How to Stop Feeling Hungry When Losing Weight
At any one time, it is thought that up to two thirds of us in the UK are on a diet or are trying to lose weight. Interestingly, this mirrors the proportion of us who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 25 and are therefore either overweight or obese.
Unfortunately, we are not reaping the rewards from our efforts because obesity levels continue to rise. Although there are arguments about the actual percentage of diets that fail to provide long term success, those who lose a significant amount of weight and are able to keep it off are very few and far between.
Certainly, there are numerous factors that determine the success, or lack of when it comes to dieting. However, more often than not, diets fail because they are too difficult to sustain, largely thanks to the often ravenous hunger that we are in a constant and draining battle with. Sure, you are bound to experience some hunger when decreasing calorie intake, but this can be managed with a few key behavioural changes.
In this article, we are going to explore the topic of appetite and find out what we can do to manage our hunger to set us up for long term dieting success.
In the body, appetite is regulated by the brain, hormones and our fat cells. These factors work to ensure that we obtain sufficient energy to be able to carry out our daily demands, but not so much that we become obese. You may rightly ask – why then do we have such an obesity crisis in the developed world? Well unfortunately, our bodies have not yet adapted to the omnipresence of highly palatable, energy-dense foods that overpower our biological cues.
Our appetite hormones can be split into two groups. The ones that promote satiety, or make us feel full, are known to scientists as anorexigenic hormones. Hormones that stimulate appetite are known as orexigenic. CCK, GLP-1, and PP are some of the better-known hormones that signal to the brain we are full, whereas ghrelin is the only known hormone that makes us feel hungry.
Leptin is a unique appetite hormone because it is contained within our fat cells. As we gain fat, we have more leptin. This signals to our brain that we have enough energy stores and this impacts appetite. The same is true if we lose fat, as appetite subsequently increases.
Again, this will raise eyebrows as this should mean that we are somewhat protected against obesity. However, if body fat levels are high for extended periods of time, our brains actually become resistance to the effects of leptin, meaning our brain thinks our fat levels are healthy. This results in no reduction in appetite. So it is crucial for our health to act quickly if we find ourselves out of shape.
Now that we have learnt the basics about appetite regulation, it is time to look at what we can do to make sure this highly sophisticated system works in our favour.
Although some hunger pangs are to be expected when reducing calorie intake, there are certainly things we can do to make it manageable.
Protein is arguably the most important nutrient to address when aiming to lose weight and this is down to three key reasons.
Firstly, losing weight can put us at risk of losing muscle mass, as our body often turns to the protein in our muscles to use as fuel. This should be avoided at all costs, as muscle burns a lot of calories per day even at rest. So, losing muscle mass would mean your metabolism would slow - not a good thing for weight-loss efforts. So by increasing protein intake, your body will not need to use your muscle tissue for energy.
To complement proteins ability to protect against a slowing metabolism, protein intake actually boosts metabolism. This is because the body has to work hard to digest protein, something nutritionists call a high thermic effect. Typically, the body uses 20-35% of the calories from protein to actually digest it! This is in comparison to carbohydrates 5-10% and fats 2-5%. So, those with a high-protein diet typically burn more calories per day.
Last but not least, protein is well-known to be the most filling macronutrient as it not only helps to boost the hormones that make us feel full, but also suppresses ghrelin for a lengthy amount of time. It should come as no surprise then that those people on a high-protein diet don't suffer from as much hunger, snack less and have an overall lower calorie intake.
Now that we have cited the phrase ‘a high-protein diet' numerous times, it is time to quantify what this actually is. At the current time, adults are recommended to consume 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight they weigh. So for a 70kg adult, this equates to 56g per day.
To reap the benefits from protein however, it is recommended that 1.2-1.5g per kg of bodyweight is consumed every day, and is spaced evenly across meals. This means for a 70kg adult, 84-105g per day would be the aim. Looking at this figure, it would seem suitable to aim for 30-35g in each main meal, with a small amount provided through snacks.
