neurological basis of feeding and disordered eating.
But the data on whether mild stressors — the kinds people experience on a day-to-day basis — can trigger hunger is less clear, Lutter said. In surveys, about 40 percent of people report that they eat in response to stress, but another 40 percent say they experience a decrease in their appetite in response to stress, he said. As for the remaining 20 percent? They report no effect, Lutter said.
It’s also unclear what’s going on in the body to drive stress-induced eating. “Historically, cortisol has been primarily linked to stress-induced eating,” Lutter said. But this link was based on research showing that high levels of cortisol — resulting from either medication or an illness — could affect metabolism, he said. Mild stress also causes cortisol levels to rise acutely; but these increases are much smaller and do not last as long, so it’s not entirely clear how much “stress-induced” changes in cortisol drive comfort eating, he said.
Rather, “ghrelin, and possibly leptin, also likely contribute to changes in food intake and body weight in response to chronic stress,” Lutter said. However, the strongest data for this is in mice, not in humans, he added.
For people who want to reduce “stress eating,” mindfulness-based approaches are probably the best studied. However, the evidence in this area isn’t overwhelming, Lutter said. (“Mindfulness” is when a person learns to be aware of what he or she is feeling physically and mentally from moment to moment.) But in addition to mindfulness, keeping a journal of what you eat is another approach that may help you monitor the way food intake relates to changes in emotions.
What about “hunger blocking” supplements?
A quick Internet search for “appetite suppressing supplements” yields plenty of results, but are any of these pills worth purchasing? The answer, in short, is no, said Melinda Manore, a professor of nutrition at Oregon State University.
(Image credit: monticello/)
Although there is some evidence that some of these supplements may suppress appetite, any effect seen may not be very pronounced, Manore noted. Compared to when a person takes a placebo, he or she may see 2 or 3 lbs. (0.9 to 1.4 kilograms) of weight loss while taking certain types of supplements, she said, noting that most people expect to see more drastic results.Many of the over-the-counter appetite suppressants, which aim to blunt appetite-stimulating hormones, are really just stimulants, Manore told Live Science. And although researchers have found that these supplements can suppress appetite a bit, they are dangerous because they’re not regulated, she said. In addition, supplement companies often “stack” stimulants — meaning they combine several ingredients into one supplement — and these types of supplements should be avoided entirely, Manore said.
For example, two popular supplements aimed at fighting hunger to aid in weight loss are soluble fiber, and an extract from a type of cactus called Hoodia gordonii. In a 2012 review of studies published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Manore looked at all of the available evidence about these supplements. She found that although a high-fiber diet has been shown to aid in weight loss, the evidence for supplementing a diet with fiber is more equivocal, and may depend on the type and amount of fiber used, according to the review. Moreover, there was no evidence from human studies showing that Hoodia gordonii suppresses appetite, Manore wrote.
Ultimately, although some products show modest effects, many supplements have had either no or limited randomized, controlled trials to examine their effectiveness, Manore wrote. “Currently, there is no strong body of research evidence indicating that one specific supplement will produce significant weight loss,” especially in the long term, she wrote in her conclusion.
Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Originally published on Live Science.
Warning: If you have or are recovering from an eating disorder, this post may be triggering for you; read at your own discretion.
We live in a world where you can easily go for years at a time without feeling real, physical hunger caused by a physiological need for additional calories (this is different from cravings, which come from your brain, not your body). Food is available everywhere, and it’s completely normal to eat it just because it’s there, regardless of whether your body actually needs the energy or not. We eat before we’re hungry, just to make sure that we’ll never have to experience it. We worry about snacks to bring “just in case.”
Even experts on weight loss constantly advise people to “never go hungry:” if you let yourself get too hungry, the theory goes, you’ll end up grabbing the first easily-available food you can find when your willpower snaps and the hunger makes you desperate, and you’ll almost always end up eating something unhealthy because unfortunately, unhealthy foods are usually the most convenient.
