The concept of losing weight is a simple matter. It’s all about being in a state of negative energy balance, or when the calories you burn overtake the calories you eat. In other words, you eat less and move more.
How to lose weight when you’re always hungry, however, is almost an entirely different matter.
For one, a lot of us rely on self-control which is a battle we’re eventually all going to lose. The better way to do this is retraining and working with your biology so you don’t always feel hungry.
This involves learning if you’re truly hungry or just bored, knowing what to eat when you really want food, and how to deal with hunger without eating.
We’re covering all these topics today but first, let’s get you up to speed with what’s happening inside your body and why you’re always hungry.
Why am I always hungry?
From a physiological standpoint, you become hungry because ghrelin, the hunger hormone,
tells your brain that you need more or better nutrition which then makes you want to eat. That’s how your body manages itself.
Looking at it from another angle though, ghrelin levels also seem to increase when it expects food. In a way, I think of this as a double-edged sword.
For one, it’s a good thing because you build up an appetite for main, scheduled meals like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This helps ensure you get the calories you need to survive.
But, on the other hand, research says that the following also affect ghrelin levels:
- Reward-seeking behavior (or conditioning), and/or
- Glucose metabolism
Here are some more details about those 3 factors:
You might not be getting enough sleep
A study from PLoS Medicine says that how long you sleep affects your body weight and metabolism. Per their results, one reason this happens is that less sleep is associated with more ghrelin which, in turn, balloons your appetite.
You may have conditioned your mind to seek food as a reward
While ghrelin stimulates the parts of your brain that tell you it’s time to eat, research from the Journal of Neuroendocrinology says that it also activates your reward systems.
We evolved this way because our ancestors weren’t as lucky to have the surplus of food we have today. So, when food was available, they ate as much as they could in preparation for upcoming scarcity.
Today, the “I deserve this” mentality has become one of the greatest contributors to obesity and, in this case, difficulty losing weight.
It’s an issue I struggled with, to be honest. Whenever I felt stressed or accomplished, I made binging my reward. I believe many of you have the same problem. (Because who isn’t stressed these days, right?)
Your sensitivity to insulin might be impaired
Apart from sleep and conditioning, I believe glucose metabolism is a problem area that most people with weight issues wrestle with. Just from an observer’s standpoint, I’ve seen way too many people at the gym who tried to get in better shape only to face disappointment because of how impaired their body’s reactions to insulin are.
Consequently, a sign that you have insulin resistance is that you’re hungry again shortly after having food, you feel tired, and you have difficulty losing weight.
Ironically, weight loss itself seems to make people hungry with evidence saying that more lost weight also amounts to more ghrelin production. So, if you were losing weight but always hungry, now you know why.
On that note, you might be asking:
Is feeling hungry good for weight loss?
As already explained, feeling hungry is your body telling you that you need food in your system. Thus, it’s normal and good.
Feeling constantly hungry, on the other hand, isn’t.
Fighting off your urge to eat round the clock takes a heck of a lot of willpower. And not only is physically exhausting, but it also takes away from your sanity.
In particular, a study about how hunger influences food choices finds that hunger makes you consume more food and choose convenience over healthier options. Clearly, that’s not very weight loss friendly, nor is it healthy over the long haul.
The study also says that for better long-term weight loss success, emphasis must be placed on satiating food while maintaining a negative energy balance.
This brings us to…
What to eat when you just want to eat?
In this case, I assume you’re not actually hungry but you just want to eat. Mostly, I’d recommend taking your mind off of this false hunger (which we will discuss later on) but if you really had to chew on something, you want it to be food that’s high in fiber, protein, and compounds that help you feel more satiated. If it’s carbs you’re looking for, consider low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates.
We’ve got a full list of natural appetite suppressant foods for weight loss if you want to check that out but here are a few examples:
Not just any oatmeal though. Per Harvard, rolled oats have a glycemic index of 55 whereas instant oats have a significantly higher score of 79.
Rolled oats and other low GI food release glucose at a slower and steadier rate compared to their high GI counterparts. This, in turn, results in a more stable rise in insulin which also helps prolong fullness.
