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8 Ways to Improve Hunger Control and Weight Loss

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8 Ways to Improve Hunger Control and Weight Loss

Hunger control problems are behind most failed attempts at weight loss.

 

The #1 weight loss problem that I help people with is, by far, sticking to their diet.

This is especially the case with people that are new to a healthy weight loss regimen, which requires that you remain in a caloric deficit for many weeks, as opposed to a crash diet that you suffer through for a short period of time.

The overall experience of being in a caloric deficit varies dramatically. For some (lucky bastards), it causes little-to-no uncomfortable symptoms–no hunger issues, no cravings, no energy lows. For others (the rest of us mere mortals), it can get quite tough due to hunger pangs, intense cravings (usually brought on by simple hunger), and a lingering lethargy (which can be particularly bad when you go low-carb).

What gives? And what can we do to stave off hunger and stick to our diets?

The Science of Weight Loss and Hunger Control

Our natural eating instincts are regulated by three hormones: insulin, ghrelin, and leptin.

When we haven’t eaten in several hours and our bodies have finished metabolizing and absorbing the nutrients in our last meal, insulin levels drop to a “baseline” level (because insulin’s job is to shuttle food’s nutrients from the blood into the cells for use). Ghrelin levels then rise, which stimulates hunger. When you eat food leptin levels rise, which “turns off” the hunger.

Now, when you’re in a caloric deficit, circulating leptin levels decrease, and ghrelin levels increase. And as you lose body fat, leptin levels drop even further. The net effect of this is dieting for weight loss just generally makes you feel more hungry, and makes meals feel less satisfying.

Realize that your body’s goal is to attain an energy balance–it wants to consume as much as energy as it uses. It doesn’t want to be in a deficit. When you listen to your natural instincts and eat more than you planned, it doesn’t take much to halt your weight loss. Just a few extra bites of calorie-dense food at each meal can be enough to eliminate the deficit and stick your weight.

That’s why keeping hunger under control is so important when dieting for weight loss. If we give in, we fail to lose weight. If we try to suffer through it, we want to run people off the road. Fortunately, defeating hunger isn’t too hard when you know what you’re doing.

8 Simple, Effective Dietary Strategies to Reduce Hunger

While dieting for weight loss will never be as generally satisfying as eating maintenance calories or a surplus, there are strategies you can use to make it as enjoyable as possible. I use many of these myself and, knock on wood, find dieting relatively easy and pain-free.

Get 30-40% of your daily energy from protein, and include some in each meal you eat

When you’re dieting to lose weight, protein is your best friend. It helps you preserve muscle and results in basically no fat storage, and research has shown that a high-protein diet reduces overall appetite, possibly by increasing leptin sensitivity (so you feel fuller and more satisfied by the food you eat).

Take advantage of this by getting 30-40% of your daily calories from protein, and include some in every meal you eat.

Don’t heavily restrict your carbohydrate intake

I always hated low-carb dieting because it caused significant declines in strength (due to lower glycogen levels), but also because it just made me generally more hungry. Now I know why.

Dietary fat just isn’t very effective at increasing leptin levels, and research has shown that low-carb, high-fat diets reduce 24-h circulating leptin levels. High-fat diets are basically a recipe for reduced satiety. It’s also possible that dietary fat induces leptin resistance (meaning that leptin’s signals become blunted), which has been demonstrated in animal research.

Carbohydrate, on the other hand, dramatically increases leptin levels, and the more carbs you eat, the higher your 24-h circulating leptin levels are. A high-protein and moderate-carbohydrate diet makes for a double-whammy of satiety.

Based on the above, it’s not surprising to find that research has found that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets are very effective for weight loss, even when subjects follow ad libitum diets (eat as much as they want each meal). Researchers from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University put it simply:

In conclusion, a low-fat diet, high in protein and fibre-rich carbohydrates, mainly from different vegetables, fruits and whole grains, is highly satiating for fewer calories than fatty foods. This diet composition provides good sources of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fibre, and may have the most beneficial effect on blood lipids and blood-pressure levels.

Increase your fiber intake

Fiber is an indigestible portion of food that absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract, and helps you take good poops (yup). Research has also shown that it increases satiety.

Keep your fiber intake high by eating plenty of fibrous vegetables and fruits (I include one or other in every meal). You can even using supplementary fiber like psyllium seed husks, which rapidly expand in your stomach and induce a feeling of fullness.

(And in case you’re wondering how much fiber to eat, the Institute of Medicine recommends children and adults consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat each day.)

Eat more nuts

Nuts not only contain protein and fiber to increase satiety, but they are a great source of healthy fats as well. Studies have also associated frequent nut consumption with a reduced risk of weight gain.

Drink water with each meal

Research has shown that drinking a couple of glasses of water with each meal increases satiety while eating.

Avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates

The glycemic index (or GI) is a scale that measures the effect of different carbohydrates on one’s blood sugar level.