There’s some truth to that. It’s true that going hungry all the time is not a sustainable weight-loss plan: it’s unpleasant and most people won’t keep it up in the long term. It’s also unnecessary. You don’t have to be hungry all the time to lose weight.
But there’s also another side to the coin: going hungry on occasion, under the right circumstances, can actually help you develop a calmer and healthier relationship with food. Hunger is not unhealthy, and it’s not an emergency – if humans are built to do one thing well, it’s to function in the face of temporary food shortage. Hunger isn’t comfortable, but it can be very educational, and the small discomfort can bring you significant benefits down the line. And it can even make your meals taste better!
Physical Hunger vs. Cravings
Not every desire to eat comes from your body’s physical need for food. True hunger, or “body hunger” is a physiological need for more nutrients – your body needs more fuel, and it sends you the message via physical sensations like twisting or emptiness in your stomach. When you’re physically hungry, you’re happy to eat just about any nutritious meal.
But you can also feel the desire to eat because you’re stressed out, bored, lonely, sad, or feeling another emotion, even if you’re not physically hungry at all. You can feel the urge to eat just out of habit, because you always eat at that time. You might have a very strong urge to eat, but this isn’t true physical hunger because you don’t actually need any nutrients. Often this “brain hunger” comes in the form of strong craving for a particular food (e.g. chocolate) and it won’t be satisfied by “just” eating a nutritious meal.
“Brain hunger” is a topic all of its own, but here we’re looking at “body hunger:” why you might want to let yourself feel it for a while sometimes, and how to do it.
Why would I Want to Do That?
Because you can’t “eat when you’re hungry” unless you know what “hungry” feels like.
The generally excellent advice to “eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full” is meaningless if you don’t know what hunger actually feels like. If you’ve never paid attention to the sensation of physical hunger, it’s hard to distinguish from other things that make you want to eat.
That’s important because paying attention to hunger is a great weight-loss strategy. Very few people gain an unhealthy amount of weight by eating enough to satisfy their hunger and then stopping when their physical hunger is gone. But many, many people gain huge amounts of weight by eating in response to “brain hunger:” cravings, social pressure, boredom, and the rest of it.
If you aren’t familiar with true hunger, it’s very hard to distinguish from all these other reasons to eat, which makes it hard to know how much food your body actually needs to feel great and perform well without gaining extra weight. Calorie-counting is a very laborious and imprecise substitute, and it doesn’t work well for most people anyway. If you know what hunger feels like, because you’ve actually been hungry and paid attention to the sensations, then you have an intuitive, accurate, and easy way to judge how much fuel your body needs.
Because you’re going to have to deal with it eventually.
A second reason to get comfortable with hunger is that you are going to have to deal with it eventually, and knowing how to manage that feeling without panicking can help you stay on track with your healthy eating plan.
At some point, you’re going to be hungry. Maybe you’ll be stuck on a subway, a plane, a bus, or a long stretch of highway at night. Maybe you’ll be trapped in a class or meeting you can’t get out of. Even in the modern world, it’s going to happen.
Most people who rarely feel hunger have a very strong emotional reaction to it when they do have to experience it. They start to feel frantic and desperate. Once they’re free from whatever the situation is, they typically race to the nearest food source they can find to make the unfamiliar and distressing feeling go away.
But if you’re familiar with hunger, you can acknowledge the physical sensation without experiencing any emotional distress. It’s just a sensation, like a change in temperature or a noise in the background. It doesn’t upset you to the point of feeling desperate or afraid. When you finally eat, you’ll do it calmly, and you won’t frantically make unhealthy choices just to get something in your mouth.
You can’t reach that point of familiarity unless you’re experienced at sitting with your hunger and letting it exist without getting upset over it. So occasionally going hungry and noticing how you feel can be very good practice for those situations.
Salad might be “boring” when you’re craving chocolate, but if you’re truly hungry, it tastes amazing.
Because Hunger Really Is the Best Spice
Food tastes amazing when you’re truly hungry. When you’re downright ravenous, plain hard-boiled eggs and steamed broccoli can taste divinely inspired. There’s nothing more to say here, because you really have to experience it to believe it.
