It haunts everyone trying to lose weight or eat healthier — how not to be hungry all the time. Our bodies seem to fight us, the hunger and cravings wear us down, and we cave. But why isn’t our body grateful for all our efforts? And can we mute the hunger?
The good news is yes, you can. Let’s look at the different options available to you. Some will work right away. Others, well, they take a bit longer to kick in, but they will help you maintain the weight loss you achieve.
For those with limited time, here is the short list of things you gotta try (that is, before I go into all the fun little details of appetite regulation):
Top Answers of How Not to Be Hungry All the Time
This list has something for everyone. We may all have different reasons for our hunger drive, and there are many answers to how not to be hungry all the time. Below is a list to get you started, grouped by topic and in random order:
Lifestyle Approaches to Controlling Hunger
- Get at least 6 hours of sleep a night (preferably 7-9 hours)
- Have a regular sleep schedule
- Manage your stress (exercise, meditation, etc., just not food)
- Exercise regularly
Controlling Hunger through Food Choices
- Eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Avoid processed foods
- Eliminate foods high in sugar
- Limit Alcohol
- Eat more protein
- Eat more fiber
- Have healthy carbohydrates
- Limit saturated fat
Setting Up Your Meals to Eat Less
- Eat your food from a smaller plate or bowl and with a smaller utensil
- Use smaller serving utensils
- Once you portion your food, put the rest away
- No eating in front of the TV or while you are doing something else
- Have a relatively consistent set of meals and foods you eat (especially when it comes to snack foods)
- Have a regular eating schedule (anything from intermittent fasting to smaller meals more often, just be consistent)
- Eat slower
- Eat until you are satisfied (not until you are full, and especially not until you feel stuffed)
This list isn’t all inclusive. You may have other approaches that work great for you. The science of appetite and appetite regulation still has a long way to go, and hopefully we will have more answers in the years to come.
Our Bodies Prefer to Gain Fat and Keep It
This is the starting point to understanding our hunger drives and how not to be hungry all the time. We have to imagine the days of hunting and gathering and how humans lived for thousands of years.
We hunted game and gathered plants for food. That’s all we had to eat. Whenever we caught a large animal (not all the time) or the local fruit or vegetable came into season, we ate a lot. We tried to finish it all because tomorrow it would be gone.
There were no grocery stores and hunting was a physically and calorically demanding activity. We had only local fruits and vegetables and we would eat the leaves, nuts, roots, and berries available to us.
On a similar note, we recently went for a hike and came across a bush I knew was an important source of food for Native American tribes. They consumed the fruit in the fall and the leaves year round. The bitter, tough leaves. My guess is that you would have to be pretty hungry to eat that bush. And when you had enough you would stop. Why wouldn’t you after that description?
Thousands of years went by and those of us that put on fat during the times of feasting survived the famines. Our hunger drive evolved so that we would crave the sweet and fatty sensations of ripe fruit and big game. We would actually feel more hungry eating them and therefore eat more of them.
On the flip side, when we would run out of food, our body conserved energy. In general we conserve energy, and when there isn’t much food we conserve much more.
Now, we suddenly find ourselves in the age of abundance… everything goes sideways. I’ve listed some of the many ways below.
Harsh Realities: Some People Will Suffer More Hunger Than Others
This one just sucks and there really isn’t a way to make this sound good. Some people do feel more hunger than others. Some people receive less satisfaction from their meals than others. Anyone that falls into these groups tends to carry a higher body weight and will have a harder time figuring out how to not be hungry all the time.
This can, for the most part at least, be moderated, and for some even reversed. The reality is if you feel like you are hungrier than your leaner friends in spite of your higher weight, chances are that may be true.
I don’t go over this information to depress anyone. I want to let people know that yes, this happens. No, you are not weak or crazy. And yes, some of you will have to work harder than others. And as you know, life is not fair. The good news is that you can reverse, combat, or accommodate many of these. But you need to recognize them and find your way through in order to find out how not to be hungry all the time.
Possible Reason #1 – Fat Based Hormone Resistance
There are a couple ways this works. One is that the brain depends on certain hormones and proteins to cue the hunger/full responses. One of those messages comes from your fat cells. When you start losing fat, your cells alert your brain that it better eat or it will burn through your stored energy, and you will die (as far as cavemen were concerned).
Normally when you start putting on fat, your cells tell your brain you are in a fed state. Your brain has constant feedback of how much fat tissue you have. The problem is that your brain can only really respond to it up to a certain level. After that you don’t get much appetite suppression from it. But, if that same level starts to fall, hunger will kick in.
Now that sucks. For those that need it most, the fat dependent off switch may not work; only the on switch that triggers appetite. This can be reversed, but only by permanently lowering the amount of fat tissue. It’s a short-term pain for long-term gain. Once the levels are consistently lower, the switch works right again, but until that point, that person will experience more hunger.
