What makes you hungry?
Is it the smell of freshly baked bread? Is it going without food for half a day? Is it bad sleep? Unfortunately, all of these things can make you hungry. And you can thank your hormones for that. There are several hormones that control satiety and feelings of hunger. You should remember the following two because they will be important deeper into this article.
- Ghrelin – This hormone is produced in the gut and it signals your brain to eat. It increases your appetite.
- Leptin – This hormone is produced by your fat cells and it tells your brain to stop eating. It suppresses appetite.
What happens when you ignore hunger?
Some people try to get results by going on a strict diet and ignoring hunger. Unfortunately, you can’t really fool your body for too long. When you don’t eat enough food ghrelin levels keep rising and feelings of intense hunger follow suit. Suddenly, those sugary donuts filled with calories become literally irresistible.
If you keep ignoring hunger then your fat cells will produce so little leptin that the hunger simply won’t go away. At that point you won’t be able to stop thinking about food. Sounds familiar? If yes, then you’ve been ignoring physical hunger. That type of hunger will always catch up with you and it’s not pretty when it does.
Your body simply needs a certain number of calories to survive. It can’t spend a lot of time in a big calorie deficit. Some deficit is necessary if you want to lose body fat. But if your energy levels are down and your whole life revolves around hunger and food then you overdid it. It’s much better to improve your diet so that it matches the needs of your body and satiates you. You will learn how to best do that later in the article.
Is it hunger or cravings?
There are other types of hunger besides the physical one and they are very different. Remember that smell of freshly baked bread? And how about when you see a friend enjoying a delicious cake? Or when you have a really bad day and a chocolate bar seems like the best solution? That’s called cravings, a desire to eat something very specific. Here are the three main reasons it happens.
- Habits – For example, when you sit down to watch a movie you suddenly get a craving for popcorn.
- Emotions – You experience increased hunger when you get stressed. You turn to food when you’re really sad, or lonely. Or you eat out of boredom.
- External cues – Seeing or smelling your favourite food can be enough to make you crave it.
When you feel hungry, don’t ignore it. Pay attention to it. Would a regular home cooked meal satisfy that hunger? If the answer is hell no, then you’re probably experiencing cravings. Try to understand what is making you crave that specific food. Maybe you will find other ways of dealing with that situation without food.
Highly rewarding foods are a problem
Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s not all your fault. Keep in mind that in 2021 we all live in a world full of unhealthy foods that were designed to make us overeat. I’m talking about all of those ultra-processed sugary rich foods that carry a lot of calories in a very small size. They are also known as chocolate bars, cookies, chips, candy, cakes, the list goes on. Eating these foods releases dopamine that floods the reward centres of your brain and creates a pleasurable feeling that makes you reach for more. It’s really hard to reduce hunger and stick to your diet around these foods. They are great at increasing your energy intake.
Liquid calories don’t suppress hunger
There’s one thing that’s even worse than sugary snacks, you guessed it, sugary drinks. This includes soda, sugary coffee drinks, and also fruit juices. One study showed that people who ate a solid snack experienced less hunger, a lower desire to eat, and a greater sensation of fullness than those who had a liquid snack (1). This is partly because solids require more chewing which provides more time for the satiety signals to reach the brain. Another study shows that compared to a solid snack, people who ate a liquid snack were 38% less likely to eat less at the next meal (2).
Keep your calories solid if you want to maximize feelings of satiety. Your body will also be happier with more stable blood sugar levels because liquid forms of sugar create the biggest spikes.
Bad sleep is your enemy
It’s not just bad food that is making you hungry, it’s bad sleep too! How is it connected to your diet? After a poor night of sleep you’ll produce more ghrelin and your levels of leptin will decrease by up to 26% (3). Studies confirm that this has a real-world effect. Restricted sleep increases hunger and appetite by up to 24% (4).
If you’re sleeping less than 8 hours a night it’s worth trying to go to bed a bit earlier to improve your sleep. Imagine how much less hungry you might feel without any additional dietary effort. You can try our HappyNewYou challenge if you want to build better sleep habits and eating habits too.
What decreases your appetite?
That’s a long list of things to avoid, huh? How to stop feeling hungry with all of that going on around us? Thankfully, there are several dietary components that are really effective at keeping you full after eating. Let’s take a look at these heroes that may help you stop feeling hungry.
The first hero is called protein. Research shows that eating more protein helps you stay feeling full and makes you eat less at your next meal (5). Authors of a recent literature review of this topic summarized that to improve appetite control and to lose weight and keep it off, you should eat between 1,2 and 1,6 g of protein per 1 kg of your body weight every day. They also said you should aim for about 25-30 g of protein per main meal (6). This would be a higher protein intake for most people. Here are a few tips for including more of this powerful appetite suppressant into your daily meals.
