Reducing Hunger is Key to Weight Loss

Hunger, or what is perceived as hunger is the major reason people have difficulty achieving and maintaining weight loss.  In order to lose and maintain you weight, you need to be able to learn the  many causes of “hunger”  including thirst, cravings, boredom, anxiety, low blood sugar, depression and habit. It’s much easier to control these feelings once they are recognized. If you are hungry all day long, much of it is not real hunger. No one is hungry all day and all night. In overweight individuals the brain often confuses hunger with many other emotions and signals. Here are some simple guides to see if your feelings are hunger or some other emotion, and what to do to reduce hunger. Here are some of the  causes of hunger or what is perceived as hunger:

Causes of Hunger in the Brain

Time of Day when “Hunger” is Experienced Often Helps Determine the Cause

Time of DayLikely CauseBest Solutions
Mid-Morning
  • Skipped breakfast
  • Breakfast too small
  • High-carb breakfast
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Have some protein for breakfast – even a piece of cheese, shake, or bar is better than nothing
  • Stop eating high-carb breakfasts
Early Afternoon
  • Skipped lunch
  • Lunch too small
  • High-carb lunch
  • Make sure you get some protein at lunch and limit the carbs.
Late Afternoon
  • It’s NORMAL
  • Low blood sugar
  • Wrong or small lunch
  • Have lunch and make sure there is enough food (protein, not carbs)
  • Have a protein snack
Evening
  • Anxiety, depression, stress
  • Habit
  • High-carb dinner
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Dinner too small
  • Eating dinner too early (too long a gap between dinner and bedtime)
This is the toughest time to sort out the real hunger from the emotions that feel like hunger

  • Fewer carbs, more protein for dinner
  • No large gap between dinner and bedtime
  • Eat the right snacks

Why Am I Hungry? Separating Real from Imagined Hunger

Keeping in mind that the feelings we interpret as hunger differ throughout the day, this is what should go through your mind if you feel hungry. Use these 7 guidelines to help you distinguish true hunger from feelings that are not hunger at all.

Real Causes of Hunger

  1. Did I skip a meal?
    Keep in mind that skipping a meal leads to loss of control, low blood sugar, and more eating later. Eating regular meals interspersed with snacks increases metabolism – it keeps your blood sugar even through the day.
  2. Did the meal have a lot of rapidly absorbed carbs?
    Items like bagels, donuts, rice, pasta, potatoes, sugary cereals, and sugary foods in general raise your blood sugar. This sugar spike is followed by a drop as the sugar turns to fat, and more hunger is produced.
  3. Was the meal too small?
    A single piece of toast or cheese for breakfast, or a can of tuna fish for lunch, is not enough food. One would expect to be hungry if the meal was so small.
  4. It’s Normal to be hungry!
    Hunger in the morning or late in the afternoon is normal. It’s not normal to feel hunger 30 minutes after eating.

Hunger that’s Not Really Hunger

  1. Am I thirsty and not really hungry?
    Always drink something first (a no calorie drink, of course). Also read more about the myth of over-drinking water.
  2. Is the feeling not really hunger at all?
    Many emotions masquerade as hunger. How do you know if boredom, anxiety, or depression is fooling you into thinking your hungry? It’s simple! If you have feelings of hunger soon after eating, and then you eat something, and 20 minutes later and still want more, that is usually not hunger. The underlying emotion has not changed with eating and you end up back where you started – feeling guilty but still not able to do much about it.
  3. Is the feeling really cravings?
    Cravings are different than true hunger. They are intense desire for sweet and salty foods that cause pleasure even when feeling full.

Weight loss maintainers who have kept their weight off for years often take deliberate steps reduce hunger. Here is what some of my patients do to prevent loss of control and even more eating when they are hungry:

  1. They carry snacks with them, keeping them in the office and even in their cars for the drive home after work.
  2. Their experience is that the most dangerous time is around 4-6 pm, when the shift is made from the day to the evening.
  3. Men rushing home hungry pick something from the refrigerator or a snack from the kitchen cupboard. They are more careful about this.
  4. Women are sampling while they are preparing the evening meal. They are more careful about this.

12 Tips To Reduce Hunger and Lose All the Weight You Want

Hunger is a normal reaction to the absence of food in our system. It is our body’s way of signalling to us that we need to eat. People who successfully lose weight and keep it off understand what is and is not real hunger. Hunger management – the ability to reduce hunger – is the key to losing and keeping off weight.

