In theory, we all know how dieting works. In practice, however, it often fails because we do not keep up with the diet, because we get too hungry and eventually just give in.
However, this does not have to happen if we design the diet in such a way that hunger is minimized. In fact, there are some things worth paying attention to when dieting.
When to start dieting
It is very important that you only start a diet if you have previously eaten at least 3 months on maintenance calories or in a surplus. That way, you have the best physical and mental conditions for a SUCCESSFUL diet without strong hunger.
Every time you diet, it is an exhausting act for your body. To protect you from starvation, the body makes you less energetic (so you move less), more hungry (so you eat more), and - especially during long diets and/or diets with high deficits - it lowers the basal metabolic rate.
These negative diet adjustments don't go away within a week of following a diet - even if you're eating in a huge surplus.
If you start the next diet too early, you will take these negative diet adjustments with you into the next diet. These are not good conditions, because you will probably be hungry more often right at the beginning of the new diet, because you have not yet recovered properly from the last diet.
Start a diet only if you have previously eaten in maintenance or in a surplus for at least 3 months.
Tips for dealing with hunger
At the beginning of the article it was mentioned that today we will discuss strategies with which we can "minimize" hunger. We cannot completely eliminate hunger during a diet - even though many weight loss programs suggest that we can.
The only exception is if you have a LOT of body fat. In this case, you may actually not feel hungry during the first few weeks of the diet. Your body will not worry about your survival through the diet, because you have enough fat reserves.
If you then also go for high-vulume, low-calorie foods that you haven't eaten before, then it may even be very possible that you won't feel hungry at all for the beginning stages of the diet.
But apart from this exception, you will certainly feel hungry during the diet. The lower you take your body fat levels and the higher the calorie deficit is, the more hungry you will be. This is normal, and you will not get rid of hunger completely. However, reducing the amount of hunger is of course possible.
If you do not have a lot of body fat, you will be hungry during the diet. The lower you go with your body fat and the higher the calorie deficit is, the more hungry you will be.
While we are on the subject of calorie deficits: Most of you certainly know this, but somehow very few people actually pay attention to it: Don't set the deficit too high - especially if you are already very low in body fat.
Aim for a maximum weight loss rate per week of approximately your body fat percentage divided by 15 for men and divided by 25 for women.
So if you as a man have a body fat percentage of 15%, you divide that by 15 and come to 1. This means that you should lose a maximum of 1% of your weight per week. If you as a woman have a body fat percentage of 25%, you divide this by 25, and the number again comes to 1, so you should also lose at most 1% of your weight per week.
To determine your approximate body fat percentage, simply compare a picture of your body with Google images of people who have had a Dexa scan. This is the easiest and cheapest way to determine your body fat percentage, and it is accurate enough in most cases.
Maximum weight loss rate per week for men: Body fat percentage/15,
Maximum weight loss rate per week for women: Body fat percentage/25
As for the distribution of macronutrients: don't make it too complicated. At least 0.35g fat per pound of body weight, at least 0.9g protein per pound of body weight, and the rest of the calories from carbohydrates. Here you have to experiment with which exact distribution works best for you.
Just eat less carbohydrates (and more fat) for 2 weeks and more carbohydrates (and less fat) for 2 weeks - of course with the same amount of calories - and see with which distribution you are less hungry.
You can do the same with protein. Eat a lot of protein for 2 weeks and then eat only "enough" protein for 2 weeks - with identical amounts of calories in each case, of course. There is no "little" protein, because we do not want to lose muscle mass and it is clearly proven that too little protein leads to more hunger.
Eat at least 0.35g of fat and at least 0.9g of protein per lb of body weight, and eat the remaining calories in carbohydrates.
High volume and low calories
The next point is a basic requirement for a diet with as little hunger as possible: Eat mainly foods with a lot of volume and few calories (e.g. low-calorie vegetables such as broccoli, spinach or cucumbers) and drink a lot of water. Absolutely boring basics, but without them almost every diet goes to shit.
Hunger, after all, depends not only on the calories and macronutrients supplied, but also on the volume of food, which stretches the stomach.
The more the stomach is stretched, the fuller you are - up to a point: You cannot completely compensate for a strong feeling of hunger due to a high calorie deficit - especially with a very low body fat - with a lot of volume. Your body is not that stupid. It will realize that you are just fooling it.
In addition, TOO much food volume leads to abdominal pain and digestive problems. So do not overdo it with the volume.
How do you notice when you have overdone it? Well... you will experience the aforementioned abdominal pain and/or digestive problems. This is quite easy to determine. If you don't have those, then the added volume is fine.
A few more no-brainer tips before things get a little more specific: Don't drink liquid calories, take your time when eating, and eat mindfully (so, concentrate on the food). We won't go into these tips in detail now, because most of you are probably aware of them already.
Correctly interpreting hunger
What is very important is that you learn what hunger is and when it is satisfied. As banal as this may sound, many people don't even know this anymore.
