This is part 1 of a three part series on managing hunger, cravings, and snacking.
Whether you feel hungry allthetime, are trying to lose weight, don’t have time to eat, or are just trying out intermittent fasting for health reasons, sometimes you just need a better strategy to manage your hunger signals.
Having done a number of fasts and cleanses over the years, and now routinely intermittent fast, or opt out of crappy, expensive airport/airline food when traveling, I have some experience dealing with that gnawing hunger in the pit of the stomach.
I’m not referring to that “I think I’m hungry” feeling, nor the clock making you believe you’re hungry because it’s past lunchtime, nor the low blood sugar cravings. We’re talking about true hunger. True hunger that you can really feel if you go for a long time without food, or that having a very good connection with your body allows you to experience.
I think everyone should experience true hunger from time to time. It encourages you to be aware of what ‘false,’ imagined or psychological hunger is vs. true hunger. Experiencing true hunger every now and again can also do wonders for weight loss, shrinking the size of your stomach, improving health (through intermittent fasting (IF) or calorie restriction), and allowing the body to better detox. Plus, it encourages gratitude for all the abundance we have in our lives and makes us more sympathetic for those who don’t have enough.
(This post is for the chronic overfed but undernourished, or at least those with the interest and means to better regulate weight through dietary means. This is not a commentary or strategies for those suffering from hunger due to poverty; that’s another situation requiring a different approach.)
With how beneficial feeling true hunger can be, we need coping strategies to get through the ‘fake’ hunger and have enough time with true hunger to reap the benefits.
Regardless of your motivations for curbing hunger, the following strategies may help minimize it or make it easier to cope with.
If you feel hungry nearly constantly, despite eating frequently and a lot, and possibly carrying excess weight, these solutions might help with underlying metabolic or hormonal issues causing the hunger.
Oftentimes a poor diet, stress, or lack of sleep can cause hormones to go out of whack. Leptin is the satiety hormone, while ghrelin is the hunger hormone. If the body doesn’t keep the proper balance of these, despite eating frequently, it’s possible to still feel hungry. Thus, you may have heard of the Leptin Reset Diet, or something similar.
By switching to a real food, nutrient-dense diet, the body can perform it’s own leptin reset, to start producing leptin again, and reign in the production of ghrelin. In some cases ghrelin and leptin became unbalanced because the diet was filled with processed, sugar-rich, nutrient poor ‘foods’ and the body was literally starving for nutrition, hence the constant hunger.
Opt for a whole foods, low sugar, unprocessed, nutrient-rich diet to give your body the nutrition it needs to rebalance ghrelin and leptin, and feel less hungry less often.
Over the years, it’s easy to start eating more and more as our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. But continually eating more to “fill up,” just grows the size of your stomach. The stomach is a muscle and stretches and contracts as needed. And even without drastic measures like stomach stapling surgery, you can shrink the size of your stomach.
Almost guaranteed, you can eat less, still alleviate hunger pains and be quite comfortable with the smaller portion size. Then you wait until your stomach has completely emptied and you feel true hunger again, before eating another moderate amount. Practicing slower eating of less, and complete digestion after each meal can, overtime, shrink the size of your stomach.
With smartphones, watches, calendars, and alarms, we live by the clock, not only for appointments, but also for eating. If you’re relying on the clock to tell you when to eat, rather then listening to your body for true hunger signals, you’ve primed yourself to experience perhaps ‘fake’ hunger at certain times of day. Just like Pavlov’s dogs and the ringing bell, reading your watch tells your body to start getting ready to eat (mouth starts watering, stomach starts grumbling).
But you when you begin to ignore the clock, or even the brightness of the sun, you can again listen to your body for true hunger signals. For example, if you’re a daily breakfast eater, try skipping breakfast for 2 weeks and you may notice you’re no longer hungry in the morning. With that you’ve broken the Pavlov’s dogs trigger in your body. After that, mornings become a time for connecting with and listening to the body for true hunger signals. If they’re there, and you’re not IF-ing, go ahead and eat breakfast. If you don’t feel hungry, don’t eat. Your body decides whether to eat, not the clock.
As we’ve explored in recent posts, lack of sleep will drive the body to eat more. The body produces extra ghrelin because it needs extra energy for the additional wakefulness, causing you to feel hungry, and then at the end of the day, low willpower often causes people to eat yet more (especially women).
Therefore, ensuring a regular nightly 7-9 hours of quality sleep will make it easier to stave off hunger (both real and fake), avoid binges, and manage weight.
If you’re not chronically hungry, but rather just experience hunger occasionally, such as due to IF, calorie restriction, a missed night of good sleep, changes in season or activity, or whatever the reason may be, these ideas can help keep hunger at bay.
Fiber fills you up, protein keeps you full longer, and fat is satiating and good for stabilizing blood sugar (avoiding sugar crashes that lead to cravings). If you know you’re going have a long time between meals, such as when traveling, make sure you’re loading up on fiber-rich veggies, adequate protein, and some healthy fat such as coconut oil or avocado at your ‘last meal.’
So often we mistake thirst as (fake) hunger and a large glass of water will do the trick to satisfy and eliminate any feelings of hunger. Drinking sparkling water can be even more effective at reducing hunger because the carbonation can help (temporarily) fill out the stomach. So make sure you chug some water before thinking about snacking away your hunger.
Just as water can curb hunger, tea is oftentimes more effective. First, tea is hot, which simulates having soup or a hot meal so the body is fooled into thinking it ate something. This works really well for the fake hunger. Second, tea, especially pu-erh tea, and some herbal infusions, have various nutrients that can further work to reduce hunger by providing essential minerals, coating the stomach, suppressing appetite (perhaps ghrelin?), or moving digestive focus to carrying away wastes rather than prepping for new intake (remember Pavlov’s dogs and the clock?). Perhaps that’s why drinkers of Belight Tea find so much success with drinking Belight and curbing their appetite.
Because of this notion that intermittent fasting can be very beneficial for health and because tea can help simultaneously detox and ward off hunger, we are developing a tea cleanse for use during IF days.
Distracting yourself with a walk, talking on the phone, playing with the dog or kids, getting engrossed in a book, or any number of other activities can make you easily forget about your hunger (at least temporarily). This, along with not being tied to the clock, is why fasting on long traveling days can be easier–you’re not thinking about meal times, but rather about making that flight, or enjoying the view out the window. As a bonus, fasting while crossing time zones is supposed to reduce jet lag. In finding a good distraction, stay out of the kitchen, away from food, and don’t read or watch anything with food advertisements.
Movement, whether it’s because it offers a distraction, or because it raises core body temperature, or some other reason, is one of the most effective ways to avoid noticing hunger. When was the last time you were playing tennis (or any sport) and thinking about how hungry you were? Movement keeps your body occupied and the digestive system avoids becoming primed for food, so you don’t get hungry. Be careful not to overdo it if you’re trying to lose weight, particularly if you’re new to exercise, as some studies have found that athletes increase their food intake in response to increased exertion.
When core body temperature is elevated, hunger is reduced. This is why you get hungry quickly when swimming (cooler temperatures) than when running (higher body temp). Likewise, this is why people tend to eat more in the winter, when they’re cold, than in the summer when temperatures rise. If you’re trying to keep hunger at bay, try raising your core body temperature with a sauna, steam room, extra clothes, or a few jumping jacks–anything that makes you warmer will likely stave off hunger for awhile.
Experiencing short-term hunger, especially as to be able to recognize what is true hunger can be very beneficial and health-promoting. These are just a few ideas to help you discern and push away ‘fake’ hunger and perhaps forget about real hunger for brief periods of time to further absorb the benefits of fasting.