What tells a person to eat or not eat that piece of cake?

  • Hormones such as ghrelin from the stomach tell her brain to eat more.
  • Leptin & adopectin from the fat cells, and GLP1, PYY, and insulin from the gastrointestinal tract tell her to stop eating.

Hormonal, our bodies want us to EAT & EAT. The fact that only a single hormone, ghrelin, tells us to eat more, and many hormones are required to limit our food intake tells us a lot: Our bodies are programmed to eat, probably genetically from caveman days when food was scarce.

  1. Hunger vs. Cravings: Knowing the Difference?

    In order to successfully reduce hunger we must first learn to recognize the difference between hunger and cravings. The “growling” of our stomach, often accompanied by fatigue, weakness and thoughts of food, is hunger. For most of us, almost any food or even drink will stop or at least lessen the hunger pangs. Some foods are better than others to stop hunger, namely protein and fat. Cravings are simply a very powerful, irrational need for specific types of foods which can occur even when we are not hungry. Even right after a big meal we can experience cravings.

  2. Hunger is Determined by Two Different Systems: Internal and External
    1. Internal Factors That Can Influence Eating Habits

      Internal factors tell us to eat or not eat. The numerous hormones made in organs all over the human body including fat cells, the pancreas, and the stomach, as well as emotional signals like anxiety, depression, and habit, tell us to eat or not eat. Recent research indicates that many obese individuals may not be able to lose weight due to alterations in the balance or function of these critical hormones. Some obese people never feel full because they lack some of these hormones, have too much of them, or the appetite center in the brain does not recognize them naturally.

      Leptin is the master hormone that sets the foundation for our eating patterns. Produced by fat cells, it is in overall control of body weight on a long-term basis. Leptin tells our brain the status of our energy stores. Too much fat in our fat cells signals the brain to stop eating, while too little signals the brain that it is time to eat.

      Other Hormones control our day-to-day and meal-to-meal eating. Interestingly, it must be easier for the body to EAT than NOT TO EAT, as evidenced by the numerous hormones needed to limit our eating. Those meal to meal hormones include ghrelin, insulin, and GLP-1 proteins.

      But hunger is our body’s way of signalling that it needs food, right?
      If things were this simple, then weight management would not be so difficult. We would eat when we are hungry and stop eating when we are full. There would not be an obesity epidemic.

    2. External Factors Can Influence Eating Habits

      External factors that can cause perceived hunger include visual cues, time of day, smells, and other signs that encourage us to eat. There is a very substantial group of overweight individuals that are subject to a constant barrage of external stimuli so great that they overwhelm their own hormonal control centers. This may explain the inability of these people to lose any weight and the absolute fallacy that willpower plays any role at all.

      While the inability to lose weight may be due to hormonal abnormalities, it is clear that not every overweight person has these abnormalities. Moreover, it is almost impossible for anyone to manipulate these internal factors short of taking drugs.

      The initial rapid weight loss seen in low carbohydrate diets is due in part to the high-protein foods. The cheese, sausage, nuts, and fatty meats produce fullness and stabilize blood sugar for hours.

      External signals to eat are new

      You do not have to go back to prehistoric times – just think of the 1940’s and 50’s to see the effects of external signals on eating patterns. Fast food was virtually non-existent and food portions were smaller. The rapid increase in obesity is not due to any new “imbalance in hormones” but to the increasing effect of external signals telling us to eat. Virtually all of our senses can send powerful messages to the brain that signal us to eat.

      Thinking of food, smelling food, or seeing appealing foods is a hunger trigger! Obesity prone individuals are more reactive to external clues to eat – such as time of day, smell, presence of and quality of food than lean people. Visual or olfactory cues actually cause hunger by triggering past memories of pleasures and calmness associated with eating. Carbs and salty foods are usually what most people think about, rather than vegetables or fruits.

      Take a second or two to think about the cause of your feelings before grabbing that sugary or salty snack. Then better choices can be made. The more you get into this habit, the more you will reduce hunger.

  3. Misinterpreting Internal and External Signals as “Hunger”

    Signals that tell us to eat more when we may not need more food results in rapid weight gain. This kind of eating makes a person feel “better” only for a few minutes and soon there is the need for more food to satisfy these urges, followed often by feelings of guilt.