Another way to reduce hunger is to increase your intake of fibre, more specifically, soluble fibre. This type of fibre thickens in water, forming a gel-like substance that sits in your gut. This gel slows the emptying of your stomach, increasing digestion and absorption times. The end result is that you feel fuller longer and have a significantly reduced appetite (7,8). Rich sources of soluble fibre include a variety of beans, flax seeds, avocado, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts.
Here is a tip. Did you know that you can make a pizza crust from legumes and flax seeds? That's a tasty way to add fibre to your diet.
More omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are known heroes in prevention of a whole range of health issues like heart disease, anxiety, depression, and metabolic syndrome just to name a few. Why not add another benefit to that list? Research shows that a diet rich in omega-3 fats may also increase fullness after meals when calories are restricted for weight loss (9,10). They do this by increasing the release of hormone leptin. Good sources of omega-3 fats are fish, algae oils, flax seeds, chia seeds, or walnuts.
More water or soups
This hunger fighting hero is often misunderstood. Studies show that increased water consumption helps you with feeling full, especially during weight loss diets (11). But some people mistakenly expect a glass of water to get rid of hunger on its own. Keep in mind that water carries no calories or nutrients, it will only help you feel full if your overall diet covers your daily energy needs. Interestingly, starting your meal with a soup may act in a similar way to drinking water. Researchers observed that a bowl of soup decreases hunger and reduces total calorie intake from the meal that follows it by about 100 calories (12).
Going low carb can also be considered a hero in fighting hunger and cravings for some. One reason for that is that the first carbohydrates you usually eliminate are sugars. But going very low carb gets you into ketosis which has the strongest hunger fighting properties. Research consistently shows that being in ketosis can be an effective appetite suppressant (13). One study showed that people who dramatically cut back on carbs but were allowed as much protein and fat as they want automatically started eating fewer calories because they weren’t as hungry (14). Check out our previous article if you are wondering how many carbs you should eat per day.
Practice mindful eating
We can’t complete this list of heroes without naming the most important one - you. If you adopt a mindful approach to eating overall you can significantly boost how satiated you feel throughout the day. All you have to do is slow down when you eat your meals, chew more, and pay attention to eating itself. Socializing with your friends while eating is ok. What your body doesn't like is rushing through a meal while working or commuting, or mindlessly snacking while binge-watching TV shows.
Research shows that the faster you eat, the more you eat (15). If you slow down you will feel significantly more satisfied after your meals (16). It can take around 20-30 minutes before your hormones relay the fullness signal. Research confirms that spending 30 minutes eating compared to 5 minutes reduces feelings of hunger and increases feelings of fullness (17).
What food kills hunger?
Let’s summarize. We know what to avoid to reduce cravings and what to look for to improve satiety. So, what’s the ultimate hunger killer food? If we add up all the advice above, the ideal hunger suppressing food would have to look something like this.
- high in protein
- high in fibre
- low in added sugar
- low in carbs
- high in omega-3 fatty acids
It sounds like a very strict list but thankfully, there are many foods that tick 3 or more of these boxes. When you combine them right you can hit all of these attributes every time you eat. Here are a few examples of good food choices:
- Fish and seafood with a side of steamed vegetables
- Yogurt with nuts, seeds and fruit
- Smoothie with fruit, veg, nuts, and seeds
- Low carb muesli with soy milk
- Vegetable salad with protein sources like eggs or tofu
- Veggie sticks dipped in hummus
- High protein bread with guacamole or goat cheese
All of these meals would score really high on the satiety index which is a scale used to measure the feelings of fullness and loss of appetite that happens after eating (18). Foods that do well with this index are typically high in protein and fibre, high in volume, and low in energy density. Including foods like that is a great way to prevent binge eating and improve weight loss, especially when you’re dieting.
Home cooking is good for your body
The above examples all have one thing in common - they require some prep. If you want to stop feeling hungry all the time then your best insurance is to get in the habit of home cooking. This is true in 2021 more than ever. Make sure to start small so you don’t get overwhelmed. We encourage you to take a look at some of our recipes. There are some delicious beginner friendly ones that take less than 20 minutes to make.
Stock up on the right snacks and convenience foods
Your last resort in preventing hunger pangs is to have a good stash of snacks and quick meals in your pantry and fridge. We all run out of time or get derailed from our original cooking plans. That’s why having nuts, seeds, low carb bread, jam with no added sugar, high fibre muesli, or high protein pasta can be a life saver, or better said, hunger saver.