A friend of mine went on a juice diet a few years ago and I swear hanging around her for those 2 days was probably more painful for me than for her.
One of the evenings, she insisted on coming with me to a restaurant to get dinner. And while I tucked into my juicy steak, she ordered a glass of water and stared at me eating.
Yes, she stared at my steak while I cut it. She stared at my fork while I brought it to my mouth. And then she returned to staring at the rest of my steak while I chewed.
It was the most disturbing dinner EVER!
And even worse, all that suffering was for nothing as she totally ditched the diet after the second day because she was so hungry.
If you’ve been into weight-loss or dieting, then you’ll know that not feeling hungry while you lose weight is a HUGE benefit.
So much so that drug companies make lots of money selling appetite-suppressing pills and supplements (like the popular and yet very unproven garcinia cambogia).
All the while, there are completely proven real-food ways to curb your cravings and prevent yourself from overeating all the while eating nourishing foods.
Am I for real? Could you really to say goodbye to hunger pangs while eating healthy delicious food that helps you lose weight?
Let me answer that rhetorical question…YES
And there’s actual science to back this up.
A Quick Digression Into What Causes Hunger
This is a subject that occupies tons of scientific funding as our obesity problem grows and grows. The American Health Association estimates that “nearly 78 million adults and 13 million children in the United States deal with the health and emotional effects of obesity every day.”
And the exact answer is complicated and still not completely known. A few of the causes are:
- Certain hormonal signals
Your body produces a complicated concoction of chemicals to tell your brain how you should feel.
Leptin is one hormone in this hunger system. Leptin is mostly produced by your fat cells.
When you have enough fat, more leptin is produced to tell your brain that you’re not so hungry and should eat less.
Ghrelin is another important hormone in the hunger system. It’s often referred to as the hunger hormone as higher levels of it makes you feel hungry. (1)
Other hormones involved with hunger include (2):
How Full Your Tummy Is:
- Cholecystokinin (CCK)
- Pancreatic polypeptide
- Peptide YY
- Glucagon-like peptide (GLP)-1
This is perhaps the easiest signal your body receives. When you eat a ton of food and extend your stomach and intestines, a signal is sent to your brain via stretch receptors in gut saying “YOU’RE FULL – STOP EATING.” (3)
It’s also partially why some types of bariatric surgery involve shrinking the size of your stomach. (4)
Ever seen a cake and suddenly started salivating? Or smelled some freshly baked bread and got hungry? (5)
Or have you found yourself getting hungry at the same time each day? A familiar eating habit can also cause hunger. (6)
In the end, it’s likely that all these factors (as well as others) interact to produce the uncomfortable sensation of those annoying hunger pangs (which are actually stomach contractions). (7)
The 5 Scientifically-Backed Ways To Curb Hunger While Losing Weight
1. Eat More Protein
There’s been a lot of research concluding that high protein diets make people feel full faster and for longer. (8, 9, 10)
While the mechanism for this is still unclear (11), making sure you get sufficient protein in your diet is never a bad thing.
Eating adequate protein could also help you retain muscle while you lose fat and burn up more calories. (12, 13)
And if you’re worried about your bone health, then this 2011 review concluded (14): “dietary protein works synergistically with calcium to improve calcium retention and bone metabolism.”
How Much Protein Should You Eat?
There’s a lot of debate on this. The US government recommends we eat 5.5 oz of protein per day (for a 2000-calorie diet), which corresponds to around 30% of your calorie intake. (15)
And many scientific studies showing benefits of high protein diets used diets where people ate around 30% of the calories from protein. (16, 17)
Our calculator can also help you determine more exactly how much protein you need depending on your current weight, body fat percentage, activity, and goals (weight loss, muscle gain, or maintenance).
2. Remove Hyperpalatable Foods
I didn’t make up that word!
Hyperpalatable foods are addictive foods, and over the past 10 years, they’ve garnered a lot more attention in the scientific community. (18)
And as one research paper has pointed out, “A growing body of research has identified many similarities between conventional addiction disorders and excessive consumption of calorie-dense foods.” (19) The similarities between hyperpalatable foods and addictive drugs is scary!
So you’re gorging out of control on these hyperpalatable foods…you think you’ll take just one bite but in less than 10 minutes, that entire party-sized bag of potato chips or that Costco-sized bag of cookies is completely gone…sound familiar?
What Foods Are Hyperpalatable?
We evolved to eat non-processed foods. Let’s face it – potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and even sodas have all been invented in the past century or so. Before that, we ate foods that were either high in sugar (like berries and sweet potatoes) or else high in protein (like meats) or high in fat (like bone marrow). (20)
But with processed foods came the mixing of these types of macronutrients. A recent study concluded that “highly processed foods, with added amounts of fat and/or refined carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, white flour), were most likely to be associated with behavioral indicators of addictive-like eating.” (21)
So, foods high in both fat and refined carbs (like potato chips, cookies, cakes) are all culprits.
In many ways it’s not our fault we finish that whole bag of chips or cookies. Please don’t blame it on your lack of mental willpower. We’re biologically designed to do this.
And food companies are exploiting our innate weakness. They’ve hired teams of food scientists to systematically design foods that are addictive to the max. What chance do our poor DNAs have?
How To Avoid Hyperpalatable Foods?
Since hyperpalatable foods tend to have both lots of fat and lots of carbs, one easy way to avoid them is to eat food that’s either low in fat or low in carbs.
