If one of your goals is to lose weight, you’ve probably started to cut back on your calorie intake. One of the downsides of doing this is that your appetite kicks into high gear, causing stomach rumblings and hunger pangs. In fact, feeling hungry is a reason that you may not be losing weight — if you cut back too much on your food intake, you may end up overeating later out of sheer hunger. How can you stick with a weight-loss plan without feeling hungry all the time?
Hunger vs. appetite
Hunger is a normal response that is really a signal that you need to eat. If it’s been a while since you’ve eaten, your brain signals your stomach. Your stomach, in turn, starts to rumble and growl, and you may even feel stomach discomfort. If you still don’t eat anything, you may get other symptoms, such as a headache, weakness, or dizziness. These symptoms will go away once you eat. In short, hunger is a physiological response to not eating enough or going too long without eating.
Appetite, on the other hand, is a desire to eat that is often triggered by seeing or smelling food, or even thinking about food. Appetite can lead to eating, even if you physically don’t feel hungry. Boredom, anxiety, and stress, as well as habits or special occasions, can increase your appetite.
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Heading off hunger: losing weight without feeling hungry
It’s normal to feel hungry when you make changes to your eating, whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. Over time, you may find that your hunger pangs go away as you adapt to your new eating plan. But what if they don’t? How can you stay on track with your plan without feeling hungry all the time? (For one thing, make sure you are consuming enough calories to support overall health!) Even if your goal is managing your diabetes rather than weight loss, managing your hunger will help you stay the course. Here are suggestions to help keep the “horrible hungries” at bay!
- Drink water before a meal. Research shows that drinking a glass or two of water before you eat a meal can help you feel fuller and less likely to get hungry afterwards. Sipping on water the rest of the day can help distract you from mindless eating, too.
- Fill up on vegetables and include fruit, too. Speaking of water, vegetables and fruit have a high water content, plus they’re high in fiber. Water and fiber are a great combo to keeping you feeling full. Veggies that are the highest in water include lettuce, celery, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini, tomatoes, and bell pepper. Fruits highest in water are watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blackberries, and peaches (these fruits are lower in carb than other fruits, too).
- Go for the grains. Whole grains, that is. Yes, they contain carbohydrate, but you can still eat them. Examples include steel-cut or rolled oats, brown rice, millet, barley, spelt, and quinoa. Swap out your usual rice or potato and make room for whole grains in your eating plan. Choose popcorn for a snack — but go easy on the butter and salt.
- Focus on protein. One reason that lower-carb eating plans are successful for weight loss is that they tend to be relatively high in protein. Studies show that protein tends to be more “satiating” than fat or carbohydrate. Aim to include a protein source at each of your meals; also, eating protein before your carb foods can help keep your post-meal glucose levels lower. Good protein choices chicken and turkey breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, seafood, eggs, tofu, cottage cheese, and plain Greek yogurt.
- Leave room for legumes. Beans (e.g., cannellini beans, black beans, kidney beans), chickpeas, and lentils are packed with fiber, and they also contain protein. Add beans to soups and salads, or try a meatless meal, such as vegetable chili (swap out the ground beef with beans). Roasted chickpeas also make a great snack.
- Start off with soup or salad. Both soup and salad contain a high amount of water, and if you choose carefully, can also give you a good amount of fiber. Sipping on a broth-based soup before you eat a meal will help fill you up (bonus points if there are vegetables and legumes in there). Same thing goes for salad — just watch out for high-calorie add-ins, like croutons, a lot of cheese, dried fruit, and creamy dressings.
- Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can increase both hunger and appetite (and can also make it harder to manage blood sugar levels). Most people need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Deal with distractions. In other words, avoid multitasking (watching TV, scrolling on your smartphone, reading) when you’re eating. This may not help you feel less hungry, but focusing solely on your meal or snack can help you know when you’ve had enough to eat.
Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Strategies for Weight Management,” and “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”