Intermittent fasting is when you abstain from food for a designated period, and then have eating windows where you’ll eat the healthy meals you’re used to. Anytime you depart from your regular eating schedule, you’ll have to deal with bouts of hunger. And, if you’re used to eating three meals daily, you’ll feel hungry regardless of the length of your fast.
So, here’s how to handle hunger, or avoid it, while you’re intermittent fasting:
Hunger and Intermittent Fasting
Your appetite serves a purpose. It keeps you alive by telling you when you need to eat, but not all hunger signals are beneficial. Sometimes, you’ll feel hungry 1 or 2 hours after a large meal, and the sight of your favorite food can make your stomach rumble, even when you’re not hungry. So, why would you feel hungry if you’re in no danger of starving?
Your body’s hunger signals haven’t evolved to respond to the constant availability of food that modern life provides. And your brain hasn’t grown accustomed to differentiating between real hunger and hunger that’s a response to available food.
To deal with hunger, you’ll want to learn new ways of responding to your hunger signals by changing what you eat, or changing how you react to hunger pains.
What Causes Hunger?
Your body and brain are so good at encouraging you to seek fuel you can easily take in more energy than you need. Your “food-gut-brain-axis” controls your hunger. It’s a complicated system involving your hormones, physiology, and your psychological response to food.
Your hunger begins in your gut. When your stomach, large, and small intestine empty after your last meal, the hunger hormone motilin is released. When motilin enters your system, it triggers the hormone ghrelin, which can release when you anticipate mealtime, whether you’re full or not. The expectation of food makes you hungry, rather than the time of day. No doubt you’ve felt hungry when you’ve seen delicious food, or when you thought your meal was too small or unsatisfactory.
This drive to eat despite an energy deficit is called “hedonic hunger,” and it isn’t well understood by science. But it’s likely related to the reward system in your brain, which interferes with your perception of metabolic satiety. You experience hunger on a physiological level and psychological level. Thankfully, there are effective ways to curb both.
Food Hacks to Help You Reduce Hunger while Fasting
The best way to deal with hunger while you’re intermittent fasting is to prevent it. If you eat beneficial foods and drink plenty of water, you’ll feel less hungry while you fast.
Eat More Protein
If you aren’t getting enough protein in your daily meals, you may feel more hungry. Protein is satiating, and adding it to your meals can help you feel full. Protein is also packed with hormones that tell your body and brain you’ve eaten enough.
Eat More Fat
Eating fat doesn’t cause weight gain. Previous studies have more to do with a food’s palatability and sweetness than its fat content. Fat is gratifying and has been proven to reduce caloric intake at subsequent meals.
Eat Fewer Simple Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates, or foods that rank high on the glycemic index, will make you feel full, but only for a while. White flour or foods high in sugar, raise your blood glucose. In response, insulin gets released to remove sugar from your blood, which causes you to crash. You’ll then be hypoglycemic, which cues the release of hunger hormones.
Also, refined carbohydrates lack the fiber and nutrients that make you feel full. Replace refined starches with whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, and you’ll stay full longer.
Drink More Water
It’s challenging for your body and brain to tell the difference between hunger and thirst. When you feel hungry, you may be thirsty. If you drink more water during the day, you avoid dehydration, which you may confuse with hunger.
Approximately 20 to 30% of your water comes from the food you eat. During intermittent fasting, it’s especially important to replace the water you’d typically get from your meal.
Drink More Coffee
Coffee can suppress your appetite, but be sure to stay hydrated. A study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found decaffeinated coffee can reduce your hunger the most, followed by regular coffee, then caffeine diluted in water. So it’s not the caffeine, but an ingredient in coffee that helps you feel full. While fasting, drink black coffee to avoid breaking your fast.
Alcohol is similar to refined carbohydrates in that alcohol is loaded with sugars that will make you feel hungry when you’re not. When you drink alcohol before a meal, it can lead to overeating. And whenever you drink alcohol, you’re consuming excess, empty calories. Drink too much alcohol, and it will impact your ability to make positive, healthy choices.
Life Hacks to Curb Your Hunger While You Fast
Reducing your hunger while you fast begins in your kitchen, but there are several ways you can prevent hunger that has little to do with food.
Regardless of what else you do for your health, you’ll see fewer results if you don’t sleep enough. Make sleep a priority, and you’ll feel better about your intermittent fasting plan. You’ll also be far less hungry.
Insufficient sleep decreases activity in the region of your brain that’s in charge of making responsible food choices. Sleep deprivation disrupts the regular activity of ghrelin, and another hormone called leptin. Leptin tells you when you’re full and satiated, and correlates with your circadian rhythms.
Stay busy. You’ll be less bored, and hunger your mind won’t be occupied with how hungry you are. So, structure your fasting hours around activities when you can. Do some housework instead of eating breakfast, or schedule a work meeting when you’d typically eat lunch. You’ll forget about your hunger, and you’ll be active instead of reaching for a snack.
Like boredom, depression, stress, and other emotions can trigger your hunger sensations. Stress can lead to addictive eating patterns by altering the way your brain perceives food as a reward.
Mindfulness is an excellent way to combat emotional eating. Each time you hear yourself say, “I’m hungry,” ask yourself if you’re bored, stressed, anxious, sad, or tired instead.
Use mindfulness to deal with your hunger directly. Hunger is a sensation that will eventually subside, and it’s subjective and not experienced the same way by everyone. Evidence has shown elevated ghrelin levels don’t always correlate with hunger.
Stay Away from Food
Research shows easy access to food, and even pictures of food can cause you to feel hungry. Create a no-food environment to reduce your hunger when you’re intermittent fasting, and keep your work area food free. When you’re home, limit food to the kitchen and create areas of your home where there’s no eating allowed.
Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Hunger
Ultimately, if you stick to your intermittent fasting plan, you’ll experience less hunger. The science is mixed on whether eating more often reduces appetite. Some findings correlate increased meals with increased frequency of hunger, not less.
A recent study found participants who restricted their eating to 8 am to 2 pm daily experienced much lower levels of ghrelin, less desire to eat, greater feelings of fullness, and fewer episodes of hunger.
Intermittent fasting is a fantastic way to control your hunger. If you maintain your new fasting schedule for an extended period, the hunger signals from your body and mind will adjust to the new normal.