Stop hunger halting your fat loss
Eating in a way that allows us to lose weight (& body fat) is a pretty simple process; our input needs to be less than our output (grossly oversimplified I know) and we need to train progressively with weights- after some time, we lose body fat. On the surface, it sounds like a very simple process that anybody could achieve pretty easily, as we all know, it doesn’t usually wind up this way…the problem lies in cravings/hunger.
What makes dieting seem an impossible task for some of us, is the combination of being in an underfed and heavily trained state (with the addition of cardio for most) for a consistent period, whilst most of us don’t struggle to train hard for 4-8 hours a week, being hungry is something that we cannot handle and having to choose the salad over that big mac is just too much to overcome.
We have all been there, set our macronutrient intake perfectly, ticked off meal timing and frequency, got our next 6 weeks of training mapped out (ok maybe just me). A couple of days pass and we feel fine, but then we start to feel the hunger pangs at 7pm, and guess what? We’ve eaten all your intake for the day. We then have to fight the mental battle of making it to the morning without eating the whole block of cheese that is staring at us, and this is when most of us get scared and flee. Alternativley, we go out for a family gathering, someone tells us to “just have a day off”, so we just have a little slice of the lasagne…& the burgers… & the apple pie.
Dieting is 10% physiology and 90% psychology, set yourself up to be successful and you will be astounded at what you can achieve! What I’m about to provide in this article will be strategies backed in evidence that can help you beat those cravings and nail the diet psychology once and for all!
(note: I want to confirm that I am not a medical doctor and in no way can this be classed as health advice, any undertaking of the following strategies should be consulted with by your MD beforehand and we cannot take any responsibility for the results).
‘Your stomach is a volume counter’
One of the ways that hunger is regulated is through mechanoreceptors that exist in the walls of our stomachs. These detect how stretched or lax our stomach walls are, what they do not do is measure calorie intake- they measure volume (1). This is a key factor to understand in fighting the feelings of hunger, we need to strategically consume foods that have a high volume yet low calorie content and it is foods with the high water content that will allow us to do this. Last time I heard, water had no energy content, so by consuming foods that have a high water content we allow the chewed food AND it’s water content to enter our stomachs, this means we fill up more of our total stomach volume than we would have eating foods with a lower water content. The best foods that fit this bill you ask? In steps… the humble vegetable.
Vegetables are incredibly effective at curbing our hunger. Most of them have very low calorie content, have a high water content and aren’t so palatable that you want to eat them to infinity; they are also generally high in fibre. Fibre aids in slow digestion, this means that the food we consume stays in our stomach for longer, allowing us to be satiated for longer. We can take advantage of the satisfying effects of vegetables by either adding them to all our meals or, as I like to do, by consuming a large salad before eating our main meal. Getting the salad in early starts the cascade of messages from our stomach’s stretch receptors to our brain, letting us know that there is sufficient food in there, helping us becoming fuller quicker and helping combat potential over eating from feeling like we have consumed an inadequate volume of food.
Liquids are equally as effective as vegetables (as long as they are calorie free) at helping us feel fuller, drinking adequate (or higher than normal) amounts of liquid through the day is an effective way of reducing the potential for unwanted feelings of hunger between meals. Whilst I won’t recommend an objective intake, you can probably consume half to a full pint of liquid when you are starting to feel hungry but are far away from a meal; another strategy that works similarly to the pre-meal salad is, consuming half to a full pint of liquid (calorie free) before you eat your meal, this again allows those fullness signals to be sent as early as possible. It is important to note that if you are consuming higher than normal quantities of fluids, you should probably use salt on your foods a little more liberally to stave off the risk of hyponatremia- when electrolyte balance is severely off in the body through either over consumption of fluid or lack of sodium in the diet (this isn’t likely so this is just a caution.)
This recommendation now becomes even more effective if you introduce carbonated calorie-free drinks. These are like the gold standard for hunger control, not only do they have the effect of being voluminous and calorie free, we’re now adding carbon dioxide to the mix! Adding a gas means that along with the liquid, the Co2 molecules will enter our stomach, when they do this they shoot around everywhere, activating even more stretch receptors and therefore giving the brain the impression of even more volume in the stomach. My recommendations are to use diet drinks, seltzers, flavoured waters etc as often as needed.
(note: just be aware that some diet drinks i.e. diet coke contain caffeine, this probably shouldn’t be consumed to close to sleep).
Another way that you can add more volume to liquids is in the use of a blender, whilst I don’t recommend blending food, as it becomes easier and quicker to digest leaving us less full, we can use a blender to make our whey/casein protein shakes. This high speed mixing adds a lot air to the liquid creating more volume, and if you add ice too, this will add even more liquid making us a thicker and more voluminous mixture without adding a single calorie.