Moreover, oatmeal is a good source of the fiber beta-glucan. Research says that this is also a reason why oats are so great for appetite control and satiety. Other low GI, high fiber foods include brown rice and boiled sweet potatoes.
Like oats, eggs are perhaps one of the easiest meals you can make for breakfast (or any time of the day for that matter).
Eggs are cheap, you can find them everywhere, they’re easy to cook, and they’re packed with protein. A little more than 6 g of protein per egg, to be more specific (per the USDA).
Harvard says that protein takes longer to digest compared to carbohydrates, so it stays in your digestive system longer and helps delay hunger. Other great sources of protein include chicken, almonds, and fish.
Speaking of fish, salmon’s right up there with being one of, if not the most weight loss friendly seafood.
For one, it’s packed with protein. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s also loaded with healthy fat which makes it more satiating. According to research, fatty fish like salmon are more than capable of influencing insulin and ghrelin, making it great for weight loss.
Per USDA records, half a grapefruit has about 2 g of fiber. That alone makes it a satiating snack. More than that though, 88% of fruit is water, so it’s low calorie, too.
In terms of being low cal but also satiating, other produce like apples, watermelon, spinach, celery, and other leafy greens fit the bill as well. So, instead of grabbing a bag of chips whenever you feel like eating, eat a fresh fruit or vegetable instead.
Compared to milk chocolate (or candy, basically), research says that dark chocolate promotes satiety, reduces sweet cravings, and even decreases caloric intake.
The key takeaway there is that it has to be dark chocolate. So, if you ever wanted chocolate, aim for one that’s at least 70% cocoa. Any lower than that and it’s just too sugary to be weight loss friendly.
Viva Naturals Organic Cacao Powder is a good example of the kind of chocolate you should use.
Now that we’ve established how there are foods you can eat to help minimize your appetite, let’s talk about timing. Or, more specifically, if it’s okay to eat late at night.
Should I eat if I’m hungry late at night?
Well, yeah… but also no. It depends.
Yes, you should eat…
Because, in the grand scheme of things, how much you eat matters more than when you eat.
For example, let’s say you’re limited to 1500 calories per day to lose weight and you’ve only eaten roughly 1300 calories. It shouldn’t be a problem if you ate those 200 remaining calories late at night.
Also, it’s a myth that you stop burning calories when you sleep. Autonomic functions that keep you alive like breathing, heart rate, and digestion are still very much active during your slumber. And thus, so is your metabolism.
What’s true, however, is that your metabolism slows down (by roughly 15% according to studies).
So, if you were to eat food late at night, remember to eat foods that give you a steady release of energy so you don’t wake up hungry. These include low GI, high fiber, and protein rich foods.
No, you shouldn’t eat…
Because, first of all, are you even sure you’re hungry? Or do you just want to eat out of habit?
If you belong to the latter, then you’re not actually hungry. You’re just craving for chips, pizza, and all these other unhealthy junk you still have in your pantry. And, if that’s the case, then no, you probably shouldn’t eat.
Doing so will only give you calories you don’t need which will then slow down your weight loss.
Now that we’ve established how food itself can help you control your hunger and how there are times you probably shouldn’t consume anything, let’s talk about how to not want to eat.
How to deal with hunger without eating
Drink more water
Physical hunger is often described as what happens when your stomach is empty. This, in turn, increases ghrelin production which tells you to eat.
In that case, water helps fill up your stomach and delays those hunger signals.
A study even suggests that consuming about 500 mL of water prior to your meals will help you reduce the amount of calories you eat, precisely because it reduces hunger.
However, water shouldn’t be a substitute for actual food. While water is indeed vital to life and it certainly helps with weight loss, overdoing it may lead to lack of nutrition.
A study says that exercise influences appetite through the following hormonal mechanisms:
- Suppress ghrelin levels
- Increase PYY, GLP-1, and PP
You already know how ghrelin stimulates appetite and, basically, the rest of the hormones do the opposite which is to suppress hunger.
In other words, the effects of exercise are exactly what you want to have: less hunger, more fullness.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence here, too, with people saying how they even forget they were hungry soon after they started a workout.
Have a cup of coffee
Speaking of appetite-suppressing hormones, a study says coffee is well capable of increasing PYY levels, too.
