Hunger can be a tricky thing. It can sneak up on you at the most inconvenient times or even convince you it’s time to eat when you’re really just bored or thirsty. When you fall victim to hunger, it can be harder to control your eating—which is why it’s important for those embarking on a weight loss journey to keep the empty pangs that hunger brings at bay.
How can you face hunger head on and prevent the consumption of excess calories? According to Laura Sebring, MS, RD, LDN, lead bariatric and weight loss dietitian and nutritionist at True You Weight Loss, here are the top seven most effective tips for managing hunger.
- Make Sure It’s Really Hunger: Before you reach for the snacks, make sure your body is truly hungry and in need of food. Instead of hunger, could you actually be feeling boredom, or another emotion such as sadness or stress? Or, could it be “visual hunger” (meaning you saw food or a food advertisement and now you feel compelled to eat)? If any of these are true, don’t be tricked into eating. Instead, choose another activity that might help manage your issue more effectively, such as exercise, a hobby, or calling up a friend to talk.
- Check Your Thirst First: Whenever you feel hungry, drink fluids first. Your body might be disguising thirst with hunger, and drinking water or another healthy beverage will likely be the solution. If you try to solve thirst with eating, you will probably overeat and then still be thirsty—which puts you back at square one.
- Don’t Skip Breakfast or Your Morning Snack: Don’t skip your morning eating; binge eating to catch up later in the day is not healthy. This especially applies to people who have had a weight loss procedure. Hunger can snowball as the day goes on, so never deny yourself the opportunity to eat breakfast or a healthy morning snack. Controlling hunger early on will help you feel less hungry as the day progresses and avoid the temptation to indulge in late-day or after-dinner snacks.
- Always Keep Healthy Snacks With You: In case you find yourself away from home when real hunger hits, you should always have healthy snacks with you—in your office, work locker, car, briefcase, or backpack/purse. This can help you stay on track and avoid falling victim to junk or fast food. Portable healthy snack ideas, with a longer shelf-life, include protein bars (without chocolate or other ingredients that might melt), nuts, crunchy flavored chickpeas, individual peanut butter packets, beef or turkey jerky, or sugar-free/fat-free pudding cups.
- Know Your Options When on the Road: Don’t automatically stop at the closest fast-food restaurant when real hunger hits on the road. If you don’t have any snacks with you, know that convenience stores often sell healthy snacks that won’t sabotage your diet, such as fruit; snack packs that include nuts, cheese and/or dried fruit; or even hard-boiled eggs.
- Reach for the Veggies and Protein: When your body truly does need a snack to satisfy hunger, but you’ve already met your caloric needs for the day, you should still eat something. The best choices include vegetables (even seasoned veggies!) and/or some sort of protein. Protein digests slower than carbohydrates and will therefore help you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
- Track or Journal Your Eating Daily: If hunger becomes an ongoing issue, track it along with your moods and thoughts, as you track your daily eating. Look back to analyze patterns, such as what time of day you tend to feel most hungry. Food and hunger tracking/journaling will help you become more aware of your habits so you can adjust accordingly and avoid grazing throughout the day.
While managing hunger involves some planning ahead, self-discipline, and patient self-reflection, it is entirely possible and worth the extra effort as you work to reach your weight loss goals.