There’s one universal struggle everyone who diets to lose weight will experience at one point or another: HUNGER.
Hunger is your body’s natural response to a lowered energy intake.
Unfortunately, it’s also the downfall of so many guys who want to lose weight and get lean.
Extreme hunger when dieting can interrupt your focus and sleep and leave you feeling irritable and anxious for your next meal.
Snickers chocolate bar has run a very successful marketing campaign capitalizing on this very idea: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Managing hunger is key to making impactful fat loss progress.
It is a skill – and like any skill, it can be learned and improved upon.
I’ve compiled some of my top strategies for hunger management.
Try one or all of them to dampen how hungry you feel when dieting, and let me know in the comments below how they work for you.
1. USE A SMART LOSS RATE
Nothing else on this list matters if you ignore this.
When dieting, you should aim to lose a percentage of your total body weight each week – this is known as your “loss rate.”
The easiest way to calculate and track your loss rate (and progress) is with my go-to tracking app: Macrofactor (code MARRA for an extended free trial).
Now, you might be inclined to doubt my endorsement – given the affiliate code – but I’ve been using this app for over a year now to successfully lose, gain, and maintain – because it works better than anything else on the market. I’ll be writing more about how I’ve been using Macrofactor to maintain my weight while travelling, so stay tuned.
An effective loss rate usually falls between 0.5%-1.0% of your body weight, and it determines how many calories you should eat each day to hit that weekly loss rate.
Aiming to lose anything above 1% of your total body weight per week is likely overkill, not to mention much more challenging to stick to.
No matter how well you set up your day or how smart your choices are, if you set your calorie goals too low to stick to, you will feel it.
If you’re pretty lean already, that 1% rate might even be pushing it.
1% weekly still amounts to a staggering amount of fat loss over a 12-week period if you stay dialled in.
I get that you want to be lean YESTERDAY – but you should’ve done yourself a favour and started 90 days ago.
2. EAT YOUR FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Why is it that the most obvious tip (the one you knew was coming) is always the most ignored?
I have the answer to that.
When guys hear “eat more vegetables, ” they add a slice of tomato and three baby carrots to their plate.
That’s like brushing your teeth once a week and wondering why your breath still smells terrible.
Go wild on the fruit and veggies. Go full-on farm animal! Piling 2 or 3 fist-sized portions of veggies onto your plate at each meal will get you incredibly far, so don’t be shy.
This is the ultimate hunger lever, and it goes as far as you want it to – and your stomach can allow.
I’d recommend slowly increasing the total amount of fibre in your diet, maybe adding 1-2 fists of veggies per day, just to be sure you don’t run into any GI discomfort.
Don’t like the idea of preparing a mountain full of fresh fruit and vegetables each week? Then buy frozen.
It is a fast, delicious, and likely more cost-effective way to satiate your hunger. During my last fat-loss diet earlier this year, I nearly ate my local grocery store out of frozen green beans! Find what works, and stick to it.
Speaking of sticking to it…
3. STICK TO AN EATING SCHEDULE
Going 6+ hours without eating will make any human being hungry. Adding a fat-loss diet to that equation is a recipe for some ravenous (and even hangry) behaviour.
A simple solution is to try being more measured with your meal times.
Not only will you be able to anticipate upcoming meals (which makes hunger psychologically more tolerable), but you’ll ALSO be able to move food from meal to meal to help soften the blow when you’re most hungry.
So, if you currently eat three meals a day – your eating schedule might look like this:
- 6 am Breakfast
- 12 pm Lunch
- 6 pm Dinner
Evenly spaced – no problem. Just split one-third of your daily calories at each meal, and you’re set!
But let’s say you are constantly starving in the middle of the day (after your workouts) and rarely want to eat in the evenings.
Take 10-25% of your dinner meal, and shift it into lunchtime.
- 6 am Breakfast – 600 cals
- 12 pm Lunch – 750 cals
- 6 pm Dinner – 450 cals
Likewise, if you are hungry first thing in the morning but not so much in the afternoon, you can rearrange your daily calories and front-load each day.
4. LIMIT SUPER TASTY FOOD
If you don’t know about this guy already – go check out Dr. Mike Israetel, because he’s forgotten more about exercise science than I’ll ever know.
He was the first to introduce me to what is called The Food Palatability Reward Hypothesis (originally by Stephan J. Guyenet)
It states that very delicious foods only make you want more of them, instead of scratching some itch.
