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Many people try dieting from time to time for aesthetic purposes or to avoid the obesity related health issues. All diets revolve around the same principle: reduce the amount of energy consumed with food either directly by counting calories or indirectly by limiting the food choices or the time interval when the meals can be eaten. You have probably heard weight loss tips such as: replace sweet/fatty/starchy/processed/fast food with fruits/berries/grains/veggies/yogurts/cottage cheese or stop eating after 6 pm. Why do so many rules of thumb exist when the easiest and the most reliable approach to weight loss is calorie counting? The answer is HUNGER. Some individuals have a strong will and can accept appetite related discomfort to keep eating candies while losing weight. However, for most of us, hunger is a huge distractor, the feeling that makes us irritable and depressed, that makes most of us quit before the desired results are obtained.

For the past 4 years, I have been experimenting with different diets (link, link, link, link) to find comfortable ways to control my weight. I have also tried to figure out how to lose body fat with as few dietary restrictions as possible while hunger is under control. The recommendations listed below are the essence of what I have learned from scientific literature and have observed from personal experience. I also explain why the recommendations work without diving into too many physiological and psychological details.

Satiety can be thought of as a button you have to hold with the food you consume until it is digested. So, the main advice for hunger control is to:

  1. EAT. Your body will make you feel miserable in the long run if you cut more than 15-20% of your maintenance calories. You don’t need to read any further if the appetite does not become an issue for you while maintaining at least 10% of the calorie deficit for at least a couple of months. However, if hunger becomes more and more annoying with each week of dieting, one easy approach to trick your body would be to...
  2. INCREASE food VOLUME WITHOUT INCREASING the CALORIE content. Our body sends different kinds of satiety signals to our brain. One of them reacts to how stretched the stomach walls are: more volume = more satiety. This is where green veggies come in handy. They have almost no calories but take up a lot of space. This is also where the disadvantage of processed foods for hunger control becomes obvious: pastries, cakes, and candies have a high energy density (lots of calories in a small volume). Processed foods have additional issues besides their low volume-to-calorie ratio. They also get digested pretty quickly, meaning that the small volume that presses the hunger button doesn’t hold it for a long time. Thus, yet another trick is to stay full for longer is to...
  3. CHOOSE foods that take LONGER to DIGEST. Protein and fiber-rich foods take the longest amount of time to be processed by your body. Fish, lean cuts of meat, yogurt, and cottage cheese will keep your stomach working without overloading you with calories. Whole grains are another slow-digesting option. Adding variety to your meal plan is also beneficial since your body has to adjust digestive enzymes’ levels from what it used to, thus, slowing down the digestion.

Those are the 3 general rules, the theory. However, there are other tips and tricks that can be used for diet tuning:

  1. Use the fullness index for food choice guidance. This index reflects the tradeoff between calorie load and satiety. You get more satiety per calorie eaten from foods with a higher index value. Beef and pearled barley keep my hunger low for the longest period of time.
  2. Don’t eat if you are not hungry. Having food is essential while having breakfast/lunch/dinner is not. Skipping breakfast feels natural for me. However, I have issues falling asleep if no food is consumed after 6 pm.
  3. Stop eating when you start feeling full. You can save what is remained until you feel hungry again.
  4. Chew your food thoroughly. Satiety comes about 20 minutes into a meal, so less calories can be consumed before you start feeling full if you chew well.
  5. Keep food out of eyesight. Looking at food can trigger psychological hunger, make you crave while physiological satiety is still there. The less food you see, the less likely you are to get hungry. Out of sight out of mind.
  6. Remove calorie dense food (ice cream, candies, chocolates, cakes, chips, etc.) from your home while dieting. If you don’t feel like driving to a nearby store to buy one serving of the treat you like, then the hunger is not physiological (not essential).
  7. Get enough sleep. One study shows that people tend to overeat if they don’t get enough sleep. I remember eating like crazy on overnight flights, or when I had to wake up earlier than I was used to. 7-8 hours of sleep are essential for hunger control.
  8. Try grapefruits. One study showed that a group of individuals who ate half of a grapefruit before a meal lost significantly more weight than the placebo group did. However, another recent paper shows no statistical significance in similar experimental settings. So, it works for some, but it might not work for everyone.
  9. Exercise. Walking, running, biking, resistance training (working out), and other activities can help blunt appetite during an hour or two of performing those activities.
  10. Try supplements. 5-htp taken with a meal increases satiety from food intake keeping you out of hunger for longer. I haven’t tried it yet, but the literature supporting the effect is significant. Forskolin works as an appetite suppressant for me even though I feel the exercise related side effects. Caffeine and other stimulants usually referred to as “fat burners”, neither burn fat nor reduce hunger. Fish oil is a reference drug for the purpose of reducing triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream and has a lot of health benefits but doesn’t help with hunger either.

Unlike the 3 general rules, the tips and tricks may or may not work for you, but each of them deserves a shot if you decide to cut your calories for any reason. I would appreciate it if you could share your tricks or ask any nutrition related questions either in comments or through private messages. I enjoy discussing this topic and encourage any type of feedback.