Possible Reason #2 – Insulin Resistance
This basically works the same way. Your brain may only respond to insulin up to a certain level. For anyone with high circulating insulin levels, you don’t get the drop/spike in insulin required to tell the brain it’s gotten the food it needs.
This means there are higher levels of insulin all the time. Once insulin reaches certain levels, it may not cross over to tell the brain to shut down the hunger cues. Or the receptor may not work as well with lower insulin levels.
Either way, you could reverse this by fixing the baseline insulin resistance. Until that is achieved though, anyone in this group may have more hunger to battle through.
Possible Reason #3 – Altered Reward Pathway
This piece can even precede either of the reasons above. We get a pleasure response from food. This is why we sometimes just want to eat junk at the end of a bad day. We get a surge of pleasurable hormone that helps to relax us.
Unfortunately, scientists have found that some people have to consume a lot more to achieve the same pleasurable response. So even though you and I may be eating the same food for the same reasons, my body may take more of it to get the same full and calming response that you get. This can easily lead to gaining weight or more compulsive eating patterns.
There isn’t an easy way around this. Your brain is your brain and you can’t change that. You can find other, healthier ways to stimulate that pathway (exercise is awesome!!), and you can stop eating the foods that artificially flood it (no more processed carbs, high sugar foods, or high fructose corn syrup). With time, these changes may help you get a better response, but none are a super quick fix. They require mind-numbing, stomach-rumbling discipline.
Tricked into Eating More & Feeling Hungry All the Time
It’s important to note that many, many of the processed foods we eat are geared to make us want them, crave them, and eat more of them. While you may be trying to figure out how not to be hungry all the time, they are working to make you want to eat more. Which reminds me… I need to do a separate post on my love/hate relationship with the food industry.
Many of these processed foods and foods containing high fructose corn syrup (this is another passionate topic for me) can override your fullness cues and provide create a sudden surge in the pleasure centers of your brain.
It doesn’t matter if you just ate or are completely stuffed. These foods can bypass all of that and send a message to your brain saying, “I am wonderful, eat more!!”. Remember that bush the local Native American tribes consumed? It had no such power. None. If they were hungry, eating it would be pleasurable. But when they were full, there quickly was no happy response to consuming more.
It’s why when you are starving you can get pleasure from raw broccoli, but after a big meal they are not only easier to pass up but also a lot less pleasurable. You can witness this in effect by responding to your child’s request for food before bed with, “You can have a carrot. Hungry people eat carrots.” I can almost promise you that a carrot will not be eaten.
Your Gut Also Tells Your Brain When You’ve Had Enough
In addition to your fat cells, your insulin, and your pleasure sensors, your gut sends signals to your brain when you are satisfied. There are a couple things we can use to our advantage here.
Protein has the most power over these signals, so high protein meals go far in kicking this response into gear. So does fiber. Fiber steadies the blood sugar response and takes up more space in your intestines making you feel fuller longer too.
Also, slow down, waaaay down. This process takes about 20 minutes. So, the slower we eat the more chance we give it to kick in. Also, as a general rule, wait 20 minutes before taking seconds, you may not need them after all.
Eating and Your Brain
It really helps you feel fuller if your brain recognizes you are eating. This means the TV goes off, screens go dark, and you pay attention to your food and people at your dinner table. Otherwise you may not even remember what you ate!
With all that our brain does, it kinda sucks at regulating portions. If we eat chips directly from the bag we will eat a ton more than if we put a serving in a bowl. If we use a larger plate, we will eat a lot more than eating from a small plate and we will not feel any more satisfied. In reality, our brain simply does not like empty plates or the appearance of deprivation.
On that note, regularly depriving ourselves, or yo-yo dieting, makes us crave everything we can’t have. Some people don’t feel very deprived on a diet (these are the ones that seem to say “I’m going to do it” then they do, that simple). Others find the cravings scream louder than their goals. If dieting is just plain painful, you may like an intuitive eating approach. That way all foods are ok. Only your approach to when to start or stop eating and how meals are set up changes.
Also, when we have a lot of options, we want to try them all. We also end up eating a lot more! This means we need to skip buffets, plan our meals, and limit the appetizers, snack foods, and side dishes to something reasonable. One starch, one veggie, 1 protein. That is a balanced meal. Bonus – carbs are covered! No need to eat bread + pasta.
How Will You Control Your Hunger?
What do you find the most realistic for you? Or what part do you really think you should work on? I’ve known for a while that I need to sleep more, so that tops my list. Fortunately, every one of us is different. What do you prefer? Also, do you have any other tips that work for you? Add them in the comments below. They may help someone else!