Not surprisingly, researchers have found that both low fat and low carb diets cause you to feel more full. (22, 23)
However, we generally suggest people go lower in carbohydrates rather than lower in fats for 2 huge reasons:
- 1. It’s harder to find processed foods low in carbohydrates.
The low-fat craze over the past few decades has produced a huge influx of processed low fat foods.
From skimmed chocolate milk to low-fat yogurt and reduced-fat cakes and cookies, you can’t miss the plethora of low fat foods in any grocery store.
Unfortunately, this means you’ll just substitute your regular junk food for low fat junk food that’s loaded in extra sugar (to make it taste better). Let’s just face it, it’s not healthy!
- 2. To ensure you get fat-soluble vitamins
Which brings me to reason 2…
It’s really difficult for you to get sufficient essential vitamins likes A, D, E, and K on a low-fat diet. These vitamins can only be absorbed into your body with fat. (24) So you can drink as much skimmed milk fortified with vitamin D as you want, you still won’t get very much vitamin D into your body unless you also eat fat with it.
- 3. PLUS…
A 2-year study comparing low carbohydrate diets found that those on the low carbohydrate diet “reported being less bothered by hunger” than those on the low-fat diet for those 2 years. (25)
This could be because sugary foods (even if they’re zero-calorie and fat-free) can give you a dopamine rush that can lead to bingeing and sugar-dependency. (26)
So cut out the refined carbohydrates, eat less processed foods, and don’t be so scared of foods that naturally contain fat.
3. Eat More Fiber
You’ve probably heard the advice to eat more fiber, and this can help you feel full faster and be less hungry. (27)
Some types of fiber also gets fermented in your gut to form short chain fatty acids that can potentially make you feel full. (28)
This third method of not feeling hungry seems to contradict eating less carbohydrates (which I suggested in method two above). And while bran and whole wheat bread is very high in fiber, it can can cause digestive issues due to the gluten-content. (29)
So in general, we recommend you eat real vegetables (or fermented vegetables).
You know…those green things that grow in gardens.
So eat lots of vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
4. Get Rid of Leptin Resistance (By Reducing Processed Carbs)
I mentioned the hormone, leptin, at the beginning of this article. It’s produced by our fat cells, and it signals to our brain (the hypothalamus region in particular) to let it know when we have sufficient fat in our body. (30)
When we have plenty of fat in our body (our fat cells are full), the amount of leptin in our blood will be pretty high. This blood will flow to our brain where the leptin will go across the blood brain barrier (BBB) and attach to the leptin receptor (LEPR-B) in the arcuate nucleus, which is a part of your hypothalamus.
However, when you become leptin resistant, your fat cells still produce tons of leptin but your brain doesn’t seem to recognize it. (31) Obese people tend to have more leptin in their blood but yet they still feel hungry. (32)
So, someone with leptin resistance will eat a ton of food but still feel hungry and their metabolism will still be sluggish. It’s not surprising that many diabetics with insulin resistance also have leptin resistance. (33)
What Causes Leptin Resistance?
One reason for leptin resistance is high levels of triglycerides in our blood. This has been found to prevent leptin from crossing the blood brain barrier and reaching the leptin receptors in the brain. (34)
Inflammation is another factor that can contribute to leptin resistance. (35)
How to avoid or get rid of leptin resistance?
Luckily for us, leptin resistance can be reversed. (36)
Since leptin resistance is linked to high triglyceride levels, it would make sense to reduce triglyceride levels so that your leptin signaling pathway can start to work normally again.
A low carb diet has been found to reduce triglycerides in overweight people. (37, 38) Conversely, a high carb diet (even if it’s complex carbohydrates) has been shown to increase triglycerides. (39)
Losing weight and getting rid of insulin resistance can also get your leptin pathway back to normal. So, following the other methods on this list will also help with leptin resistance.
5. Drink Lots of Water – in the Morning and Before Meals
Studies found that drinking just over 500 ml (just over 1 pint) of water before a meal helped people feel less hungry. (40, 41)
A large glass of water 30 minutes before breakfast can make you eat less. (42)
And even a low calorie soup at the beginning of your meal can naturally prevent you from overeating. (41)
When you drink more water, you stretch out your stomach more, and you likely activate those stretch receptors that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. (42)
6. Sleep Enough
Lack of sleep is often linked to hunger. This is even the case in healthy young people after just 2 days of sleep restriction. (43)
And just one night of sleep deprivation followed by a stressful day could also cause increased hunger. (44)
Part of this could be because sleep helps to regulate leptin levels. (45) And as I discussed at length above, ensuring your leptin signaling pathway is normal really helps to prevent hunger when you’ve already eaten plenty.
Over 1/3 of the US adult population sleeps less than 7 hours per night. (46) So if you’re in that group, then increasing the amount you sleep each night will also help you curb hunger.
It’s unclear whether stress actually makes you more hungry. But it is clear that stress can increase your cortisol levels, which can make you eat more. (47)
So, de-stress because it makes you eat more and let’s face it, being stressed isn’t fun way to live!
Bonus – Mentally Prepare Yourself
You can also set yourself up to eat less just by being more aware of your eating habits.
For example, people feel more satiated if they can recall what they just ate. (48) Hence the recent increase in popularity of mindful eating. (49)
Tricks you can use ensure you don’t overeat include: using a larger fork can help you eat less (50), wider and colored plate rims can make you feel like you’re eating more (51), and using small plates and bowls will also help you eat less (52).
If You’re Chronically Hungry…
As I pointed out in the first section of this article, hunger is a complicated process. And if you feel hungry all the time, then it could be a sign of some health problems. So, please go get that checked out and addressed before starting any diet.