Hunger is your brain telling you that your body is low on the fuel it needs to keep moving — just like a car’s tank needs to be refilled with gasoline. That’s why it’s perfectly normal to feel hungry as soon as you start eating fewer calories to lose weight. Before you reheat those leftovers, let’s get to know what hunger really means. After all, it’s your body’s way of communicating with you.
WHAT CAUSES YOU TO FEEL HUNGRY?
We’re lucky enough to have access to calorie-rich foods that are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by, but we’ve evolved from our ancestors who lived in a feast or famine world. Under those conditions, it may have been beneficial for humans to get really good at: 1) loading up on food, 2) laying down fat stores and 3) maintaining a higher body weight.
Luckily, there is a science-based explanation for why weight loss is so hard. The Settling Point Model explains that our weight settles in a certain range, which is driven by genetics, aging and other lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress. Losing and gaining weight outside a certain range is difficult, because there are mechanisms in place to bring us back within range (Think: an increase in hunger and a decrease in satiety).
Research shows there are biological explanations for hunger, such as the increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin if you haven’t eaten in awhile. While there are a variety of hunger hormones, it’s ultimately more practical to learn how to tell if you’re truly hungry.
USE A HUNGER SCALE
The hunger scale helps you gauge when it’s a good time to start or stop eating. All too often we eat out of distraction or boredom instead of eating to satisfy true physiological hunger. Here’s a tip: Before you eat, spend a minute or two paying attention to your stomach. Repeat this process during and after a meal. Use this hunger scale to help you determine if you should eat something.
If your hunger ranks high on the scale, have a snack that’s nutrient-dense and will satisfy you more than something that lower in nutrients, but higher in calories.
READ MORE > AM I EATING TOO FEW CALORIES TO LOSE WEIGHT?
3 TIPS FOR TACKLING HUNGER
1. SLOW DOWN AND SAVOR
A small study of 20 overweight adults compared what happened when participants were told to finish the same amount of ice cream at different amounts of time. When they were given five minutes to wolf down the ice cream, they rated feeling hungrier and less satisfied than when they instructed to savor it for 30 minutes. Taking time to chew and savor your food enhances your enjoyment of the food and your perception of your own hunger, so don’t rush.
2. INCREASE YOUR DAILY CALORIE GOAL
The MyFitnessPal app helps you create a calorie deficit by subtracting calories for weight loss. If you feel like the amount of calories is not enough and it’s too stringent to follow, manually add back those calories in the settings. Getting to and maintaining your goal weight is not a race, so pace yourself.
3. CHOOSE FOODS HIGH IN PROTEIN, FIBER AND WATER
These three nutrients are highly linked to satiety, meaning they’re good at stifling your appetite after you eat. Focus on filling up on common-sense nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole-grains. Keep these things on hand so you don’t get caught off-guard. Need inspiration? Here are 21 healthy snacks other MyFitnessPal users enjoy.