Carbohydrates that break down slowly and release glucose into the blood slowly are low on the glycemic index. Carbohydrates that break down quickly will release glucose into the blood quickly, causing insulin levels to suddenly spike, and  are high on the glycemic index. Below 55 on the GI is considered low, and above 70 is considered high. Pure glucose is 100 on the GI.

Research has shown that the rapid absorption of glucose that occurs after eating high-glycemic carbohydrate induces a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that result in the desire to eat more. Furthermore, most high-glycemic foods are processed junk, with little nutritive value. Replace them with unprocessed, low-glycemic alternatives and you’ll be better off in not just the hunger control department, but general health as well.

If you want to learn more about where various carbohydrates fall on the glycemic index, go here and here.

Eat slowly

Research has shown that eating slower helps reduce the amount you need to eat to feel satisfied. So take your time, chew your food, and enjoy each bite.

Supplement with 5-HTP

5-HTP is a compound involved in the metabolism of the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in foods like milk, meat, potatoes, pumpkin, and various greens.

It’s converted into serotonin in the brain, which is one of the principal neurotransmitters involved in feelings of happiness.

Research shows that, when taken with food, 5-HTP increases feelings of fullness and thus helps you control your food intake. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that 5-HTP’s satiety mechanism can reduce cravings for carbohydrates in particular.

You can buy 5-HTP as a standalone supplement, but you can also find it in my fat burner Phoenix, which contains 7 other ingredients scientifically proven to accelerate fat loss.

Clinically effective dosages of 5-HTP range from 150 to 500 mg.

Get enough sleep

When you restrict your sleep, leptin levels drop and ghrelin levels rise.

One study found that people that slept 5 hours had 15% lower leptin levels and about 15% higher ghrelin levels than people that slept 8 hours.  Unsurprisingly, researchers found that the less people slept, the fatter they generally were.

Sleep needs vary from individual to individual, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

 

What’s your take on weight loss and hunger control? Have any tips that have helped? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

Depending on how you eat, train, and rest, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut.

And that’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: they lay out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

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I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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37 Comments
  • AnthonyP

    Great advice. Thank you

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

  • Maria

    I use all of the above mentioned strategies – it’s sticking to this plan that is the most difficult! Consistency is really the key!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Great on using the strategies and I hear you! Once you establish the habit though it becomes very easy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/milicaKozomara Milica Kozomara

    Great freaking article Mike!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks Milica! :)

  • Paul

    It’s helped me to weigh,measure, and nutritionally detail everything I eat and precisely when I’ll eat it and keep it on a spreadsheet. I find it harder to break down and sneak in a couple of extra calories if I have a daily “budget” to stick to and a time of next meal to look forward to. May sound silly, but it’s really helped me to stay honest and to focus on my goal while cutting. Additionally, I add a row every week for weigh ins….so that I can go back and see a very clear cause and effect. I intend to do the same thing for my next bulk, in an effort to minimize fat gain, I want the gain to be slow and steady.

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      You’re absolutely correct Paul. This is the best way to diet, and what I recommend to MANY people. When you eyeball portions, you can easily under-estimate actual volumes and ruin your deficit or gain more fat than necessary when bulking.

      • Paul

        It’s shocking when you see how few walnuts equals 200 calories, isn’t it? Way too easy to go overboard on foods like that.

        • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

          Yup, exactly.

  • Frank

    Great Tips! I am going to try increasing my carbs a bit and see if that increases satiety. The tip on getting enough sleep is right on. There’s a joke that goes like this: What’s the difference between an elephant and a night nurse? The answer: two pounds!

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks Frank! Just remember that you need to keep yourself in a caloric deficit, but you can play with your macro breakdowns. I would always keep protein high–about 40% of calories–and don’t let fat drop below 15% of calories.

      Lol stress can also make you hungrier. High-stress job that has you up all night=recipe for disaster.

  • Peter

    Hi, sorry for commenting on such an old post but I just discovered the site. I’m skeptical about the insulin-ghrelin-leptin relationship and how it’s affected by carb intake. It seems plausible that it works how you describe for a person who has a regular carb intake, but people on low carb diets and people on starvation diets (which are low carb diets if you think about it) report that their feeling of hunger only lasts for a couple of days, so their ghrelin levels must either not be super high all the time or there must be some other process that masks the hunger under those conditions.

    This article is still 80% in agreement with what the low-carb and paleo people preach, and I think that for most people, 80% of the benefit comes from just cutting out all the junk carbs and wheat.

    Disclaimer: I followed (more or less, usually less; never actually achieved ketosis) a low carb diet for about a year and a half and lost 35 pounds. Now I’m doing a free weight program and eating to build muscle, which is more fun, because carbs are tasty.

    • http://twitter.com/muscleforlife Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment!

      If you review the studies I linked here you will see the scientific proof of the relationship between insulin, ghrelin, and leptin. It’s a verified fact.

      Everyone I’ve spoken to (literally EVERYONE) that does low-carb or starvation is very hungry every day. Not sure who you’re referring to. Their energy levels are very low as well.