Hunger can manifest itself in the form of a growling stomach, difficulty concentrating, headaches, irritability, or a greater focus on food. All of these symptoms - except for the growling stomach - can also be triggered by a lack of sleep.
That's why it's super important that you always (really always) get enough sleep, since otherwise you won't know if you're having trouble focusing, for example, simply because of sleep deprivation or because your body really needs something to eat.
So before you make the diagnosis "I'm hungry now," ask yourself whether some of the symptoms mentioned above are even present.
Maybe you're just telling yourself that you're hungry, because hunger (often) leads to eating, and eating usually leads to a break from work. But could it just be that you want to eat to give yourself a break from work?
In that situation, it's better to take a break from work, but fill it with another fun activity. It doesn't have to be anything super exciting. If you like to play mobile games to relax, then you can do just that.
However, before you take a break from work, first ask yourself if you really need this break or if you're just thinking about it because it's a super hard task that you've been putting off for a while.
When it's REALLY time for a break from work and when it's just that you're dreading a particular task, only you can know for sure. So the next time you think you're hungry, ask yourself if it's really hunger that you're feeling.
Eat mostly foods with high volume and low calories, and drink lots of water!
If you are really hungry and then you decide to eat something, it would of course also be advantageous to know when your hunger is satisfied. This usually happens earlier than you might be accustomed to.
Yes, this has a lot to do with habit. If you get used to eating your fill every time, you get used to eating more than you were actually hungry for. You need a certain amount of time to get out of that habit. But it's worth it!
Motivate yourself to "learn" by setting positive goals for yourself. Not something like "I can't eat as much now as I did before...," but rather " I'll stop overdoing it at every meal to lose weight and feel full of energy after eating!" (Alluding to the well-known carb coma.)
If you have that down - and I guarantee you that it can be learned - then you will experience much less hunger during the diet, and you will also have the best chance to not gain weight, or to not gain weight too quickly after the diet.
Get in the habit of not eating your fill every time you eat to lose weight and avoid the carb coma.
One flavor profile per meal
And now comes a very important and very simple tip that most of you probably don't know yet: Limit yourself to ONE flavor profile per meal.
Why? Because of the so-called "perception-specific satiety," or the "buffet effect." Studies have often found that people eat much more at a buffet with many different tasting dishes than when there is less choice of different tasting dishes.
In a study by Rolls and van Dujvenvoorde (1984), for example, it was shown that a given individual consumes about 60% more calories at a buffet with a large selection of dishes than if the buffet has a much more limited selection of dishes. That is an enormous amount!
So please do not try to cover all possible tastes in every meal. If you eat rice with meat and vegetables in one meal, then you don't have to eat low-fat cottage cheese with fruit as a dessert.
Because when you finish eating the rice plate, you'll naturally be hungry for the low-fat cottage cheese with fruit, because those are completely different flavor profiles.
Imagine if you could eat 400 calories of a rice dish and 400 calories of a low-fat cottage cheese dish one right after the other. After the first 400 calories, you are in no way satiated, because you know that you are about to eat the other dish, which tastes completely different.
Compare that to an 800 calorie plate with ONLY the rice dish or ONLY the cheese dish on it. If you've eaten 400 calories of that, you're already much more satiated because you know there's another 400 calories coming that taste exactly like what you just ate. That is much less exciting.
So limit yourself to one flavor profile per meal. Then there is no buffet effect and you feel satiated sooner.
Limit yourself to one flavor profile per meal!
Postpone the hunger
Next tip: "Push" hunger to days of the week or times of day when you can best tolerate hunger. This is not a tip to reduce hunger, but rather to reduce the likelihood that you will eat too much WHEN hunger strikes.
For example: If you absolutely want to eat a good meal together with your friends or your partner in the evening and it would be unbearable for you to eat less or nothing at all during this meal, then eat less or nothing at all in the morning - when your willpower is at its highest (keyword: intermittent fasting).
Another example: If you are less hungry on workout days than on rest days, don't force yourself to eat less on those rest days.
Eat more on rest days and less on training days. Always remember that we are not playing an all-or-nothing game. A strategy is not always bad if it seems suboptimal in theory or at first glance.
Even though, according to nutritional science, it is not optimal to eat more on rest days than on training days, achieving this theoretical ideal will do you no good at all if you don't stick to the diet because of it.
In this case, you aim for a one percent better result, but in return you lower the probability that you will achieve your desired result at all by an absurdly high percentage - let's say by 60%, if you really are much more hungry on rest day. You would never accept such a bad risk-to-reward ratio in other areas of life.
"Push" hunger to the days of the week or times of day when it will be most tolerable for you.
Let's move on to the next tip: move around, but don't overdo this either.
It seems that hunger decreases when compared to calorie consumption the more you exercise, as long as you don't exercise too much.
