So you’ve lost a couple pounds.
Your diet is working.
But you’re a week in and it already takes every ounce of willpower to avoid diving head first into those stale donuts in the office lunch room.
Well, to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn.
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Naturally, that involves some hunger and discomfort.
The Science Of Why Dieting Is So Damn Hard
Within a day of beginning a diet, your ghrelin levels go up and progressively get higher.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the gut, with its main function to increase your appetite.
A calorie deficit is a perceived threat to your survival, so ghrelin is in place to keep you alive.
Not great in today’s world of instant access to calorie-dense foods though, is it?
But, here’s the thing…
Before I get into the tips, you need to understand it’s OK to be a little hungry once in awhile.
Maybe not “ready to punch your boss” Snickers commercial hangry, but tolerable hunger is actually a good thing. That suggests you’re actually eating less than you need to maintain your weight.
In other words, your diet is working if you’re hungry from time to time!
With that out of the way, here are some ways to make the most of your diet and minimize hunger in the process.
1. Eat Meat
Protein reduces your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
It also has a high TEF – or Thermic Effect of Food. Meaning that as much as 20-30% of the calories from protein are “burned off” just to digest the protein, compared to carbs (5-10%) and fat (0-3%).
Plus, it helps you maintain lean body mass as you diet down. When you’re in a significant calorie deficit (i.e. eating less than you burn), your body is happy to feast on muscle for energy. It doesn’t tend to throw out just fat and keep muscle… unless you eat lots of protein and weight train.
That’s why scale weight is not the only measurement of success.
A high protein intake may help prevent muscle loss when daily calories are reduced for weight loss.
In one study, researchers at McMaster University, found it’s possible to gain muscle while cutting fat—in just 4 weeks.
In their month-long study published last year, 40 overweight men in their 20s followed an exercise program and ate a calorie-restricted diet of 40% fewer calories below maintenance.
The wrinkle? Half the men followed a lower-protein diet (1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight) and the other half followed a higher-protein diet (2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight).
The results: After 28 days, the higher-protein group saw 2.3 pounds of muscle gain and 10.5 pounds of weight loss. The lower-protein group retained their muscle mass (broke even) and lost about 8 pounds.
2. Fire in the Hole (Your Colon, That Is)
A high fiber intake stretches the stomach, slows its emptying rate and influences the release of fullness hormones.
On a diet, veggies are your friend. Fiber in veggies will decrease hunger.
Veggies are packed with vitamins, too, but if you can’t stand the thought of eating your greens, try a fiber supplement like Metamucil before bed. Don’t let it thicken into a gel before drinking – you want it to expand later on in the digestive process! Put it on your tongue dry and quickly wash it down.
High fiber protein bars (think Quest or the Costco brand pictured) can help curb hunger between meals as well.
What I’ve been doing lately is skipping breakfast and delaying lunch by drinking a diet coke with a couple protein bars.
As Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes writes, cold food is more satiating than hot food. When you “cool” the stomach with cold food, it slows digestion, and satiation increases.
Footnote: I’ve actually switched to tip #3 – paired with the bars – as my latest hunger-suppressing stack.
Research shows that coffee promotes a feeling of fullness.
It releases a PYY hormone which scientists believe plays an important role in determining how much you’re likely to eat, according to an article on Authority Nutrition.
Interestingly, decaffeinated coffee may produce the highest reduction in hunger, with effects that last up to three hours after consumption.
For those who can’t deal with caffeine in even moderate doses (myself included), decaf may be a good option. I pair a decaf coffee with a protein bar to get me through “hangry” pains right now. Try something similar if you find yourself grazing on junk at the office or at night.
Getting enough quality sleep can also help reduce hunger and protect against weight gain.
Studies show that too little sleep can increase hunger and appetite, and chronically over time has been linked to higher rates of obesity.
Get your shut-eye by any means necessary!
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