  4. Avoid Carbs that Cause Hunger

    Carbs such as sugar, fruit juices, candy, cookies, cake, and those foods that quickly turn to sugar in the stomach, including white bread, rice, pasta, bagels, and potatoes cause more hunger. Eating these carbs raises the blood sugar quickly and produces instant energy. However, the rapidly rising blood sugar initiates a rise in insulin, which quickly causes the blood sugar to fall, producing hunger.

    Where does the sugar go when it falls in the bloodstream?
    If you are exercising at the time, it is used as fuel. Unfortunately, most people cannot time their exercise to their sugar spikes, and the excess sugar is converted into fat to be stored around the belly for future use.

  5. Some Carbs Do NOT Increase Hunger

    Most fruits, vegetables, and many whole-grain bread, cereals, and even pasta can reduce hunger. The sugars in these foods are surrounded or encased in fibers that dissolve slowly in the stomach, resulting in a much slower release of sugar into the bloodstream. When sugar is released slowly — over hours instead of in seconds — the body is able to utilize the sugar for metabolism and activities.

    MealProduces FullnessCauses Hunger
    Breakfastcheese, eggs, high-protein cereal, yogurt, protein shakesfast food, bagels, muffins, donuts, sugary cereals
    Lunchmeat (chicken, lean beef, lean pork), fish, salads, yogurt, protein shakesfast food, pizza, rice, pasta, potatoes
    Dinnermeat (chicken, lean beef, lean pork), fish, soups, saladsfast food, pizza, rice, pasta, potatoes
    Snacksprotein bars, protein shakes, yogurt, cheese, fruitshigh-carb and high sugar snacks such as bagels, donuts, fries, potato chips, candy bars, and vending machine snacks

  6. Certain Types of Stress Cause Overeating

    It’s probably the nature of the stress that plays the most important role in overeating. Major stresses appear to cause less eating and minor ones more eating. This may have significant effects on those trying to control their weight due to the relative infrequency of “major stressors” in most people’s lives and the more frequent occurrence of “minor stressors”. To reduce hunger, find a way to manage those minor stressors, such as calming music, talking to a friend, or a physical activity or light exercise.

  7. The Type of Foods Desired Play a Role in Hunger

    The type of foods desired, usually sweet or salty snack foods, are sought over meal-type foods, such as meat, vegetables, or fruits. These snack foods are high in calories, rarely satisfy hunger, and the net effect is the need for more and more – despite any physiological need and subsequent weight gain.

  8. Fatigue can cause overeating

    An increasing number of people are working two or more jobs. Many are working and taking care of a family. The result is increased fatigue and rising obesity rates. Some people cannot distinguish between hunger and fatigue. When you are fatigued, you can be just as hungry after a large meal as you would be if you had not eaten for a whole day. Researchers have found physiological changes that may increase appetite and calorie intake in fatigued individuals by lowering their levels of Leptin. To reduce hunger, try to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

  1. A Semi-Filled Dinner Plate

    More than 60% of overweight individuals are habitual plate-cleaners: they will eat whatever is on the plate and accept that portion as the appropriate amount to eat. With increasing portions, we eat more without even recognizing it. The normal hormonal signals to stop eating are ignored or overridden by these very powerful signals – in this case a semi full dinner plate! To reduce hunger, gradually reduce your portion size (and plate size) to levels recommended by dietitians (or your diet plan).

  2. It’s “Time to Eat”

    Some of these eating patterns were learned in childhood. Some of us feel hungry because the clock says it is lunchtime at noon or dinnertime at 6 PM. We believe it is time for a meal and tell ourselves we are hungry. Do not eat just because it is a particular time of the day. To reduce hunger, save the food for when you are truly hungry.

  3. It’s There… Might as Well Eat It

    Other eating is due to accessibility. Most obese people eat whatever is presented to them, often without even thinking about it. The old saying, “If it’s there I will eat it,” is true. Again, pausing for a few seconds to consider whether you are truly hungry can help you make better food choices. To reduce hunger, go for a high-protein, low-carb snack, or fruit.

  4. Thirst is Often Confused with Hunger

    One reason this happens is that most drinking occurs at mealtime. Sometimes these signals become confused. Often it is just the feeling; the individual wants something in his mouth. To reduce hunger, go for a few sips of water or another no-calorie drink before you go for the snack.