Anytime we eat differently than our normal pattern – whether that’s less or more or different types of foods – it’s very possible our hunger and fullness will be impacted. Hunger is an interesting sensation – in and of itself it’s an important component of survival. Our body triggers hunger as
an indication of needing calories; however, we are learning more and more about the impact of a wide variety of factors (environment, hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.) on hunger.
An individual trying to healthily lose weight may find hunger increasing at a certain point during weight loss, at which point we may need to focus on certain tactics to help manage hunger. The body does not necessarily recognize weight loss as a positive thing (for example, improving knee pain or blood sugar levels); rather, it may attempt to fight back as a survival mechanism and promote weight regain through increased hunger.
The following tactics may help understand and manage hunger during weight loss:
1. Minimize eating too frequently or too infrequently. For most of us, going too long between meals can lead to overeating at the next one – we’re ravenous when we start eating, eat quickly to appease the hunger, and miss the fullness signal because it comes well after we’ve already finished the plate. On the flipside, eating too often can lead to consuming more calories and training the body to expect constant snacking. Like goldilocks, find a pattern that’s juuuuuust right for you. Typically having a meal or snack every 3-4 hours is appropriate. Getting hungry sooner than 3 hours after a meal? It might have been too small. Still not hungry at 4 hours after a meal? It might have been too big.
2. Get adequate protein. Protein is preached for a reason. Research shows it’s important for maintaining muscle when losing weight, and it’s also the most beneficial nutrient when it comes to satiety. Research also shows it is best consumed in amounts of roughly 20-30 grams every 3-4 hours (see #1 above – lines up well!). Include this amount of protein at meals and aim for 5-15 grams at snacks.
3. Learn your hunger cues. This sounds crazy – we know when we’re hungry, right? Not always. We live in a stimulatory world with a lot of emphasis on what’s going on outside of us and sometimes we miss (or misread) what’s going on inside. Hunger doesn’t always come as a growling stomach – sometimes it’s feeling irritated or tired or jittery. And sometimes what we think is hunger isn’t hunger for food at all. Try keeping a journal around your meals and snacks – identify your hunger and fullness on a scale of 1-10. Over time this will help you learn true hunger and how your hunger responds to certain foods and portions.
4. Decipher between a hunger and a craving. Hunger and cravings can get all jumbled up together. Sometimes it’s one or the other – sometimes it’s both! One telltale difference between the two is this: hunger will continue to grow with avoidance of eating, while a craving can go away. If you distract yourself for a bit but you’re still hungry, eat! But if distraction proves to eliminate the feeling, then it was simply a craving. If you know you aren’t hungry, then ask yourself what else besides food are you craving in that moment?
Above all, understanding hunger, what can contribute to it, and learning how to manage it can all contribute to an improved experience when making dietary and lifestyle changes.