A reader named Jamie sent me a lovely email recently proposing a blog topic. I was grateful for the email because I love getting feedback from readers who say my posts help them lose weight. And this particular question is probably something that everyone struggles with when first trying to lose weight.
“I wonder if you could address how you dealt with hunger (or still do) when you were heavier. I notice in your blog that you eat half a sandwich, pack home half or dinner out etc frequently. I try that, but I’m still physically too hungry to NOT finish my meal. I’m wondering if you could kindly respond or write a post on this issue.”
I’ve talked about this topic in a few different round about ways. Check out the old posts here: Redefine Your Relationship with Food, Hunger Cues and Savor: Book Review. The post that I wrote a few years ago that most closely deals with this topic is “E is for Emergency“. Basically, I had to learn that hunger was NOT an emergency and that I needed to listen to my body and decipher the hunger cues before just stuffing my face with food. It was like I would get tunnel vision and the only thing I wanted was FOOD. I still have that feeling after a really hard workout or bike ride.
So how did I deal with HUNGER while I was losing weight? And how do I deal with it now?
When I was trying to lose 100 pounds, I tried really hard to stay within my calorie range for the day. It was hard and there were days where I struggled and failed and some days where I failed so miserably it became a binge. Thankfully that wasn’t too often.
The first few weeks (maybe a month) of reducing my calories was a nightmare. I was always hungry. I was going from 4000+ calories a day to 1600 calories a day and my body was not happy about that. I had figured out how many calories I was allowed to eat for each meal and I was trying not to go over that. That hollow, grumbling feeling in my stomach was distracting to say the least. What helped was drinking water. Filling up with water when I was hungry took the edge off.
I learned a few things from this hunger. First, it goes away. Your body adjusts to the lower calories after awhile and it gets easier. Second, it’s crucial to find “safe” snacks to eat in between meals. Carrots and hummus, Greek yogurt and fruit, an apple, cottage cheese. Find things that take the edge off but don’t totally derail your efforts (i.e. going to the vending machine at work!).
After some time, the 1600-2000 calorie day was the norm and my body was used to it and expected it. If I overate, my body wasn’t happy. I’d get stomach cramps and feel nauseated sometimes. Finding that “happy spot” with food takes some time but once you realize what works, it gets really easy. I know I make it sound like it’s no effort at all, it DOES take time and work, but it DOES get easier!
How is that different now? Well I eat more calories now than I did during my weight loss. If I workout and burn 500 calories in the gym, I eat most of those calories back. So on a fitness day I could be eating 2200 calories. This helps with the hunger but the downside is that I do not lose weight now (because I do not create a calorie deficit).
I’m smarter about my food now. I try (sometimes I fail) to eat foods that are WORTH the calories. What does that mean? It means I choose foods that are high in protein, fiber and fat so that I get filled up with less food. For example:
avocado with crackers (a few bites of this and I’m full) – about 150 calories
cottage cheese (great protein source) – about 100 calories
protein shake with almond milk (currently loving the Costco whey protein) -about 160 calories
graham cracker with peanut butter on top -about 150 calories
string cheese with pistachios or almonds -about 180 calories depending on nuts
hardboiled egg with a piece of beef jerky -about 100 calories
It doesn’t sound like a lot of food but if you are SMART you will be satisfied. Seriously, there was a time when one graham cracker with peanut butter on top would not be considered a snack or something satisfying but now it is. I gave it time for my body to adjust and now it’s ok.
I am definitely not perfect all the time. I don’t know what is going on with me lately but I’ve been having an issue with hunger! I’ve been pretty decent with my calories every day and I haven’t really changed my fitness level (although I am doing a little more cardio now that my knees are better). Yet I’ve had that grumbling, empty stomach, insatiable hunger for about a week or two now! It’s been making me crazy. There have been a few mornings I woke up to growling hunger! That’s abnormal for me. Maybe my body is just re-adjusting to another change, who knows.
I’ve been taking my advice and trying to eat snacks that are healthier. Today I had some watermelon and blackberries from the garden. The other day I had some smoked almonds. They took the edge off, but didn’t cure it. Basically it got me through to the next meal.
Which brings me to my conclusion…
My tip (and yes I do this): when that insatiable hunger is taking over and you have a snack but it’s not doing the trick, tell yourself to CHILL OUT.
For example, as I write this post it’s about 3:50pm and my stomach is growling like I haven’t eaten in 2 days. (What the hell?!) I have plans to meet my friend Robyn for happy hour at 5:00pm. That is about an hour away. I’m telling myself I can make it, calm down, it’s only an hour. And I just guzzled more water.
Reread E is for Emergency and ask yourself why you think you are hungry? Is it real hunger? Did you not eat enough food at your last meal? Do you need to consider breaking up your meals into more frequent, smaller snacks? Are you drinking enough water? Are you stressed or emotional? Are there OTHER REASONS you might want to eat? (For me, there usually are!) I hope this helps!
QUESTION: What are your tips for dealing with insatiable hunger?