It’s hard to stick to your diet if you’re feeling hungry all the time. Try my five tips to help control hunger.
Hunger control is probably the biggest hurdle that dieters face, and it’s a complaint I hear more often than any other. Some people gripe about counting calories or keeping a food diary, others grumble about making time to exercise – but not a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that they just can’t control their hunger and that they’re “starving all the time!” And while I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve that can help you control your hunger naturally, the first step is to figure out if you are really and truly hungry in the first place.
What Does it Feel Like to Be Truly Hungry?
If I asked you to describe what your hunger feels like, what would you tell me? Does your stomach rumble? Does your energy level dip? Do you have a little bit of “brain fog” or feel “cranky”? If any of those things happen to you, you probably do need some fuel – these are all common symptoms of true hunger. And, when you feel this way, your body is likely to respond when you eat something – and you’ll probably feel better.
On the other hand, if you’re eating for reasons other than hunger – if you’re just bored or angry or depressed – food probably won’t make you any less bored, angry or depressed (or, if it does, you probably won’t feel that way for long). Feeling hungry isn’t the same thing as “wanting something to eat”. If it’s emotion that’s driving you, or if you got the urge to eat something simply because it looked good or smelled good, you’re probably not truly hungry. In that case, you’ll want to find other ways to deal with the urge to eat.
Hunger control is aimed at curbing true hunger – the growling stomach, the low energy, or the irritability that often comes when your body needs fuel. Since true hunger naturally drives you to eat, you’ll want to learn some tricks for controlling hunger if you’re also trying to control your calories. So here are my top 5 tips for hunger control.
– Protein is a hunger-buster. Protein satisfies hunger better than carbohydrate or fat, so try to include some lean protein at each meal and snack. Protein works its magic not only in your digestive tract, but it also affects your brain chemistry in a way that helps you feel satisfied and mentally sharp.
– Watery, high fiber foods are filling. Water and fiber have no calories, but watery, high fiber foods are ‘bulky’ and take up more space in your stomach, so they help to fill you up. Most veggies – with the exception of the starchy ones like potatoes, corn and peas – have very few calories per serving because they contain so much water and fiber. Watery fruits like melons and pineapple, and high fiber fruits like berries can also help fill you up for a relatively low calorie cost.
– Exercise can help control hunger.
A bout of exercise can suppress hunger hormones, which can curb your appetite. But, in order to sustain your activity, your body needs to be properly fueled. Sometimes, in an effort to lose weight, people cut their calories too much and just don’t have the energy to keep up with their exercise – so the whole process backfires. People often tell me that they feel as if exercise makes them hungry and leads them to eat more – but often that’s because they haven’t fueled up properly before and after their workouts.
– Fluids can help with hunger control. Drinking fluids with your meals may make your meals feel more filling. And, some people confuse thirst with hunger – so even though their bodies are craving fluid, they wind up eating instead. If you stay hydrated, that’s less likely to happen.
– Eating small, frequent meals can help control hunger. When you eat small meals every few hours, it helps to keep your blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. This is important, since dips in your blood sugar can cause your hunger to spike. And – even if you think a smaller amount of food won’t be enough to hold you – the knowledge that you’ll be eating again in just a few hours often makes it easier to manage your hunger.
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.