Hungry: Learn to Manage Your Hunger
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

Learning to manage hunger is a very important key to staying on a weight loss plan long enough to lose the body fat you want. I have read many diet surveys from people who said the reason they didn’t stay on their old weight loss plan was because they felt hungry too often, and it was too difficult to keep up their diets. Hunger is a natural by-product of limiting your food intake, and it’s very important to learn the signs of true hunger - psychological versus physical and to control your responses to those feelings.

Nearly everyone eats for reasons other than just being hungry.
Eating & Hunger - Diet Right
Some people have learned to eat “by the clock”, and eat on a schedule whether they are hungry or not. Others eat in response to mood - boredom, anger, anxiety, depression, even happiness. Still others eat to avoid doing something else, to fill a need (safety, love, acceptance), or just to be social. These triggers are types of psychological hunger, and they can be very powerful cues to eat, and to overeat. What are the reasons you eat besides hunger? What can you do instead? This is a whole area of behavior management that each person must work on to develop new habits, and will be addressed as we go along. For now, I would like to address real, physical hunger and what to do about it.

Let’s assume that you’ve identified your own psychological vs. physical hunger. When you are trying to lose weight (or trying to maintain your weight), your calorie (and therefore your food) intake will be less than when you were in a weight gain mode. The caloric deficit can make you hungry throughout the day, but with some planning, it will be easier to manage. Besides weight loss or weight maintenance, your diet plan is designed for optimum long term health, so the eating plan is low in fat and saturated fat. With regard to hunger, fat in food provides a feeling of fullness, or “satiety”, so when you eat a lower fat diet, the food gets digested faster, and you can get hungry more quickly than if you were eating a lot of fatty foods. If you were just trying to maintain your weight, I would advise you to eat more often, and to eat larger quantities of the lower fat foods. However, for weight loss, you still need to control your total food intake, even the low fat foods, so here are some important tips to avoid getting too hungry: 

Be sure to have some foods that contain protein or fat at every meal or major snack. Examples of low fat protein foods are low fat cottage cheese, low fat cheese, low fat yogurt, skim milk, fish, poultry without the skin, and eggs (avoid too many yolks). Include a little fat throughout the day as well. As an example, instead of just air-popped popcorn or fat-free chips, have a few nuts or seeds as a snack. These foods will help you stay satisfied longer, and instead of eating more fat-free foods to fill up, you will feel satisfied with less.

Managing hunger is another great reason to eat more vegetables. Eating Vegetables Can Help
Vegetables provide fiber and have a high water content, so they are filling without a lot of calories. Include vegetables as a snack and eat them throughout the day, not just at lunch or dinner.

Something that is nice about a lower fat diet is that it allows for a pretty fair quantity of food. Low fat foods are bulky, not dense, so the quantity of food can be very satisfying, and this can really help with hunger.

If you are going to be in a situation that usually causes you to overeat, then eat before you get to that point. Here’s an example. For many people, the time right after work is a difficult time to control overeating, especially if you have to cook dinner and you’re hungry when you get home! Instead, eat a piece of fruit or have some lowfat yogurt on the way home. ItHunger - Be Satisfied On Your Diet takes about fifteen minutes to raise blood sugar, so wait and see if that satisfies you before eating any more. Chances are this “preventive” eating will help you control your need to eat more than you intended to. This same practice can also work before you go out to dinner, or to a party where there is a lot of temptation to eat too much.

Often, people eat when they are too hungry and continue to eat well beyond a comfortable feeling of fullness. This pattern repeated over time leads to weight gain. Instead, learn to know your comfort zone for hunger. Look at the scale below, called “The Hunger-Satiety Rating Scale”. It is from a book called  Why Weight? A Guide to Ending Compulsive Eating (author: G. Roth, New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1989).

Hunger Satiety Scale
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10 = Stuffed to the point of feeling sick
             9 = Very uncomfortably full, need to loosen your belt
             8 = Uncomfortably full, feel stuffed
             7 = Very full, feel as if you have overeaten
             6 = Comfortably full, satisfied
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Neutral  5 = Comfortable, neither hungry nor full
             4 = Beginning signals of hunger
             3 = Hungry, ready to eat
             2 = Very hungry, unable to concentrate
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Hungry  1 = Starving, dizzy, irritable

Where do your habits fit into this scale?
Clearly, if you wait to eat until you are “starving”, irritable, or unable to concentrate, you will be likely to eat beyond a comfortable feeling of fullness just to get rid of those bad physical feelings. The goal is to start eating when you have early signals of hunger (level 4) and to stop eating when you are comfortably full (level 6).

If you recognize that you often wait too long to eat, or you often eat beyond a comfortable, satisfied level, you might gain some benefit by keeping a written record of your own feelings of hunger, using this scale. Take a look at what and how much you eat when you are too hungry versus the times you eat when hunger is just beginning. See if you can move your eating schedule to accommodate your true need for food.

Remember, don’t wait too long to eat

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