      I agree that cutting out junk carbs is good for overall health.

      If you didn’t achieve ketosis, you must not have been very low-carb. Keto diets require less than 30 grams of carbs per day (give or take).

      Haha yeah eating carbs and lifting heavy weights is WAY more fun.

  • Javi Alvarez

    GOOD one. I already do all that stuff and I think it’s the key. I’m cutting, and I’m not getting overnight results (ops, it seems that doesn’t exist, I was so wrong hehe) but I’m doing totally right and I’m losing about 2 pounds per week without losing strength (I’m even increasing strength).
    I did a change that I want to share because it helps me, and it’s to eat almost all your calories in solid state (I used a couple of weeks ago to drink 3 protein shakes a day and I substituted the equivalent protein with egg whites, which makes me less hungry). I just take a protein shake after the lift and that’s all my liquid calorie intake.
    Additionally, I have an interesting question that I didn’t find doing some research: do you know how much fat can you store in one meal? I’m speaking about the cheat meal. How much does it hurt to go really hardcore in that meal (2000 cal?), high in fats and sugar? Is it better to distribute that in a whole day and call it a cheat day or maybe just do a hardcore meal a week to reduce accumulated anxiety?
    Please some thought here Mike!! Thanks for all.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Javi! Glad you liked the article. 2 lbs/week with no strength loss is perfect.

      Good tip. Whole food is definitely more filling than liquid for many people.

      Good question and it’s hard to answer, really. Excess calories in the form of protein aren’t stored efficiently as fat, carbs are fairly inefficient, and dietary fats are very efficiently stored. Generally speaking, a high-protein high-carb meal is best for cheating. A high-fat meal is not.

      It doesn’t matter if you split it up or eat it all at once.

      • Javi Alvarez

        Thanks Mike! I take note and I will definitely follow that advice for cheating.

        • Michael Matthews

          Great, enjoy! :)

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  • InternetOfThings

    Hi Michael,
    I just finished your audio book and now I’m here. I’ve got one more for your list from above: Stay busy. When you are sitting in front of a computer or TV thinking about your hunger, it really eats away at you. On the other hand, if you are busy and distracted, it’s easier to ignore. (same basic rule applies to a lot of things in life like pain, sorrow and worry.)

    One question for you: Is hunger a good indicator of caloric deficit? Instead of getting too fancy with counting calories, can I just be sure that I stay a little hungry to know I’m in a deficit?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I totally agree on the busyness point.

      Hunger isn’t a good indicator of whether or not you’re in a daily deficit. That said, you will often feel “empty” coming up to feeding times, but again that’s not really a telltale sign.

  • Lhawke

    It’s getting through the first week or two of calorie deficit that is so hard for me. I’ve been eating clif bars though. They’re relatively low on the GI, healthy, good energy, and taste awesome. Plus I always feel full after eating them. They’re 250 calories though.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah it’s pretty annoying for the first week or two. I don’t like Clif Bars. Too many calories for that little of food. Would rather eat a chicken breast and a bunch of veggies. Stay fuller longer.

  • Anonymous Atom

    Glad you address that low-carb diets can allow the lowering of leptin, and make one hungry. I tried a low-carb paleo-esque diet for a while, and was constantly hungry, and if I ate enough to be full, I gained weight (probably because fat has 2X as many cals as either protein or carbs).

    Can’t stand reading the carefully worded propaganda on sites like Daily Apple, all the loaded phrases about how ‘filling’ and ‘wholesome’ a ‘primal’ meal is. After eating like that for a few weeks, I was tired, craving carbs, and workouts were dragging. I’ll bet my leptin was in the basement.

    Adding legumes and potatoes and bread back into my diet got things back on track.

  • CDK

    Wife was having major hunger pangs last night… Printed this article to show her that its normal and she needs to fight through it and its always hardest the first few days to a week. :) We went to bed in a good, healthy mood!

    Thanks for the help Mike!

    -Cory K.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great! She’s definitely not undereating at 1500/day (I replied to your email). Yeah some lettuce is fine.

      She may want to rethink the timing of her meals if she’s finding she gets very hungry at certain times of the day, like at night for example.

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  • Adel-Alexander

    Mike I need your help, is it true that fat and protein mixed with a high GI food lowers the overall GI?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes, that’s true.

      • Adel-Alexander

        So in reality, as long as we eat something with fat & protein with a high GI carb, it’ll basically have the same effect as a low GI carb? My body doesn’t really do well with foods like brown rice and such so I normally just eat White rice with some fat and protein. :P

        • Michael Matthews

          No, not quite. The insulin response is still higher from high-GI carbs but it’s mitigated to some degree by what else you eat with it.

          • Adel-Alexander

            Oh I see. Do you have any recommendations on low GI carbs that doesn’t contain insoluble fiber? My gut doesn’t do too well with those fiber. At least not in huge amounts and I was wondering what you would do in my case. :P

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