Hunger is a common topic and area of concern for both client and coach during a prescribed fat loss phase of a nutrition plan. One thing to keep in mind is that the feeling of hunger is not always a bad thing, in fact it can be an indicator of a properly functioning metabolism and sign that you are in a caloric deficit. To simplify, you are using up more energy than you are taking in from daily nutrition. This is a desired situation to encourage fat loss.
Does this mean that every time I’m hungry I am burning body fat?
In healthy individuals the burning of body fat for fuel causes satiety, since enough energy exists in the body for metabolism to function. So, sometimes, the burning of body fat may be the reason why you are not feeling hungry.
It is generally accepted that to lose weight you must be in a constant state of hunger. Not only does that sound like an uncomfortable way to go through life, it’s also not going to help you with adherence and sustainability of a plan. In fact, it might work against you. Excess hunger can increase temptations and craving for unhealthy foods, have you feeling like a zombie in the gym, and can tank hormones if you’re not eating enough calories.
And while hunger is certainly a part of fat loss, it does not mean you should always be hungry. I align with the philosophy of “minimal effective dose.” This means making nutritional adjustments, including calorie reductions, in the smallest increment necessary to see progress. If I can successfully lose weight in a 200-calorie deficit than why would I want to incur a 500-calorie deficit? More is not always better, and these prescriptions are unique by the individual due to the many unique factors among each person. This is to say, if your friend is seeing “results” on a 1200 calorie diet that does not mean that amount is advisable for your success.
- Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Our bodies have a difficult time interpreting the difference. Have a glass of water and then wait about 15 minutes to see if the “hunger” goes away.
- Makeup of your meals can impact hunger. Are you including sources of lean protein? How about vegetables and complex carbohydrates that contain fiber and help fill you up?
- Is it hunger or just a craving? One way to decipher between hunger and cravings is to stop and ask yourself, “Would I eat an apple right now?” If the answer is no, you want potato chips then likely what you are experiencing is a craving.
How does sleep, or lack of it, impact hunger?
Sleep loss changes the timing and release of appetite-controlling hormones. The stomach secretes a hormone called ghrelin that signals to your brain that you’re hungry. During sleep deprivation, ghrelin gets released in larger amounts. As the stomach fills, the body releases the satiety hormone leptin to start appetite suppression. However, during sleep deprivation, leptin gets released in smaller amounts. With the changes in ghrelin and leptin levels, not only do you feel hungrier but once full, your body doesn’t recognize that it’s time to stop eating. The combination of increased hunger with decreased satiety leads to overeating and unwanted weight gain.
And since we covered hunger in relation to fat loss, I feel it is fitting to discuss reasonable expectations around rate of loss or how to gauge progress. For those in a fat loss phase right now, you know how you lost 3lbs in that first week and close to that again in the second week? Don’t worry if your number varies from this, but for the lucky ones…
Just remember, that rate of loss should NOT continue throughout your entire fat loss phase.
If it does, you’re most likely under-eating and feeling hungrier and less energized that you could be. The goals of dieting in a healthy manner are not to lose weight as quickly as possible and to feel weak and famished in the process, they are to lose weight at a moderate pace and to feel energized and strong as you transform.
In general, expect to see your quickest rates of loss in the beginning of your dieting phase and expect those rates to decrease as you move closer and closer to your goal. It would be completely correct to see that 2-3lbs/week rate of loss initially and to see 0.5lbs/week or even less as time passes.
It’s important to remember this because it helps you stay in a successful mindset. If you think you’re failing because you’re not keeping up to your initial rate of loss, you’re expecting too much and being unrealistic. It’s these unrealistic expectations that can make you think you’re failing, when in fact, you’re doing great.