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-Mind Your Damn Fitness-
If you tend to go from “hungry” to “hangry” in a matter of minutes, your hunger management toolbox could probably use an update. Knowing how to calm hunger is not only helpful for your own comfort. It is an important weight loss strategy because it can help to prevent overeating, a common cause of weight gain.
What we put in our mouths (and at what frequency) is governed by a complex system of signals between the body and the brain. In fact, this system is so complicated, it’s all too easy for people to mix up signals or completely miss them all together.
When you feel sensations of hunger pangs, it’s important to ask yourself some questions before reaching for food.
Is it hunger or thirst?
Studies have shown that it’s very common for people to confuse feelings of thirst for hunger. This is simply because both hunger and thirst are regulated by the same part of the brain (the hypothalamus).
But there’s another reason for confusion: many people are in the habit of eating or drinking before they actually feel hunger or thirst. Instead of waiting for cues, you may eat or drink out of boredom, because you crave the taste, or because everyone else around you is.
If you’re eating food when your body is actually signaling thirst, you’re consuming more calories than you require for energy. So when it comes to weight loss, it’s important to be able to both 1) wait for your body’s signals and 2) tell the difference between cues for hunger and those for thirst.
Is it hunger or a craving?
Always thought hunger and cravings were the same thing? Think again!
Hunger represents a physiological need for calories to fuel bodily functions. When you’re truly hungry, you’ll accept a range of foods to meet this energy requirement. And once you’ve eaten food, your hunger naturally calms and you instinctively stop eating.
Cravings, on the other hand, are an intense desire for a specific food or food type. For instance, you might be dying for some chocolate covered pretzels, something chocolate, or ANYTHING that is sweet! And once you get started, it’s hard to stop. Have you ever eaten an entire bag of chips, box of chocolates, or pint of ice cream without even realizing it until it’s all gone?
Although cravings may be (although not always) associated with true hunger, cravings are also driven by emotion and desire. In fact, they often arise during high-stress periods to reduce stress and anxiety.
Now that we’ve explored some of the sources of hunger sensations, let’s jump in to what to do about them!
11 Easy Ways To Calm Hunger
1. Drink water first
When the feeling of hunger strikes, drink water and wait for 15 minutes to see if the feeling goes away. If so, the body cues you felt were due to thirst.
Just make sure you are drinking water and not sugary beverages, like soda, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee. These drinks may have anywhere from 250-400 calories (or more), which could be 20% of the calories your body needs in a day.
2. Eat a healthy snack
If you’ve ruled out thirst being the source of hunger pangs, try reaching for a healthy snack. You may be surprised at how well a healthy snack can calm hunger or settle cravings.
There are many healthier snack alternatives that taste great! And because they are generally sweetened with naturally-occurring sugars (think good carbs vs bad carbs), they are lower in calories compared to conventional sweets and treats.
3. Keep craving triggers out of the house
Why tempt fate by creating easy access to your favorite unhealthy goodies? Do yourself a favor and keep foods that are common craving triggers out of the house. Or if you prefer to keep them around, limit the portion size as much as possible (ideally a single serving).
4. Eat more healthy fats
Although fat often gets a bad rap, eating fat plays an important role in keeping you full and calming your cravings. In one study, those who followed a low-fat diet had significant increases in cravings for carbs and preferences for high-sugar foods, compared with those consumed a low-carb diet.
Healthy fats, which are a key component of the Mediterranean diet, are included in a variety of foods like olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts. Just keep in mind that all fats, including healthy fats, are high in calories. So make sure you consume healthy fats in place of unhealthy fats, not in addition to them.
5. Work out
Exercise that has intense bouts (like a cardio boot camp class or interval training) can suppress your appetite. This is simply because, during exercise, the hunger-stimulating hormone (ghrelin) decreases, while the hunger-suppressing hormone (peptide YY) increases. Researchers hypothesize that the hunger-calming effect of exercise has to do with blood flow to the stomach, which is decreased during exercise.
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6. Eat slowly
One of the trickiest aspects of calming hunger relates to “satiation”, or the end of desire to eat after a meal has begun. A stomach that is physically full of food is only part of what ends your desire to continue eating. To make you feel satisfied, the stomach must also send a signal to the brain that you’re full.
What makes this so tricky is that there is generally a delay between when your stomach starts to get full and when your brain receives signals that you’re satisfied. This delay may cause you to miss signs of fullness, which puts you at risk of overeating.
To reduce your risk of missing signs of fullness, slow down at meal time. Some strategies that may help include cutting up food to eat (instead of consuming whole), chewing food slowly, and avoiding distractions during meals (like watching TV) so that you don’t engage in “mindless eating”.
7. Limit liquid foods
Drinking your meals via smoothies or meal replacement shakes may seem like a harmless way to fuel your body on the go. But because liquid foods take less time to consume compared with solid foods, you may end up still hungry and eating more during the time that your body is still processing fullness signals.
8. Get more sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for many reasons, one of which is appetite control. Sleep helps regulate the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, and lack of sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels.
In one small study, participants ate roughly 300 more calories per day when they were sleep-deprived (~4 hours of sleep) versus being rested (~9 hours of sleep). In addition to this increase in caloric intake, the body tends to go into “survival mode” when sleep-deprived, which slows the metabolism.
9. Eat more fiber
High-fiber foods have many known benefits when it comes to weight loss. One of the most important for calming hunger is that fiber helps you feel fuller and more satisfied after a meal. This helps reduce overall caloric intake and the risk of overeating.
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 to 30 grams a day (from food, not supplements). Fiber comes in a variety of food sources, including grains, cereals, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. To effectively get rid of belly fat, make sure you regularly consume foods high in soluble fiber, like these.
10. Drink water 30 minutes before meals
Drinking 16 oz (2 cups) of water 30 minutes before each meal can help you feel fuller faster, which results in fewer calories eaten per meal. This can reduce weight over time.
Keeping a water bottle at arms reach throughout the day makes integrating this change into your routine more seamless. Just make sure you don’t overdo it with the pre-meal water, for consuming too much too close to meal time can interfere with digestion.
11. Fill up on protein
Similar to consuming high-fiber foods, eating protein-rich foods is an effective way of managing hunger and reducing cravings by making you feel fuller for longer. In fact, one study found that women ate nearly 450 fewer calories per day when 30% of their diet was comprised of protein. These women also lost an average of 11 pounds in 12 weeks, all by simply eating more high-protein foods.
Hunger can be tricky to tame, but with the right strategies, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Commit to trying just a few of the helpful tips in this post for several days (to start), and you’ll be surprised out how quickly your body can overcome bad habits!