This valuable insight has held true in damn near every diet situation I’ve ever been in…
…I would give myself hope that it will be “totally worth it” to save up some calories to have an Oreo Mcflurry…
But a mere 30 seconds after eating it, I find myself with two big problems:
- I’m hungrier than normal – because I missed out on filling meals for a high-calorie treat.
- “Diet food” is far less appealing – because I tasted paradise for a hot minute, and now all I want is more.
If you’re like me (and many others), who struggle with incorporating these extra tasty foods, then try limiting your diet to slightly plainer/more bland foods.
Salt and pepper on some chicken and green beans.
Instead of a sweet, smoky, fatty, saucy rack of ribs with buttery cornbread.
I’m sorry – is that too erotic of a food porn image for you?
This might be the biggest challenge in your dieting journey – but learning to manage your diet (and cravings) is a fundamental skill for getting in shape.
5. WATER BEFORE MEALS
Your stomach is an organ.
It senses fullness physically through mechanoreceptors. When it is stretched to capacity, it will send chemical signals (also known as hormones) to your brain. Those signals tell your brain that it’s time to stop eating – you feel full. This is why you might have heard the advice to “eat slower.” This is because your stomach might not have been able to send that “STOP EATING” signal until you’ve devoured that second helping of food and find yourself unbuttoning your jeans at the dinner table.
You can take advantage of this by fully hydrating yourself BEFORE you eat. This can even be done with a diet soda too, if that is something you like to incorporate.
When you are deep into your diet and feeling full seems to matter even more than it did before, this is a strong play.
6. USE CAFFEINE SPARINGLY
On a fat-loss diet, the goal is to feed your body less total energy (in the form of food/calories) than it requires for its daily operations.
That energy still has to come from somewhere, so your body taps into your fat cells to access it.
After a while, this energy “debt” starts to take a toll. As you get deeper into a diet, you might feel drained, brain foggy, or just generally less peppy and productive.
It won’t just boost your energy levels, either:
- You’ll move more – in turn burning more calories.
- Your body will burn more calories at rest AND
- You’ll feel slightly less hungry.
That’s pretty awesome for a drug that’s dirt cheap, widely available, and easy to consume.
No wonder it’s so popular, huh?
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in caffeine land. Acutely consuming too much caffeine can lead to diarrhea, headaches, irritability, anxiety, and general feelings of fuck-this-I-want-this-to-be-over.
You can avoid this by gradually introducing it.
Depending on your current consumption, that could look like having an extra half cup of coffee and scaling up as needed. For the folks who want to be even more precise with their intake, caffeine is also available in a capsule format.
It’s essential to remember that caffeine can interfere with your sleep – even if you don’t think it does for YOU, it will.
Be sure to consume caffeine at LEAST 8 hours before bedtime, ideally up to 10 hours before.
This is especially important because reduced sleep duration and quality can actually make you hungrier and groggier!
7. LIMIT DISTRACTIONS
Have you ever sat down in front of the television with your dinner and taken a bite or two, only for it to seemingly have disappeared?
Alternatively, have you ever been rushing around, trying to eat a meal in the middle of a busy afternoon?
Both of these scenarios are connected by one thing: distraction.
If you want to experience more fullness and satisfaction from your meals, you need to turn off the tv, put down your phone, and sit down at a table.
Eliminate distractions when eating, and savour each of those bites.
The satisfaction of enjoying your food makes your diet easier to stick to, and that means you’ll lose more weight.
BONUS: TAKE A BREAK
If the hunger is too much for you to handle, just take a break for a few weeks or months.
You’ll know this is the right decision when you’ve tried all of the above strategies, and the diet fatigue is still kicking your ass.
Just bump your food back up to your maintenance level of calories, and get back to weight loss when you’re ready.
That doesn’t mean going overboard, you don’t want to gain back all of the weight you’ve lost.
You might put on a pound or two during maintenance, but continuing to track your food and body weight can mitigate this.
Taking a diet break will cause your hunger levels to drop. After 3-6 weeks you can return to your diet fresh and ready to push hard again.
Excessive hunger won’t make you any leaner and more than likely reduces your odds of getting as thin as you’d like, but a bit of hunger is worth coming to terms with.
At the end of the day, you’ll likely experience it, no matter how well you set yourself up for it.
So once you’ve done your best with the tips above – the rest is up to you.
Apply a bit of grit, be an adult, and do something hard in order to get what you want.
You got this.