Although it may seem a daunting task to increase your protein intake to those levels, focusing on lean meats, dairy, fish, nuts, seeds and legumes should see you reach this target easily. However, if this is a struggle, a high-quality protein supplement such as whey would be a smart choice.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that passes through the body, neither being digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. Unfortunately, it has been well-documented that many of us are falling well short of the recommended 30g per day, with 17g for men and 16g for women being the current average.
Not only does a fibre-rich diet reduce the risk of colon cancer, it also helps to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check. Another well-known benefit of fibre is that its helps to increase the bulk in the stomach which leads to a reduction in appetite. Interestingly, a lot of fibre-rich foods are also high in water, which as we will find out later can also be beneficial for keeping hunger pangs away.
To ensure we meet the recommended fibre intake, choose wholegrains over refined grains and aim to achieve 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Nuts, seeds, legumes and dark chocolate are also great sources to include regularly.
As we found in the previous section, increasing the bulk of food in the stomach is a great way to keep hunger at bay. When discussing the topic of managing hunger, energy density is a topic that regularly crops up. Energy density is, in basic terms, how many calories a food provides per gram. So when aiming to lose weight, it is recommended that you, for most part, consume foods that have a low energy density.
Typically, foods that are low in fat, high in fibre and water are the ones with the lowest energy density. For example, a big mac burger provides 540 calories, but weights under 180g! Compare this to a water melon, which only provides around 50 calories for the same 180g. Although this is an extreme example, it reinforces how important it is to use your daily calorie intake wisely, and not blow over a quarter of it on a burger that will not fill you up.
Highly Palatable Foods
As we touched on early, highly energy dense foods that taste good can wreak havoc on our appetite responses, as the impact they have on the reward system in our brain overpowers our appetite hormones. Such foods are easily over-eaten, so we must ensure that portions of these are small. This is easier said than done, however, as these foods are hard to eat in moderation. So to not counteract your weight loss efforts it is best to totally omit ‘junk food' from the diet.
You may have heard that our bodies can often be confused between being hungry and being thirsty. As after all, hunger and dehydration can both lead to feeling weak and dizzy. Not only does fluid intake help us stay hydrated and allow our bodies to function normally, it also adds bulk to our stomach which helps to suppress appetite hormones. So if you haven't had a drink in a while and are starting to feel hungry, it may be worth having a glass of water and seeing how your body reacts.
On a day-to-day basis, 2-2.5L of fluid should be sufficient for most people to remain adequately hydrated. This can come from all fluids, not just water. From a weight-loss perspective, it is highly recommended that most fluid intake comes from calorie-free beverages. Sugar-sweetened drinks are not only bad for our health but do very little for supressing appetite.
Unfortunately, many people regard exercise as fruitless for weight-loss, as they believe that the calories burnt are simply compensated for by eating more food throughout the day. Although exercise doesn't burn as many calories as people think, it can actually suppress appetite. This depends on the mode of exercise however, as is shown by a research study conducted at Loughborough University in 2012.
A group of healthy males were recruited and assigned to complete 3 different trials in random order. The first was a control trial that performed no exercise, and then ate buffet meals 3.5 hours and 7 hours after their rest period. The second trial saw the participants perform an hour of cycling before the food and the final trial was a repeated sprint protocol again followed by the buffet meals.
The researchers not only assessed how much food was consumed at the two meals, but also measured the appetite hormones and asked the participants to rate their hunger levels. Interestingly, it was found that the hour cycling session not only burnt substantially more calories, but it also supressed appetite to a greater extent than the sprint cycling protocol. This led to the participants creating a larger energy deficit, which is the primary aim when losing weight.
The physiological and psychological benefits of sprint interval exercise cannot be denied, but this study and others confirm that for a weight-loss programme, continuous exercise such as an hour long bike ride is the most effective.
To conclude, weight loss is a high priority for most of us but more often than not, our appetite puts up a good fight which can be too much for even the strongest of willpowers. Hopefully this article has outlined some straightforward changes that can be made to give you the greatest chance of success, so you can reap the rewards of your new-found bodyweight.