"If you’re trying to make healthy diet changes, but it feels like you’re constantly starving, go through this list."
One of the biggest issues people experience when trying to make diet changes is feeling hunger all the time. We all need to eat, and we shouldn’t be constantly hungry!
Plus, this can make dietary changes discouraging, and cause us to give up. Today, Dr. Keller is talking about the top 12 reasons people feel that gnawing hunger. He’ll reveal which foods leave us hungry and which ones satisfy, and offer some strategies we can implement to keep us feeling satisfied, and stay healthy at the same time.
- 01:20: Sugar Rush and the Sugar crush
- 03:26: Well balanced Meals
- 06:26: Skipping Breakfast
- 07:50: Dehydration
- 08:43: Alcohol
- 09:49: Sleep deprivation
- 11:45: Stress
- 12:29: Too Restrictive Diet
- 13:21: Activity Level
- 13:50:Mindless Eating
- 15:23: Medications
- 16:35: Actual metabolic Underlying Conditions
- 18:39: Wrap Up
The Sugar Rush and the Sugar Crash
This is a phenomenon that occurs after eating a bunch of carbohydrates. These include fast carbs that enter the bloodstream very quickly, and cause your insulin to surge up and then overcorrect, resulting in an insulin crash. That upswing and crash will set up a pattern where you basically get really satisfied and then go into a crash right afterward, and then you start the cycle of feeling hungry again.
Fast carbs are determined by the difference in the amount of fiber they contain. You can think about fiber as a kind of molecule, which makes foods chewy and crunchy, and exists to slow down the body’s breakdown of carbs. Bread, chocolate, rice, and potatoes are all examples of fast carbs. An apple, on the other hand, would be a good example of a slow carb. An apple has a lot of sugar in it, but it’s got a lot more fiber in it. That fiber is what makes this a slow carb.
To find out what kind of carbs a food contains, look at where it falls on the glycemic index. This is an indicator of how fast a sugar is going to get to your body. If your diet consists of a lot of fast carbs: rice, tortillas, white potatoes, or even some of the worse stuff like cakes, sweets, chocolates, and sodas, then you’re going to cause these insulin spikes which will then dip drastically, and leave you wanting more sugar.
Unbalanced meals happen when you eat a lot of carbohydrates by themselves without other nutrients to provide necessary balance. For example, sweet potato is a better potato option than a white potato because of its lower glycemic index. It has a better carbs-to-fiber ratio. However, if you have a sweet potato by itself, it’s not as good for the body as a sweet potato accompanied by other macronutrients: proteins like eggs, and then fats like olive oil, avocado, and nut butter. If you mix all these, you’re going to slow down the absorption of the sugar in your potato, and your body will do a better job processing the nutrients.
Another thing that can help slow this down is fiber. A lot of people think of fiber as whole grain foods, but you get the most fiber from vegetables like spinach, celery, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and the like. Fiber is a great break for our sugar rush. If you think of carbs, especially the fast carbs skyrocketing in and going right into your bloodstream, you want to tap the brakes on the absorption of that sugar, so you add fiber to it. If we do that, you can have the same amount of sugar, but it enters your bloodstream more slowly than if you just had it without any of those other nutrients. So it's a good idea to slow down that sugar by adding fats, fiber, and protein.
A lot of people get hungry because they skipped breakfast. People often do this on purpose because they think it’s going to help them reduce their weight by getting less calories in their day but often this lack of breakfast causes your metabolism to become sluggish, resulting in a negative rhythm for your body for the rest of the day. You might overeat at lunch or dinner time, and you’ve really done yourself a disservice because you haven’t started the day off strong. A breakfast that’s rich in protein is ideal. Try soft-boiled eggs or scrambled eggs and you don’t want to cook them too much. The great thing about eggs is that there are proteins as well as fats in them. Don’t worry too much about the cholesterol in eggs because the proteins and fats take a lot longer to digest in your stomach. So they’re going to keep you satisfied for much longer throughout that morning. This is a lot better than eating breads, juice, bagels, and pastries.
You could be hungry because you’re dehydrated. Sometimes our brain gets a little off and it can interpret signals of dehydration as hunger. Make sure that you’re staying on top of your water consumption. Your water level should be at least eight cups a day (or half your body weight in ounces) but it really depends on your environment, how dry your city is, the altitude of where you live, your activity, and the temperature of that day. Just keep water on hand and keep hydrating. When you feel like you’re hungry and it's not meal time, drink some water. You might find that your hunger subsides a little bit.
Alcohol has some health benefits like the antioxidants found in some red wine, for example. However, it is a toxin and it has a lot of sugar in it. If you’re drinking alcohol, you might find that you’re getting an alcohol sugar rush and then you’re going to have some of those issues with the fast carbs. Alcohol is also a disinhibitor that allows you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. It can shut down some of the inhibitions that would normally prevent you from seeking out cake or cookies, or all that food that’s at the end of the buffet after you’ve had a couple of beers. If you’ve got alcohol in your system, chances are you will have a higher tendency to eat when you don’t need to, or to eat foods that are higher in sugar.
