The Obstacle Meter – 15: Hunger

15: Hunger

The hunger that I feel when I am on a diet prevents me from eating healthier.

Although you will be eating fewer calories, it is possible to eat healthier and lose weight without feeling extreme hunger.  Interestingly and somewhat surprisingly, your level of hunger will actually decrease during your diet and rebound during refeeding (after your diet).  This phenomenon is partially to blame for why we tend to regain weight after we stop dieting.  So, in reality, we need to be concerned with hunger as an obstacle both during our diet and after we start increasing our calories (after our diet).   Strategically choosing foods and planning your eating may help you reduce the feelings of hunger.  There are no magic bullets so try not to get too caught up in any singular strategy, but here are some tips for you to try:


High Fiber: fiber provides bulk to food, and helps you feel full slowing the digestive process. Beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are high in fiber.

Water: fill up on water. Drink at least 8 cups per day and choose foods high in water such as soups, fruits and vegetables.

Protein: have a little bit of protein at each meal. Protein is shown to promote satiety (the feeling of fullness).

Limit Sugar: it is easy to over consume sugar, and it can leave you feeling hungrier than you were before.  Sometimes I refer to this as feeding the beast or priming the pump.  Sometimes eating highly processed carbohydrate can leave you feeling hungrier than if you had not eaten anything at all.  Limiting sugar does not mean eliminating sugar or that you should stop eating fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables contain so few calories that it would be nearly impossible for you to overeat on just fruits and vegetables.

Balance: do not cut out any particular food group. Include carbs, protein, and fat in your diet.  Carbs are not the enemy, and we would like to say that protein is not a saint but in reality, protein does help you feel satisfied.  Fat tastes great but it is energy dense (9 calories/gram) as opposed to carbs and protein (4 calories/gram).  The bottom line is there is no reason to avoid one of these macronutrients and there is also no reason to over consume one of them either.

Calorie Density: choose foods that have fewer calories per serving size. Practice reading food labels. You might be surprised by what you find that breaks the calorie bank.  For example, nuts are super healthy for you, but they do contain a fair number of calories.  Another example is Panera Bread.  Panera sells themselves as having clean food, yes, it is clean in the sense that their ingredients are local and natural, whatever that means, but do not get clean confused with low calorie.  Some of their offerings are much higher in calories than a similar offering at McDonalds.


Eat Slowly: eating slowly is more about paying attention to what you are eating and savoring it and not necessarily for the commonly given advice that you should eat slowly because it takes time for your brain to get the signal that you are full and that if you wolf down the meal, you will finish before your body has time to tell you that it is full.  Many people these days do not eat because they are hungry and do not stop eating when they are full.  Hunger and satiety are broken in our overindulgent food environment.  Eating slowly is more about appreciating your food than any gut-brain fullness axis. 

For example, if you know that you can only eat one taco, are you going to try to savor every last bite or are you going to eat it as fast as you can?  Are you going to enjoy one beer more by drinking it slowly and thinking about how good it tastes or drinking three beers very quickly?  The bottom line is, there are plenty of skinny people who eat like their plate is going to be taken away from them and there are plenty of slow eaters who are overweight.  Eating slowly may help you to more thoroughly enjoy the food you get to eat and make you more okay with only eating that amount of food.

Do Not Skip Meals: if you feel ravenous when it comes time to eat, you are likely to over-do it.  Now granted, this is not always the case but if you continually, non-purposefully skip meals you are playing with fire and eventually this is going to burn you.  If, on the other hand, you are able to skip the traditional three meals/day through time restricted feeding or intermittent fasting through planning and purpose, then we would tell you that skipping meals in the traditional sense might be okay.  The key is that you need to make meal planning (or skipping meals) controlled and purposeful.

Distractions: ward off hunger pangs by focusing on something else: go for a walk, clean the house, call a friend, etc.  Tell me if you have experienced this before.  You are not feeling the best, but you are supposed to get together with friends this evening.  You go back and forth about whether you should cancel but you decide to go.  You end up having a great time, and guess what, you did not even notice that you were feeling bad in the first place.  Now of course, if you are feeling extra crappy, sometimes there is no getting around this; however, getting together with friends is a good distraction to get you out of that moment of temptation.

Use a Smaller Plate: hunger cues are based a lot on eating expectations. If you normally feel like you need to finish your plate to feel full, try using a smaller plate.  The food that you place on that smaller plate will trick your brain into thinking you are eating more than you actually are.  This may seem like a silly suggestion at first, your brain can tell the difference between the two plate sizes, but it is almost as if you are allowing yourself to be deceived and your brain is okay with that.

Chew Gum: having something to keep your mouth busy can reduce the urge to eat.  You have probably heard that smokers tend to gain weight after they stop smoking.  Nicotine in cigarettes is a mild stimulant, reducing your urge to eat, which is one reason why smokers might eat more…if you take the brakes off eating, you are going to eat more.  Another explanation for smokers gaining weight is the act of smoking (drawing your hand to your face hundreds of times/day) is replaced by eating and/or snacking.  A third explanation could be that food causes a pleasure buzz, a pleasure buzz that the smoker is using to replace the pleasure buzz gained from smoking.  In any event, food does not taste good when chewing gum.  Have you ever tried chewing gum and eating at the same time.  It usually ruins the experience of eating.

Have a Schedule: train yourself to eat at regular times rather than sporadically. Try scheduling 3 meals and if you need them and they fit into your calorie budget, 3 snacks during the day.  This recommendation is not set in stone either.  Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or template that we can give you to say that, if you do this, you will be successful.  Rather it is about picking and choosing behaviors and nutrition rules that work for you.  We can give you suggestions and help steer you in the right direction but ultimately you know yourself better than anyone else and you have to choose to do it.  Having someone tell you what to do will not work as well as you choosing to do it (you buying in).


If you are on a low-calorie diet, you are going to be hungry.  That is physiology.  Contrary to what some practitioners may claim, high protein and/or high fat diets will not completely stave off hunger.  If they did, high protein and/or high fat diets would be much more successful than other diet types when in reality, they are not. 

There are hundreds of studies showing that foods high in protein and/or fat promote increased satiety and reduced hunger in the hours after eating them; however, these findings more often than not do not translate into increased weight loss over the course of weeks and months.  So who cares what a short term meal does if it doesn’t translate into real results!  There’s no value in that to me.

When we’re hungry, we can feel shaky, lightheaded, and weak.  If this happens, you should stop what you are doing and get something to eat.  However, if those symptoms are not present, we are just going to have to deal with it.  Hunger is something that we must get used to feeling and manage/live with.  Provided you’re not a diabetic, being hungry won’t kill you.  It is uncomfortable, yes, but it is something we need to be able to deal with.  We wish we had a better answer for you, but it is difficult to fight physiology.  It has a history of winning.