The main saboteur of even the best weight loss intentions is hunger. Also known as the rumbly in your tumbly. Or that horrible lightheadedness, irritability and trouble concentrating when your body wants food.
It can make one wonder how people can lose weight when it involves eating less which leads to increase ghrelin levels (the hunger gremlins) and feelings of hunger. The body’s drive to maintain homeostasis is very strong, meaning that it wants to keep you at your current weight if you’ve been there for a while. It’s comfortable there. Anything that disrupts that makes your body unhappy. But there has to be some way to override this, right?
We need to tackle all the different reasons why you’re hungry. It’s a lot more complicated than just one hunger hormone after all.
Ok, you may be thinking that I am Captain Obvious. Of course you’re hungry because you’re eating less than normal! Believe it or not, there is such a thing as eating too little. If you go from eating 2,000 Calories a day to 1,000, you’ll lose weight…and then the weight loss will stop. Your metabolism will slow down and in order to maintain your new weight you will have to keep eating around 1,000 Calories. That is a pretty depressing scenario!
In fact, that is the equation that leads into the yo-yo dieting cycle and the progressive weight GAIN that results. When you’re used to eating 2,000 Calories, you’re going to notice a huge difference in the amount of food you’re eating and your level of fullness when you cut down to 1,000. That really isn’t sustainable. Even though you may be proud of yourself for being so gung ho, that pride isn’t enough to keep the weight off. Your hunger will eventually lead you to eat more and now it’s a lot easier for your body to gain weight. Now, you could be at your previous weight but only eating 1,500 Calories. Uh oh!
Now these numbers are just examples, but you get the illustration and why drastically cutting your Calories means eventual weight gain instead of weight loss.
Solution: To prevent this disaster, it’s best to decrease your Calories just enough to promote slow weight loss of between 0.5 and 2 pounds a week. If you have less to lose, weight loss will be very slow and closer to 0.5 pound/week and vice versa.
Eat less and exercise more is such unhelpful advice. We addressed the “eat less” portion above, but now let’s move to why exercising more is not going to magically take off the pounds.
News Flash! Exercising makes you hungry! Personally, I sometimes feel a complete lack of appetite after I exercise, but this is usually after something very intense where I feel more nauseous than anything. However, even in these instances, after 30 minutes or so I get a huge wave of hunger that hits me and I need food ASAP! If I haven’t planned a meal or cooked in advance, this has potential to be bad. REALLY bad. You can tell that I’m speaking from experience, which is why I know how laughable it is to consider eating carrot sticks for lunch after doing burpees and squat cleans.
Now I’m not arguing that exercise can’t help with weight loss or metabolism. It definitely can! But very often people struggle with feeling hungrier because of adding especially intense or lengthy workouts. This goes along with the same principle of making small, sustainable changes. If you go from not exercising at all to a super determined and motivated mode where you want to do CrossFit, the motivation will quickly diminish. Take it easy. Do something you enjoy. No hard feelings if CrossFit isn’t for you.
Also beware the urge to reward yourself for exercising with food. Food rewards are dangerous in many ways, but forcing yourself to do something hard that you don’t enjoy while you have low blood sugar is spelled B-I-N-G-E.
Solution: Do exercise for the enjoyment of it, for the health benefits or to become stronger. Eat enough to fuel your workouts but don’t fall into the trap of food rewards.
Meal replacement drinks, bars and other concoctions stink! They have icky ingredients, too much carbohydrate, no real food, and barely take the edge off hunger.
Let’s do an experiment! Take one of these drinks or bars. They’re usually around 300 Calories. Eat it. Rate how full you fell on a scale from 1-10. Wait an hour. Rate your fullness again. This time take 300 Calories of real food – an apple, 2 eggs, a handful of grape tomatoes, and 1/2 cup of non-fat plain greek yogurt. Rate your fullness. I don’t care if those diet foods have 100 grams of fiber. They will not keep you full like the naturally occurring fiber in fruit and vegetables does. Even boatfuls of protein from powders (though it has functions in the body and roles in muscle anabolism) won’t keep you full like protein from the eggs and yogurt.
I recommend tracking your food intake over the course of a few days to a week using a tool like MyFitnessPal to see how many Calories and grams of fiber, protein, fat and carbohydrate you are consuming. You could find that (like point 1), you aren’t eating enough Calories. Or your diet could be low in fiber or one of the main micronutrients. Protein, fat and fiber all contribute to feelings of fullness so increases in these could be very helpful.
Solution: Eat real food. Be generous with your servings of veggies to get lots of fiber. Try a higher protein intake (at least 1 gram of protein per pound body weight). Drink enough water. Track your food intake and make adjustments as needed.
Has hunger tried to sabotage your weight loss goals?