Remember, our stomach recognises ‘full’ from volume, not calories; so opting for high volume:calorie ratio foods is an excellent way to keep us fuller and helps to combat some of the cravings we may endure.
‘The super fibre’
Whilst we established that fibre is an excellent way of increasing the time it takes our food to digest, keeping us fuller for longer; what we haven’t mentioned is that there is a type of fibre that is even more effective at doing this along with other benefits to fighting hunger linked to it, these are called Beta Glucans. Beta Glucans are a type of fibre that, like other fibres, slows down digestion of food in the stomach. What is unique with Beta Glucans is that when they enter the small intestine, they turn into a viscous gel like material that continues to slow down digestion further, prolonging the feeling of fullness even further; this also has a positive effect on our blood glucose levels, making us feel energised for a longer period as well as the feelings of fullness it brings.
Beta Glucans stimulate the release of an important hunger supressing hormone, Cholecystokinin, that aids in making us feel fuller for longer (2); what’s best is that there is a dose response relationship between the two, the more Beta Glucans you consumer= the more Cholecystokinin is released= the more satiated you feel. So the hungrier you are, the more you can consume to fight it! This is an excellent tool to include when you really crave the most, if you know you have stretches of time when you won’t be able to eat or when you are going to be very busy, crack out food sources rich in this fibre. The food sources richest in Beta Glucans are oats & barley- porridge oats are an excellent choice as you can also add more liquid to the mixture to get more and more volume, other sources include certain cereals, oat cakes, pearl barley and more (some information on this link - https://goo.gl/YY93h8.)
‘The power of coffee’
Coffee is my one true love, there’s nothing like a rich, aromatic Americano to start the day; there is simply NOTHING like it, & when it comes to supressing appetite and providing a mental boost, there’s nothing like it either. Coffee (more specifically caffeine) is known for giving us that instant hit of flow that we need to hammer through our emails, first thing in the morning. The story with coffee doesn’t stop there, coffee also has a positive effect on curbing hunger when it arises, and whilst most think it is caffeine alone that does this, it’s not. What caffeine does, is help us fight fatigue (it does this by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain), gives us a feeling of a second wind of energy, helps improve cognitive function (the ability to take in, process and store new ideas) along with having positive effects on our ability to train hard and burning more fat. What coffee has to offer, is compounds within it that have positively affect some of the key hormones that regulate stress & appetite (3) (Leptin, Grehlin & Peptide YY); in doing this, coffee works as a strong appetite suppressant that can be used to help us to stick to our diets.
As the appetite supressing benefits come from coffee, and not caffeine, a tactical decaf at night or between meals can help stave away cravings before they arise; although, earlier in the day you may want to grab something stronger, taking advantage of the benefits of caffeine to get through the tough training sessions and work days whilst dieted down.
‘Eat bland foods’
I knowww, I sound like every other uber motivated gym fitness zealot coach, I promise I actually have rationale behind this. We have gotten to the point now that we know that tasty foods are not the devil, and when it comes to fat loss, calories in vs. out is the key; the point I am trying to relay is the effectiveness of avoiding highly palatable to help prevent over eating or uncontrolled snacking.
We can define highly palatable foods as the following; foods well-seasoned with spices and herbs, foods with the right amount of salt (not too much, not too little), sweet foods which are high in sugar, foods that have a pleasant texture and mouth feel (often foods that are high in fat), very savoury foods (really a combination of mostly fat and salt content in addition to mouthfeel and texture, some additives like MSG can enhance this sensation).
When we consume these highly palatable foods, our taste buds are stimulated in a way that they ‘highly enjoy’, let’s say, (it actually comes from release of certain rewarding feel hormones including Dopamine), they create that satisfying, happy and rewarding feeling you get after you sink the last bite of ice cream; this feeling we get when eating these foods is what commonly causes people to become disinhibited (this is the lack of restraint that follows that tends to defy logical thinking) and uncontrollably crave more or overfeed. Repeated exposure to these foods increases the want for them more and more over time (4). This feeling only comes from foods with characteristics like our highly palatable foods, so, strategically avoiding these super tasty foods during the times we are looking to create fat loss, is something that should be considered.
If you think about it, it makes clear sense, how much plain chicken breast and broccoli could you eat before feeling like you don't want anymore? Probably not that much, even when dieting. How many tortilla chips or how much peanut butter could you eat whilst dieting before you get sick of it? An infinite amount? Potentially. This is were the concept of IIFYM (if it fits your macros) falls down, as well as not being a necessarily healthy option, there is little thought to fibre or micronutrient intake; the concept fails to take this concept of food palatability into account. It tries to combat the restriction of some conventional diets to allow a more 'balanced' approach, but what it actually does is put a major block on long term adherence. Whilst technically you can get into great shape eating a mars bar every day, how long would it take you to crack and want to eat the whole pantry, probably not long.