Hunger Training: How to Do it Right
So, you want to get comfortable with hunger? Here’s how to start.
- Try letting yourself get physically hungry between meals. Don’t snack “in case you get hungry” later on; wait until you feel the physical sensation of hunger to eat something.
- If you don’t get truly hungry between meals, try pushing back a meal until you feel hunger in your stomach, not just the desire to eat because you always eat at that time, or because you’re bored, or because you’re afraid you’ll get hungry later.
- When you feel hunger, don’t eat immediately. Stop and pay attention to it. The first time or two, write down how it feels physically. What’s the sensation in your stomach? Do you feel it anywhere else? Or is it actually “brain hunger” and not “body hunger” at all?
- When you’re done experiencing your hunger, eat slowly and calmly; don’t rush over to the kitchen and start cramming down everything you can find. Remember: it’s just hunger, and hunger is not an emergency. You’re designed to be extremely resilient and functional over long-term periods of nutritional scarcity. Skipping one meal is not dangerous and there’s no reason to panic over it.
If you’re not accustomed to feeling hunger, do this slowly and start on days when you don’t have a lot of stressful stuff to do (weekends work well).
Summing it Up
Nobody is suggesting that you should be hungry all the time, or that you have to starve yourself to lose weight. And again, if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or if you have another medical problem that could make skipping meals dangerous, none of this applies to you. But for people who don’t have an eating disorder or any other relevant medical conditions, occasionally going hungry can help you get back in touch with your body’s actual need for fuel, prepare you for times when you won’t be able to avoid hunger, and make your food that much better when it does come. It’s worth an experiment or two, at least!
We’ve all heard the advice to close down the kitchen after a certain time, which makes sense: nighttime snacking can quickly get out of hand, and has the potential to seriously derail our weight-loss goals. So why is it so irresistible? Turns out, it’s not just a matter of boredom or weakened motivation. Your body might actually be pushing you towards the pantry or fridge.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants who felt stressed saw their levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin rise in the evening. At the same time, their bodies produced less peptide YY, a hormone that contributes to feelings of fullness. So if you’re like many who often find themselves feeling overwhelmed and exhausted after a long day, your hormones may be to blame for overeating.
This kind of hormonal shift might have been beneficial back in our hunter-gatherer days. “During the daylight, it would have made more sense to prioritize going out to hunt or forage for food. When it was dark, it made more sense to stay close to home and eat,” says lead study author Susan Carnell, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. At the same time, feeling stressed probably meant that your survival was threatened. “So it makes sense to load up on calories while you can, to tide you over if your food source should suddenly disappear,” Carnell adds.
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None of this is so useful today, of course. Having ready access to a kitchen stocked with food means it’s easy to scarf down hundreds of calories that we really don’t need. And the threat of a looming work deadline or childcare conflict (the babysitter cancelled again!) doesn’t exactly justify gorging on a pint of chocolate ice cream.
It’s hard to find other behaviors that are as rewarding as food. You could say you’re going to take a nice bath, but the payoff isn’t as intense or immediate.
Not to mention that eating a salty, sugary or fatty snack activates the brain’s pleasure center in a big way. “It’s hard to find other behaviors that are as rewarding as food,” says Kelly Allison, PhD, Director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “You could say you’re going to take a nice bath, but the payoff isn’t as intense or immediate.” Drawing the bath takes work — even just a few minutes’ worth — but reaching into a bag of chips is practically effortless.
The urge to snack at night may be even stronger for people who work hard to stick to healthier habits earlier in the day. “In part, people eat at night because of decision fatigue,” explains mindful eating expert Susan Albers, PsyD. Come nighttime, you’re worn out by the hundreds of choices you’ve had to make since waking up and your decision-making skills weaken. Rather than consciously opting for the carrots, you rely on autopilot or impulse and go with the cupcake, Albers says.
