Ever have those days when all you can think about is what you’ll eat next? We all do! When trying to cut calories for weight loss, hunger is the most common side effect. After all, your body doesn’t want to give away its energy stores without a fight.
I’m here to tell you that this is one fight that you can totally win. With a few expert strategies and a bit of planning, you can keep hunger at bay and still meet your weight goals.
Below are nine expert tips and tricks to tame your “hanger”:
1. DON’T SKIP MEALS
If you’re trying to eat less and stay on track to meet your goals, the worst thing you can do is skip meals. Skipping a meal or waiting too long to eat leads to unplanned snacking and overeating later in the day. Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, recommends keeping hunger in check by eating every three hours — and having breakfast within an hour of waking.
2. FIBER IS YOUR NEW BFF
To keep full for the long term, fiber is your secret weapon. Adding high-fiber, low-calorie foods to all your meals and snacks can help you stay fuller, longer. Stir beans into soups or fold them into eggs. Add extra veggies to casseroles, and blend greens into your smoothies. Make sure your salads are more than just greens — load them up with plenty of other fresh veggies, too. And plan ahead to be prepared. Jessica Spiro, RD, recommends prepping fresh fruit or chopped vegetables in advance for quick meals and snacks.
3. FILL UP
Foods high in water have only a few calories per gram, so you can eat more of them compared with more calorie-dense foods like nuts, cheese, meats and sweets. Water-rich foods are great for bulking up your meals and still keeping your calories low. Broth-based soups, cucumbers, celery and watermelon are all delicious, filling and hydrating, too.
4. BALANCE YOUR MEALS
Water-rich foods and long-lasting fiber are great ways to start, but it’s also important to include healthy fats and protein-rich foods. Fats keep food in your stomach longer and help you feel full, while protein tells your brain you’re satisfied and can stop eating. You can also send “full” messages to the brain with aromatic spices like ginger, turmeric, curry, chili powder and cayenne, says Alan Hirsch, MD, of the Chicago Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.
5. CHEW ON THIS
Eating slowly and chewing your food thoroughly results in a greater sense of fullness, reducing the intensity of hunger pangs. And speaking of chewing, gum can be a great antidote to ward off boredom hunger. Lindsey Pine, RD, finds that chewing on minty sugar-free gum keeps her mouth distracted. If your mouth feels fresh, you may also be less inclined to ruin that minty feeling by snacking when you’re not really hungry.
6. DO SOMETHING ELSE
Distraction can go a long way in taking your mind off your next meal. Health coach Rebecca Clyde, RD, recommends creating a list of things to do instead of eating. She finds many people struggle to distinguish between true hunger pangs and being bored or eating for other reasons. A distraction creates a pause between the thought of food and seeking it out so you can ensure that you’re truly hungry.
7. RATE YOUR HUNGER
Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RDN, recommends learning to use a hunger scale to rate your hunger. By evaluating your level of hunger or fullness during, after and between meals, you can make adjustments to your diet. If you’re starving by dinnertime, you may need to re-evaluate the timing, size or composition of your lunch or plan a more balanced snack in the afternoon. Getting more in tune with your body help you manage your meals better and lead to long-term weight-loss success.
8. SLEEP IN
Most of us don’t get the 7–8 hours of sleep each night to keep our hormones in balance and curb sugar cravings. Work on your sleep hygiene by getting to bed and waking up at the same time each night. Make sure to turn off electronics before bed, and eat dinner at least three hours before you hit the sack for the best sleep — a critical part of weight loss.
9. DRINK UP
When you’re trying to lose weight, make sure to get plenty of water per day — it’s good for weight loss. It’s easy to confuse hunger pangs with thirst, as they’re both controlled by the same part of the brain, so staying hydrated is a great way to rule out being thirsty when you think you’re hungry. Lindsey Pine, RD, suggests drinking hot beverages like green tea in addition to water. Not only do warm drinks keep you hydrated, but they also gives you something to sip on for an extended period of time.