Managing hunger can be tricky when you have a weight loss goal. For fat loss to occur, you need to be eating fewer calories than you burn– also called a calorie deficit. The goal of this method is to eat moderately less than normal so as to sustainably lose weight with minimal physical strain.
The key word here is “sustainable.” It’s important during a weight loss journey be eating enough calories to support your body’s processes and a quantity you can stick with over time. While some hunger is normal during this time, it shouldn’t be distracting or ravenous.
Below, we will outline the different types of hunger you might experience, in addition to how to stay full while still losing weight.
Hunger is the Body’s Cue
Regulated by the hormones ghrelin and leptin in your body, a hunger cue is your body’s way of telling you that it needs energy. These same cues also help you know when you are full.
Once you build an awareness of when you feel hungry and why, these internal cues can guide you to eat more intuitively. Over time, this means having a more reliable understanding of how much you need to eat and what will keep you satisfied.
Types Of Hunger
Emotional hunger is when we crave food because we’re triggered by emotion. The reason for eating is driven by pleasure, or comfort. This feeling appears suddenly, often felt above the neck, and can be accompanied by feelings of stress, loneliness, sadness, or fatigue.
Physical hunger, on the other hand, is when your stomach feels empty, hollow, and may rumble. This type of hunger typically builds gradually, and happens usually a few hours since your last meal.
Knowing the difference between different types of hunder is helpful for solving emotional eating. Once this awareness is built, we can begin the real work of tracking our personal habits and making an action plan to support our goals.
Practice recognizing the different types of hunger you experience. Try waiting until you feel physical hunger to eat.
Hunger & Fullness Scale
For those of us who have been dieting chronically, and even those who are just beginning to lose weight, there is a shockingly small amount of information on hunger literacy. In fact, many individuals don’t even know how to correctly rate their hunger.
Since I big part of what I do involves educating people on making better choices, let’s start out with a graphic to explain what I mean:
This is a Hunger & Fullness Scale. It’s a way to help us understand just how hungry or full we are, and what level of satiety we should be aiming for on a regular basis.
The reason I like this method is because of it’s intuitive structure. We want to make sure that we are maining greens and yellows throughout the day while avoiding the red zone. Zones 3-6 are ideal. This means not eating too much, but not starving yourself either.
So how do you use a tool like this during the day? When you are getting ready to eat a meal or snack, ask yourself, Where am I on the hunger scale? If you’re holding a 3 or 4 for at least 30min, it’s time to have some food.
During your meal, check in again. This is all about awareness. Eat until you get to a 5 or 6 and then stop. This helps you eat more mindfully and stop before you overindulge.
Mindful Eating Practice
Building off our chart above, the next piece in the puzzle is knowing when you’re getting full. While it sounds simple, it’s a challenge for many of us who are mindless and rushed when we take a meal. This makes it easy to lose awareness of how much food we’ve eaten and whether or not we are still hungry.
If you’re new to mindful eating, or mindfulness in general, the following is a quick guide on how to eat your next meal with intention.
- Prepare your meal and arrange it on your plate
- Sit down and take a deep breath – notice the way your food looks and smells
- Remind yourself that you’re not in a hurry. You are here to smell, taste and enjoy your food as fully as possible.
- Make sure you fully chew each bite. If you tend to eat fast, it may even help to place your utensil down between bites.
Food Choices for Hunger Management
Your food choices while eating in a calorie deficit can affect whether you are extremely hungry all the time (making it more likely to give in to temptations) or staying on track with relatively little hunger.
To best support your weight loss, eating a combination of protein, fiber, fat, and volume are all essential to remaining full. While everyone ultimately has different dietary needs, here are some recommendations to get you started:
- Protein: eat some at each meal and snack, split up over the day
- Dietary fat: Helps maintain satiety and it’s great for your hormones
- Fiber: 25-35 grams/day
- High volume foods: Low-calorie options that take up lots of room on your plate
The more nutrient dense and high volume your food choices are, the less hunger and cravings you will experience
For a more exhaustive look into the best nutrition to manage hunger when dieting, check out my blog post HERE.
Quit the Clean Your Plate Club
As you learn to eat more mindfully, you might realize your portion sizes need to change. If you are eating to zones 6 or 7 and still have food on your plate, it means we need to readjust our servings.
See, many of us were taught in childhood to clean our entire plates. Many of us even heard narratives about not being wasteful or how other families struggled with food insecurity. As such, even though kids start off knowing when they’re full, they are put out of touch with this natural intuition.
Two problems are created here: the emotional and the physical aspect of quitting the Clean Plate Club.
Quitting the clean plate club can be an emotional issue. Leaving bites behind can be hard. We feel uncomfortable or even guilty not to eat everything. But cleaning your plate just because you feel like you should, might be getting in the way of reaching your goals.
When working with clients that have guilt around not finishing their portion, I like to provide a few affirmations. These are ways to bring our attention back to the present moment and emotionally center ourselves before guilt derails our weight loss.
- This is not honoring my body’s signals
- This gets in the way of me achieving my goals
- I am not a trash can
- It’s perfectly okay to leave bites on my plate
It’s important to know that even if you’ve done everything “right,” you will still experience hunger. Hunger is not an emergency. It’s not unhealthy. It’s a bodily cue. Although it can be uncomfortable, the feeling of hunger comes and goes. It’s simply part of being human.
However, when dealing with hunger and dieting, remember to be mindful and kind to yourself. Taking care of your mind and your body is the key to long term success.