Your brain on a diet
March 16, 201802:32
It might be reassuring to think that our inability to say no to the popcorn bowl or cookie jar isn’t just a lack of willpower. Still, there are effective ways to keep the unhealthy habit in check. “It’s hard to overcome your biology,” Carnell says. “Rather than just relying on willpower or feeling guilty, there might be some structural changes you can make.” In other words? If you can’t control your brain, try to control the cues that feed it. A few easy ways to do that:
- Don’t restrict yourself during the day. Avoid skipping meals or snacks because you’re busy — or because you want to try to “save up” your calories for later. “Depriving yourself often directly leads to overeating at night when you’re tired from a long day,” Albers says.
- Form a new nighttime habit. Used to having a bag of pretzels whenever you watch TV? Try a different evening activity that you don’t associate with food like reading a book, taking a walk or listening to music, Albers says.
- Portion out your snacks. You don’t have to swear off nighttime snacks completely, but it’s important to be mindful of your portions so you don’t end up overdoing it. Instead of munching directly from the box or bag, measure out a serving and eat it from a bowl or plate, Allison recommends. Instead of raiding the candy drawer, stick to a snack that has between 150 and 250 calories, and offers up a mix of good carbs, healthy fats and protein, says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. This will help fill you up and prevent you from going back into the kitchen for more.
- Keep tabs on how much TV you watch. For most of us, the screen is a powerful cue for nighttime snacking. Research shows that more time in front of the television often means more unhealthy eating. So if you still want to tune in, set a limit on the number of episodes (think: one or two, tops), Albers says, and be careful of mindlessly munching while you zone out in front of the tube.
- Set a closing time for the kitchen. Shut the lights off and move your activities elsewhere. You can even put a “CLOSED” sign on the fridge, if it helps. It may feel a little silly, “but it can be a reminder when you don’t have the capacity to really think about those decisions,” Allison says.
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Lean Protein Can Reduce Hunger
There is growing evidence of the power of lean protein, like lean meat, fish, poultry, soybeans, and eggs, to help with fullness and weight loss.
“You are most likely to feel fuller after eating protein than other nutrients, including fiber, and one of the theories behind why higher-protein diets work well with weight loss is because it helps you not feel hungry,” says Purdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, PhD.
Two recent studies from Purdue demonstrate the satisfying nature of lean protein. In one study, female participants who took in about 30% of their calories from lean protein felt more satisfied and maintained muscle mass better than another group that ate less protein.
“We found that an additional 20-30 grams of protein or a 3-4 ounce portion of lean protein was enough to influence appetite,” says Campbell. “We have also shown that when diets are inadequate in the amount of protein and don’t meet national recommendations, desire to eat increases.”
His suggestion: To keep calories in check, have higher-protein foods in place of other foods. For example, choose a glass of skim or low-fat milk instead of drinking a sweetened beverage, and you’ll take in 8 extra grams of protein.
You can add lean protein at any meal, but research has shown that adding it to your breakfast may be especially helpful.
In a study presented at the 2007 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss in dieters who ate either two eggs or a bagel for breakfast. The two breakfast meals were identical in calories and volume, but the egg breakfast was much higher in protein.
“Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks, as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83%, reported higher energy levels, and had no significant difference in their … blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels,” reports researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, PhD.
“When people eat eggs, rich in protein, at breakfast, they felt more satisfied and consumed fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who ate a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel.”
1. Bulk up your meals. There’s a lot of evidence that bulk — that is, fiber — reduces appetite. So turn up the volume with higher-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. These foods also tend to have a high water content, which helps you feel full.
2. Cool off your appetite with soup. Have a bowl of broth or vegetable-based soup (hot or cold) for a first course, and you’ll probably end up eating fewer total calories at that meal. Creamy or high-fat soups need not apply for this job — stick to the low-cal, high-fiber choices like minestrone or vegetable-bean type soups.
3. Crunch your appetite away with a big salad. One study found that when people had a large (3 cups), low-calorie (100 calories) salad before lunch, they ate 12% fewer calories during the meal. When they had a smaller salad (1 1/2 cups and 50 calories), they ate 7% fewer calories overall. You can make the same salads used in the study: Toss romaine lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers together, and top with fat-free or low-fat dressing. But beware the fatty salad! Eating a high-calorie salad, even a small one, can encourage us to eat more calories at the meal than if we ate no salad at all.