So putting aside the tasty treats during our fat loss phases can help in preventing further cravings or not putting ourselves in the position to uncontrollably overfeed; whilst some might see this as daunting, it is important to note that, the more you are exposed to a 'bland'/conventionally heathy food, the more palatable it becomes to you (4), phases of fat loss are always temporary and not ever lasting; the initial withdrawal is the hardest, and once we get past it we are now in a place where we don’t get these cravings for these foods; the foods that are highly palatable are commonly higher in calories, meaning we reduce the volume of food we are eating for the same caloric value (we now know this makes our job harder).
‘Chew your food’
Slowing down the rate at which you eat, can be an effective strategy in helping improve our feeling of fullness from a meal (5), especially important when in a fat loss phase, helping stop us eat beyond what we need. Eating slowly has a two fold benefit, eating more slowly allows the signals sent by the stretch receptors in our stomach, to reach our brains either during, or closer, to the end of our meal. This allows a feeling of fullness that is indicative of how much we have actually eaten; along with this, a meal that has a longer duration mentally allows us to feel like we have eaten more, as we have been eating for longer. Research certainly supports this hypothesis in healthy individuals, so implementing this tool can certainly aid you in your fat loss phases.
The strategies to implement this straight away include; taking smaller bites and/or cutting food into small pieces, chew every bite of food thoroughly (10-15 chews per bite), put your utensils down between each bite, and taking a sip or two of water every couple of bites; these strategies are very easy to incorporate but have real, positive effects on hunger.
‘All protein sources are not equal’
When the above statement is mentioned, it will commonly refer to the ‘quality’ of a protein source, but some protein sources allow us to be more satiated than others, we will discuss the positive benefits in this vein for consuming whey protein.
There is evidence to support the claim, that whey has a positive effect on appetite suppression and satiation, it contains a molecule (glycomacropeptide) that increases secretion of the same hormone that Beta Glucans effect (6) (Cholocystokinin or CCK). When CCK is secreted, the result is an enhanced feeling of fullness from the food we are eating, along with the reduced cravings and feeling the need to overfeed. As whey protein is a low calorie, high quality protein source (it typically has the highest leucine content of any source, leucine is important for growth signalling) that is conveniently stored and consumed, this makes it an excellent choice for those dieting; a great whey (I know, sorry) to implement this is by starting your day with a whey shake, allowing us to get an early bolus of protein after a nights fast, along with giving us that sustained feeling of fullness until dinner, with very little calorie value, allowing us to eat more calories later in the day, and before bed, typically when we need to curb cravings most; it can potentially allow us to consume more carbohydrate around our workouts, if we train after work or later at night, whilst still not feeling hungry all day.
The above are all strategies that are effective in either reducing cravings, stopping overfeeding or increasing how full we feel after eating; this is vital when it comes to being successful in dieting. Whilst we definitely have lots of other strategies to fight hunger and succeed on a diet, I can guarantee that implementing these will improve how well you can adhere to a diet if you struggle with any hunger issues at all. I hope you enjoyed this article and that it was of value, I’d love some feedback, so either a comment below or an email to email@example.com would make my day.
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1. Carmagnola S, Cantu P, Penagini R. Mechanoreceptors of the proximal stomach and perception of gastric distension. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100:1704–1710.
2. Rebello, Candida J., Carol E. O’Neil, and Frank L. Greenway. “Dietary Fiber and Satiety: The Effects of Oats on Satiety.” Nutrition Reviews 74.2 (2016): 131–147. PMC. Web. 2 Sept. 2017.
3. Greenberg, J. and Geliebter, A. (2012). Coffee, Hunger, and Peptide YY. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 31(3), pp.160-166.
4. Anguah, Katherene O.-B. et al. “Can the Palatability of Healthy, Satiety-Promoting Foods Increase with Repeated Exposure during Weight Loss?” Ed. John Hayes, Cordelia Running, and Ciaran Forde. Foods 6.2 (2017): 16. PMC. Web. 2 Sept. 2017.
5. Ferriday, Danielle et al. “Effects of Eating Rate on Satiety: A Role for Episodic Memory?” Physiology & Behavior 152.Pt B (2015): 389–396. PMC. Web. 2 Sept. 2017.
6. Burton-Freeman, B. (2008). Glycomacropeptide (GMP) is not critical to whey-induced satiety, but may have a unique role in energy intake regulation through cholecystokinin (CCK). Physiology & Behavior, 93(1-2), pp.379-387.