Has hunger struck again? You’re not alone. Many people complain of battling constant cravings and hunger pangs, which can be due to a host of reasons including, hormonal changes and PMS, lack of sleep, stress or emotional trauma, boredom, you name it.
And, despite our best intentions, that overwhelming sensation when hunger strikes is often enough to destroy even the strongest willpower.
“Civilisation, as the saying goes, is only two meals away from anarchy,” says author Dr Michael Mosley. “Feeling hungry is one of the most powerful stressors that exists, so it’s no wonder so many people don’t make it past the first few weeks on a diet.”
Finding the root cause of hunger can go a long way towards controlling it. But there’s a catch. “Feeling hungry comes from different stimuli,” says Dr Norton, “which means there are multiple things you have to tackle to quell that feeling.”
The good news? It seems experts agree that satiety (feeling satisfied by food rather than feeling hunger) is key to long-term slimming success, which is why it is at the heart of so many weight-loss plans.
ALSO SEE: 5 ways to curb sugar cravings
Why hunger strikes
That growling, gut-wrenching feeling of hunger happens when your stomach is empty, causing ghrelin, the ‘hunger hormone’ produced in your stomach, to stimulate the appetite centre in the brain. However, levels of ghrelin can be influenced by other factors, such as lack of sleep or your emotional state. In fact, many women admit to feeling hungry when they are actually bored.
“Feeling hungry may just be heightened emotions or stress setting off cravings for sugary foods,” says Dr Norton. Unsure? Keeping a food and mood diary for a week, recording everything you eat and drink, together with how you feel, can help you see if certain emotions or actions trigger it. Once you’ve identified any links, you can plan strategies that don’t involve eating for dealing with these emotions, such as exercise or rewarding yourself with something that isn’t food.
Eating out of habit
Another reason you could think you’re hungry when you’re not is down to routine.
“Your brain may be saying you’re hungry because it’s lunchtime – whether or not you’re truly hungry,” says Dr Norton. “But our bodies weren’t designed to be fed constantly – our cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t have instant access to food like we do, which means so many of us fail to tune into our true hunger signals.”
So how can you tell if you’re truly hungry, when your body needs food for fuel? “If you’re really hungry,” says Dr Norton, “you will be satisfied by a healthy meal, like veg, fish and brown rice. If not, you’ll just want sugary, fatty foods that trigger feel-good receptors in the brain, and these urges will occur even after you’ve eaten a hearty meal.”
The easiest way to control hunger is to eat the right foods, the right way. “Our environment pushes us towards obesity; science can pull us back,” says Dr Mosley. “Knowing how to feel fuller for longer is essential to successful weight loss.” Here’s what helps…
“When you’re not getting enough water, you’ll be sluggish, lethargic, and most likely mistake thirst for hunger,” explains Dr Mosley. “Drinking plenty of water can help you feel full.”
ALSO SEE: How to reach your daily water intake
Don’t always fight the fat
“Far from causing weight gain, ‘good’ fats rich in mono- and polyunsaturates curb the appetite, slow the rate the stomach empties, and so delay the point at which it signals for more food,” says Dr Mosley. “Choose olive oil, nuts, and oily fish.”
Fill up on fibre
“Fibre induces the release of a chemical called PYY, which reduces appetite,” says Dr Mosley. “Pile your plate with fresh vegetables (especially greens), unprocessed grains and legumes.”
Eat more protein and eat it first
“Moderately increasing protein (like lean meat) in your diet can help you feel more satisfied,” says Dr Mosley. “Eating protein at breakfast raises levels of the amino acid tyrosine, which will help stave off sugar cravings.”
Ditch junk food
“Processed foods give you a rapid sugar high, followed by a slump, making you reach for more,” says Dr Norton. Pack a lunch for times when you’re out and about.
Did you know?
Foods that take longer to digest keep you feeling full for longer “You could consume the juice six oranges in seconds, whereas eating six oranges would take longer and trigger signals to help you feel full,” says Dr Lavin.
Change your mindset
“Don’t be scared of feeling hungry,” says Dr Norton. “Enjoy the feeling from time to time – it makes the next meal taste even better.”