Sometimes when you're on a diet, it feels like you spend most of your day hungry. As a weight-loss expert who has spent more than a decade successfully helping clients lose weight and keep it off, I'm very familiar with this problem. Here are some actual comments I've heard:
- I spend most of my day practically starving! I can't stick to this diet anymore. I'm out!
- I am sooo hungry, I could eat all day long. And not just junk food either, I could literally eat anything.
- I eat decent meals, but even after I finish, I am extremely hungry.
If this is how you feel, I know what it's like: It's discouraging, it's frustrating, and if you've been feeling this way for a while, you're probably ready to throw in the towel. Being hungry all the time is one of the top reasons most people quit their diet. But don't quit just yet. We can fix this! First, let's talk about hunger.
What is hunger, anyway?
Have you ever wondered why you get hungry? It's important to know what's going on behind the scenes. When you understand what's really happening, it's much easier to fix the problem.
Hunger starts with a hormone called ghrelin. While it may sound like it, ghrelin is not actually a tiny gremlin that lives in your stomach. This is a good way of thinking about it: Picture the dashboard in your car. There's a speedometer showing you how fast you're going and a fuel gauge that tells you how much gas is in your tank. And if you've ever tried to stretch a tank of gas a bit too far, you've seen the low fuel warning light flash.
That's your signal to pull over and get some gas... or get ready to start walking. Ghrelin is known as "the hunger hormone," and much like a low fuel warning, its job is to send signals that it's time to eat. You feel its effect through a gradual increase in hunger. It starts almost like a whisper you hear across the room that gets louder and louder—until it's shouting in your ear.
And although hunger and a low fuel warning are similar in many ways, there is one huge difference: If you don't pay attention or ignore a low fuel light, you are going to get stranded on the side of the road. But with ghrelin, what happens when it's shouting, "IT'S TIME TO EAT!" and you ignore it?
Eventually, it quits shouting.
Many of us never experience what actually happens when we ignore the shouting—we're too quick to give hunger exactly what it wants. If you have children, I know you'll agree with me when I say that it's easy to give in when your toddler is throwing a fit—and it's harder to hold out and listen to the screaming and crying. You just want the screaming to stop. Your kid is making your blood pressure go through the roof, you're frustrated, and you have stuff to do, so it's tempting to just cave. But… you don't, right?
Why not? Because you know what would happen if you gave in every time your kid threw a fit: You'd have an absolute monster on your hands. So, as a parent, what do you do instead? You ride it out. Sometimes it might take a few minutes for the crying to stop, and sometimes it might take 20. But you know what you have to do—because the alternative is a child who screams all the time.
Ghrelin comes in waves.
Let's take a look at this study on ghrelin and fasting. He explains that ghrelin increases at the times you would typically have a meal, and at its peak, hunger feels like it's shouting. But then, it gradually decreases when you don't give in.
When you extend the period of time you go without feeding the monster, it becomes less and less of a problem, which is great news. Because if you are eating less over time, then you take control over your hunger, and you're more likely to beat that constant feeling of hunger, stick to your diet, and keep the weight off for good.
Now, just to be clear: I'm not suggesting you dive into a three-day fast. Instead, what I'm saying is that if you still feel hungry after you've already eaten a decent meal, then don't give in to the shouting.
Trust me. You are not going to starve. Your body will adjust. Now, I realize that just knowing how hunger works isn't a magic solution to not being hungry. If it were that simple, all anyone would have to do to lose weight is read this article, and… poof! Weight loss! The truth is, you are facing a real challenge and one that's not easy to go at alone. That's why daily accountability and support are so important.
Now, let's talk about the opposite of hunger, what makes us feel satisfied: the fullness hormone.
The answer to ghrelin, "the hunger hormone," is leptin, "the fullness hormone." Like ghrelin, leptin is a signal too. To go back to the fuel gauge example, not only does the gauge tell you when you're running low on gas, it tells you when you're full too.
But what would happen if your fuel gauge were broken? If you've ever owned a car with a broken gauge, you know the answer to this all too well. You start pumping gas and you listen as hard as you can for the sound of gas when it reaches the top of the tank. But sometimes you get distracted or just miss that sound—it's subtle, after all. Suddenly, you're spilling fuel all over the place.
