If you’ve ever been told that you shouldn’t be hungry while dieting for fat loss, then you’ve been lied to. It sounds nice to be reassured that hunger is not a necessary part of dieting. However, if you really think about it, dieting is simply controlled starvation. You are intentionally forcing your body to eat away it’s precious fat stores, which it saves for a rainy day (a.k.a. a day that you are starving). I know that sounds terrible, but that’s only because of the plentiful lifestyles we lead. We are not used to being hungry because of how readily available food has become.
Let me clarify my earlier statements just a bit: if you’re constantly hungry while dieting, then you’re probably dieting to an unnecessary extreme. Conversely, if you never experience hunger while dieting, then you’re likely not ever creating a significant enough calorie deficit to make a noticeable change to the amount of fat you’re storing. Our body’s hunger signals are a finely-tuned mechanism that help to alert us when we start tapping into our body’s energy reserves. My suggestion is that once you start experiencing hunger signals, sit on that sensation for a couple of hours before immediately satiating yourself. I think this is one of the most underutilized dieting tools in existence. Why not use your built-in mechanism for detection of energy balance rather than using complicated formulas - formulas that are merely estimating what your body is already good at measuring?
I know this sounds crazy, extreme, or unhealthy, but being hungry isn’t dangerous. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that some amount of fasting is actually beneficial for health. Again, most people in our society just used to never experiencing hunger, so when we do, it can be very uncomfortable. Let me clarify once again: when I describe experiencing hunger, I am talking about true physiological hunger, not the psychological taste hunger that all of us experience when we have cravings for something. You know, the sensation where your stomach is growling and and feels as though it’s eating itself. That is what you want to experience for a couple of hours before eating.
There are some advantages to using this tool to help you properly moderate calorie intake. Unless you’re planning your consumption in pre-proportioned meals, it’s hard to count calories accurately. Eating out or heaping leftovers into a tupperware that you haven’t measured leads to eating an unknown amount of food. Healthy choices or not, you can gain or lose fat eating any type of food out there if the calorie balance is adjusted accordingly. With that in mind, having a tool that helps to adjust when you have an unusually small or large meal is very helpful. If you have a massive dinner out with friends, you may not be hungry first thing when you wake up the next morning. You don’t need to force breakfast down just because “it’s the most important meal of the day.” Basically, using hunger as a guide is inherently very adaptable to things that occur in our lives every day.
Hunger isn’t just a tool that can be used between meals either. Using satiety and hunger signals in the middle of eating a meal can be very helpful as well. Try to avoid eating until you feel stuffed, bloated, and gross. Slow down your eating a bit so that satiety signals can kick in, and you have time to experience the sensation of being sufficiently fed without overdoing it. Thankfully, that between meal hunger I was talking about earlier will help regulate things properly if you overdo it. If you go until you’re stuffed (Let’s be real; it’s going to happen sometimes), then you will likely not experience hunger for a longer period of time than if you ate to mere satisfaction instead.
I know this can sound a little hokey compared to all the detailed diets you can find out there. However, I truly think that this system can be very effective if you’re honest with yourself and develop the connection to your body’s built-in signaling mechanisms. The more tools that help us live the lifestyle we want while achieving our goals the better. Now go forth, and be hungry with a purpose!