It is so important to get good sleep. Poor sleep or not enough sleep is really detrimental to your metabolism and more importantly, to your appetite or your hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep, a couple of hormonal things happen: your cortisol goes up because being sleep deprived has similar effects to stress. If your cortisol goes up, it causes a lot of things to change in your body that increase insulin, that drive where sugars go, and it makes you more susceptible to gaining weight. That increase in the stress hormone cortisol from lack of sleep can really affect how you’re metabolizing sugars.
Two other hormones play an important role. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you had enough to eat. Ghrelin is a hormone that’s supposed to stimulate your appetite. When you don’t get enough sleep, Ghrelin goes the roof and all of a sudden you’re experiencing cravings, and the leptin plummets so there is no signal to shut down the appetite and tell your brain you’ve had enough. Lack of sleep messes up your hormones, and it’s really difficult to override that appetite urge if your hormones are out of balance.
If you’re stressed at work, or if you’re stressed because of family issues, or financial issues, your cortisol will go up and this can lead to issues with gaining weight, and overeating. Try to find relaxing things to do to minimize stress. You can go on hikes, get out in the water, enjoy nature, listen to music, you can do yoga, and exercise. Try to incorporate these if you find that you’re having issues with your appetite.
Too Restrictive Diet
If you feel like you have to cut everything out and take all the fun out of eating, you could find that you rebel against it. Self-control is important, but if you’re not allowed to have anything you like, you’ll give up. If you find that you are rebelling against your diet, it’s not going to serve you. So give yourself a little bit of leeway now and then. Or find a diet that incorporates foods you enjoy in a healthy way. You will feel better about it in general and maybe even frame it so that you don’t think of a diet as a diet, or something restrictive. Just think of it as a new way of life and a new way of eating, but don’t be unrealistic or too hard on yourself.
Doing a lot of activity, like running a marathon or lifting weights, may cause you to have a higher caloric demand than someone whose lifestyle is more sedentary. If you’re a fit person or you’re participating in a lot of physical activity, just keep in mind that physical activity burns calories so you might actually need to add some more calories to your diet to compensate for that activity level.
Mindless eating is eating food that you really didn’t need to eat or you weren’t even that hungry for. Ideally, when you’re eating you should be focusing on the food and enjoying the food, savoring it and tasting the different flavors, and you should be eating because you were hungry. If you’re just eating chips or popcorn or something because you’re watching TV, that’s mindless eating. Just keep in mind that if you can focus on your meal, enjoying the food and the company, and give yourself some time to really process what you’re doing in that moment, chances are you’ll have less food and probably enjoy the experience a lot more.
This might be a little bit out of your control but it is important to bring up. A lot of people are on medications, and there are classes of medications that lead to hunger. Specifically Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other medications for depression. This can lead to weight gain and increased hunger. If you’ve got something like rheumatoid arthritis or another condition and you’re taking steroids, the effect can be similar to a natural cortisol increase. You’re going to start craving food, and it’s a little bit out of your control in that instance. Certain diabetic medications can even lead to weight gain and increased hunger. If you find that you’re on a medication or you’ve had a medication change and you feel like it’s causing more hunger, bring it up with your doctor and see if you can find another solution.
Actual Metabolic Underlying Conditions
There are a couple of conditions like metabolic syndrome, in which your insulin is off, and you’re starting to gain weight and the scales are tipping in the direction of this bad disorder or disease for you. There are other conditions that aren’t related to weight gain, like hyperthyroidism, and other metabolic hormones like Cushing’s disease. So these could be something that you need to have evaluated by your doctor so you can strategize about how to handle them.
These are 12 of the reasons that you may find that you’re hungry and if you can address those, you might be able to reduce your hunger.
There are a couple of tricks you can use as well: If you feel like you’re hungry and your stomach is telling you that you are, but you know you’ve had plenty to eat, keep in mind that in the stomach there are mechanoreceptors which basically detect the stretching of your stomach. So adding water or adding something that has a lot of volume to it like kale or spinach or lettuce, can help expand the stomach and make you feel less hungry.
Another trick to try is adding calories that are not calorically dense foods. If you’re still hungry don’t reach for bread to fill you up the rest of the way. Reach for stuff that has a lot more fiber in it, such as vegetables. You really can’t overdo it on broccoli, celery, and fiber-rich fruit, which can help make you feel more full and then you’ll be on your way to keeping your appetite in check.
So if you’re trying to make healthy diet changes, but it feels like you’re constantly starving, go through the list above. It could be that you’re eating too much processed sugars, or you need to cut down on alcohol, or you just don’t have enough balance in your meals.
So think through all these things and talk to your doctor if you’re on a medication you think might be causing the issue, or if you might have an underlying medical condition, and then piece all that together and hopefully you’ll be on your way to feeling better and more satisfied, while staying healthy.