This is what it's like when you have leptin resistance.
Leptin sends a signal when it's time to stop eating, and when you're resistant to that signal, your body doesn't notice it. Have you ever been to a children's birthday party, the kind where there's screaming and chaos all around, but you're so used to kids, you don't seem to hear any of it? That's what it's like to be leptin resistant. The signals are there—you just don't hear them. Now we see how leptin resistance affects hunger. Your body keeps thinking, If I don't eat right now, I'm going to starve… so you eat more.
But you still feel hungry… so you eat even more. And to make matters worse, when your body thinks it's starving, it flips into survival mode and you burn fewer calories to conserve energy. Right now, you might be thinking, This sounds like me, but how do I know if I'm leptin resistant? If you are overweight, chances are your body has become resistant to leptin. So what can you do about it?
6 Ways to Stop Feeling Hungry All the Time
1. Start With a Diet You Can Actually Stick To
Before you start any diet, whether it's keto, Whole30, calories in calories out (CICO), whatever the latest fad is, or whatever popular opinion seems to be, ask yourself this one question:
Can I see myself on this diet five years from now?
If the answer is "no," the diet you're on isn't going to last. That's why so many people jump from one diet to the next and end up frustrated. What works for your neighbor, your friend at work, or the infomercial you saw on TV might not work for you. You need a plan that's built for your life, your schedule, and the foods you know you'll eat.
2. Eat more protein.
You've heard time and time again you should add more protein to your diet, but many people still leave it off their plate. If you're not adding protein to your diet, I've got a question for you, Why not? Not only does protein help you feel fuller, but it also boosts your metabolism and helps you lose body fat. If you're slacking on protein, you're missing a key ingredient in the battle against hunger. So, what are you waiting for? Make it an absolute point to eat protein at your very next meal.
3. Remember that fiber makes you full.
Feeling full means you have a good combination of protein, fiber, and water. Some studies show that the more fiber you eat, the fewer calories you consume. Why? Because you will feel fuller. And the good news is, when you feel satisfied, you will eat less—and that's a winning combination! One of the best ways to get more fiber is from whole fruits and vegetables.
4. Slow down.
I'm sure you've heard you should eat slower before. You've heard tips like, "Put your fork down between bites," "chew each bite 20 times," and "take a sip of water between bites."
In fact, if you search "weight-loss tips" on Google, I'm willing to bet 99 percent of the articles you read will suggest some tip or tactic for eating slower. And there's a reason why this particular tip is so popular. Research shows us that the faster you eat, the more you eat; that eating quickly is associated with weight gain; and that the slower you eat, the more satisfied you feel. But after you read or hear the same advice enough times, it starts to fade into the background. Sometimes a strategy makes no sense until you know why it works.
So, here's the reason you need to slow down: From the time you start eating, it can take 20 to 30 minutes before you start feeling satisfied. It simply takes that long for your hormones to relay the fullness signal. So if you've finished your first and second helpings and already have the plate in the dishwasher before those 20 minutes are up, you won't feel satisfied. Take slowing down seriously. For your next meal, set a timer. See how fast you're eating, or rather, see how slowly you can eat.
5. Know how to beat emotional eating.
Emotional eating knows no bounds. If you're eating to mask, numb, or avoid emotions, you will never, ever feel satisfied. Sure, you may feel better for a short period of time, but what happens after that? The hunger returns, and the cravings kick in. It's like trying to fill a swimming pool that has a leak: It will never fill until you address the leak.
If you're bored, anxious, tired, or simply seeking the pleasure or reward from eating, then you have to address the cause. That's why it is so important to understand what physical hunger feels like and what emotional hunger feels like. Knowing what makes you hungry is one thing. Doing something about it is completely different. That's why you need to take action now—while it's on your mind and your motivation is high.
This post originally appeared on mybodytutor.com and was republished with the author's permission. Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that offers daily and personal accountability like no other service in the world. Sign up for his free mini-course on weight loss and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.