And it has to be coffee specifically, not just any caffeinated drink.
According to the study’s results, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee had an influence on PYY whereas caffeine added to water didn’t. Surprisingly, decaf had the best results.
This signifies how there’s something in coffee other than caffeine that does its magic on PYY. The study doesn’t specify what this thing is but, case in point, have a cup of coffee if you ever felt like dealing with hunger without food.
I get that this is easier said than done, but stressing less may actually help curb your appetite, especially if you’ve been stressed for a long time.
Research says that chronic stress is involved with motivation. Specifically, it makes you seek unhealthy, hyperpalatable food as a reward.
Following that logic, destressing may help you reset your circuitry and feel less hungry afterwards.
So, if you were still second-guessing that vacation, take this as a sign and go. Release all that pent up stress and come back with a healthier mindset. If a vacation isn’t in the books yet, maybe try some yoga instead.
Get some more sleep
First of all, did you know that lack of sleep has different effects for both men and women?
According to a study from the Sleep Research Society, short-duration sleep does the following:
- Increases ghrelin in men but not in women
- Reduces GLP-1 in women but not in men
That being said, the mechanisms may differ but in both sexes, short-sleep ultimately led to feeling hungrier.
So, if you’re feeling unusually hungry today (or most days), maybe it’s because you haven’t had enough shut-eye.
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep is what the Sleep Foundation recommends, so try to aim for those numbers.
Take appetite-suppressing supplements
“Wait, do these ‘stop feeling hungry pills’ even work?”
Good question, and yes, they do.
The reason certain foods are effective at regulating hunger is because of their specific active compounds. For example, chilli peppers are great for weight loss because they have capsaicin. Green tea has caffeine and EGCG. Turmeric has curcumin. Ginger has, well… you get the point.
Researchers have identified these compounds and supplement manufacturers pack them as pills for easy and convenient consumption.
In my opinion, here are some of the best appetite-suppressing supplements in the market:
Vitamin Bounty’s Forskolin
I think coleus forskohlii is one of the best natural weight loss plants out there.
For one, studies have deemed it safe for both men and women. Moreover, another study shows that while it may not seem to have any effect on ghrelin, coleus forskohlii supplementation leads to improvements with insulin levels and insulin sensitivity which still may lead to reduced hunger.
These effects are largely attributed to the plant’s active compound forskolin, and I think Vitamin Bounty’s Forskolin has a good dose and potency.
Orphic Nutrition’s Garcinia Cambogia Extract
Garcinia Cambogia has a compound called hydroxycitric acid (HCA). The findings of a research on this compound suggests that it’s both safe and effective for controlling appetite.
The problem with garcinia cambogia, however, is that it isn’t widely available. Or, at least that’s the case where I live. If you can’t find it in your area, too, perhaps supplementation is the best next thing.
Check out Orphic Nutrition’s Garcinia Cambogia Extract. Both dosage and potency seem pretty solid and it’s not too expensive either.
Zhou Nutrition’s Green Tea Extract
One of the things that makes green tea great for weight loss is its caffeine content. Coffee has that, too, but what makes green tea superior in my eyes is that it also has polyphenols like EGCG.
Apart from having the same metabolism boosting properties of caffeine, a study from Nutrients points out that it delays gastric emptying, leading to an increased perception of satiety.
Of course, you could take green tea as it is. But, if you’re like me who doesn’t particularly like how it tastes, supplementation works as well.
Zhou Nutrition’s Green Tea Extract is what I recommend. Though it’s advertised more as a powerful antioxidant (and rightfully so), its formulation seems well suited for appetite regulation, too.
Well, I hope this helped get you a better grasp on hunger and how to lose weight when you’re always hungry.
In a nutshell:
Actuall, physical hunger is your body telling you that your stomach is empty and you’re running low on calories. In this case, I say listen to what your body’s telling you but eat food that promotes satiety and makes you feel full for longer periods of time.
Most of the time though, you may just not be taking care of yourself and it messes with your biology. For instance, you might not be getting enough sleep or water. Or, you might be stressed.
In any case, there’s always going to be a fix. Hopefully, you found that solution here.
Share this with a friend before you click away, will ‘ya?