Here's an example with made up numbers: If you are bedridden and only expend 1200 calories a day, you will only be hungry enough to eat 1200 calories a day. You maintain your weight. If you now start to move a little more in everyday life, then your calorie expenditure will increase by 800 calories.
Your hunger also increases, but only by 500 calories. Therefore, you are in a deficit of 300 calories. If you now move even more, your calorie expenditure increases by another 800 calories and your hunger by 700 calories. So you lose a little more weight.
However, if you are already moving around a lot and exercising regularly, then at some point, even more exercise will only increase your hunger to the same extent that you burn more calories through more exercise.
You won't get much out of it, except that you'll be able to eat more. Sure, that's nice too, but you'll have to endure just as much hunger as you would if you moved around less.
At what level of exercise do you reach the point where more exercise is no longer worth it? Unfortunately, we don't know exactly yet, but some studies suggest that this requires a TON of exercise - i.e. more than 20k steps per day alongside daily workouts.
So for the vast majority of us, it's: move more, eat a little more, and be less hungry overall.
Move more to be less hungry in comparison with your calorie consumption.
Now let's move on to specific foods. One thing that helps a lot of people is caffeine. Caffeine - especially in the form of coffee - can help to curb the appetite for many people.
Personal comment from Benjamin: For me, for example, the effect is enormous. If I drink a coffee, then I have at least 1.5 hours afterwards with no more hunger, even if I was hungry before drinking the coffee.
This is due on the one hand to the appetite-suppressing effect of caffeine and on the other hand probably also to the bitter substances contained in coffee, which also have an appetite-suppressing effect. If coffee has the same effect on you, don't drink it directly with a meal, but rather use it at times of day when you are most hungry but don't want to eat.
For example, I do it so that I have breakfast at 9 o'clock. At 10:30 I would usually actually get hungry again. But because I drink my coffee at 10:30, I can easily bridge the time until lunch at 1:00 PM WITHOUT hunger. This also works for many people with decaf coffee, but of course the effect is not quite as strong.
Decaf coffee is an especially effective weapon later in the day, when the caffeine in real coffee might interfere with your sleep. You can also try diet beverages. These also have an appetite-suppressing effect for many people.
Drink coffee, decaf coffee, or diet beverages between meals.
Low calorie snacks
Are there any other really great foods? Maybe any "superfoods"? Superfoods - in the sense of foods that magically burn fat - don't exist. But if we define superfoods as foods that taste very good, satiate well, and yet have few calories, then there are quite a few!
What these are is, of course, individual. Nevertheless, the following foods are superfoods for many. Namely, cherry tomatoes and strawberries!
Cherry tomatoes are much sweeter and therefore tastier for most people than regular tomatoes, and have the same number of calories. So why eat regular tomatoes?
Strawberries are similar: they have SUPER few calories (an apple, for example, has 80% more calories per 100g), they taste absolutely great, and you can make lots of great dishes with them.
And what would a blog article be without mentioning the most awesome superfood in the world: Light Ketchup! Normal ketchup has 80 calories. Light ketchup has only 40 - half - and tastes just as good!
In addition, chewing gum or low-calorie candies such as Fishermen's Friends can make the time between meals a little more "interesting."
Eat cherry tomatoes and strawberries, chew gum, and use low-calorie candy and light ketchup.
Personal note from Benjamin: There are no studies on this, but I have the impression that you gradually get less hungry if you stay at a certain body fat level for a longer time.
For example, I used to be INSANELY hungry with my body fat at 10-12%. Now - when I've been maintaining this body fat level for quite some time - I'm MUCH less hungry than I used to be. I find it much easier to maintain the weight.
One reason is certainly that I now follow almost all the tips in this article. However, I believe that this is not the only reason. I think the body actually gets used to lower body fat as well.
At some point it will simply become normal for the body, and your brain will no longer give you a strong hunger signal. It knows that it would be pointless anyway, because you still wouldn't eat more. Of course, this is just a speculative assumption on my part, and if your body fat is TOO low (e.g. if you are competition-lean), then this will certainly not go well.
To minimize hunger during your diet, you should have eaten on maintenance or in a surplus for at least 3 months before starting the diet. Aim for a weight loss rate per week of approximately your body fat percentage divided by 15 as a man and divided by 25 as a woman.
Make sure you eat at least 0.9g of protein per pound of body weight and 0.35g of fat per pound of body weight. The remaining calories should be distributed so that you have as little hunger as possible. Experiment here to find the perfect macronutrient distribution for you.
The basic requirement is that you eat foods with a lot of volume and few calories and drink plenty of water. Avoid liquid calories, take your time eating, and get enough sleep. Also, learn how hunger is expressed in the first place and pay attention to when you are no longer hungry.
Move a lot to feel less hungry compared to your calorie expenditure. Drink coffee, decaf coffee, or diet beverages between meals, try cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and diet ketchup, chew gum, and enjoy other calorie-free sweets.
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