4. Stay on course. A little bit of variety in our meals is good and even healthful. But having several courses during a meal can lead you down the wrong path. Adding an extra course to your meal (unless it’s a low-calorie salad or broth-type soup) usually increases the total calories you consume for that meal.
5. An orange or grapefruit a day helps keep appetite away. Research suggests that low-calorie plant foods that are rich in soluble fiber — like oranges and grapefruit — help us feel fuller faster and keep blood sugars steady. This can translate into better appetite control. Of the 20 most popular fruits and vegetables, oranges and grapefruits are highest in fiber!
6. Get milk (or other low-fat dairy foods). Increasing your intake of low-fat dairy foods is a great way to get more of two proteins that are thought to be appetite suppressors — whey and casein. And drinking milk may be especially effective. A recent study found that whey — the liquid part of milk — was better at reducing appetite than casein.
Curb Your Appetite Simple Tips for Controlling Hunger
Trying to curb your appetite can be the most challenging task when trying to lose weight. It seems that when you hear the words “diet” or “weight loss” suddenly you crave everything in sight.
If this sounds like you, then try out these methods to help curb appetite and avoid the cravings.
7 Tips for Controlling Hunger
Eat more often during the day. Try eating every 3 or 4 hours to prevent insatiable hunger.
By eating more often you are keeping your body satisfied and your mind off the snacks and wrong foods. This method will help you control hunger all day long.
Another method to curb your appetite is to pick high fiber foods. Certain foods will help you feel full faster and avoid over indulging at meal time.
Eat high fiber foods to help keep you full longer and control hunger.
Foods like apples are great for curbing appetite as they are high in fiber, loaded with lots of nutrients and take longer to chew.
This extra chewing time gives your brain time to receive the signal that it is full.
Other foods that are great for keeping cravings at bay are high protein foods. You should eat protein with each and every meal.
Foods high in protein take longer to digest and do not cause a high spike in your blood glucose levels like carbs can. Your proteins don’t always have to be from meats.
For instance, pine nuts contain the highest amount of protein of any nuts or seeds and helps stimulate two hunger suppressing hormones. So eat protein, feel full longer and curb your appetite.
Water is a great addition to your daily routine for curbing appetite. Water has so many benefits but first and foremost it can be your secret weapon to keeping away from the cookies.
So if you find yourself wanting to head to the snack food, drink a glass of water instead and wait 30 minutes. If you still feel hungry, then go ahead and eat but make it a healthy snack.
Tea or coffee can also help to curb your appetite. The caffeine in these products are natural appetite suppressants.
But don’t overdo it on these items as you don’t want to be wired all day long.
However, a glass or two when needed will help you stay away from the wrong foods and eat less so you can lose weight.
Another great way to help curb cravings and lose weight is exercise.
When exercising your body releases endorphins which can naturally suppress your appetite.
Of course exercising does way more than this. There are many medical benefits of exercise plus you are burning fat and calories.
So get active, curb your appetite and get fit and healthy.
Try waiting awhile before eating a second helping or taking that snack. If you still feel hungry after your meal, don’t jump right in with another serving. Instead give it 20 minutes or so.
This is about the amount of time it takes for your body to receive the signal that you have eaten and are in fact full.
Here are more tips to curb your appetite and lose weight.
Weight Loss Motivation
If you are finding it hard to get motivated to lose weight, then this is a must read article. Use these tips to help motivate yourself to stay on track with your weight loss plan.
Understanding Portion Sizes
Learning proper portion sizes can help you eat healthier and reach your weight loss goals. You might be surprised to find out what is a proper portion size versus what you put on your plate.
Calories from Fat, Protein and Carbs
Calories are made up from the different macro nutrients. Read this article to see how fat, protein and carbs effect the total calories in your favorite foods.