21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #16: Increase your hunger tolerance.
Food psychology coach Laura Lloyd talks about how not to feel hungry when you’re trying to lose weight.
And no, the answer is not to ‘fill up on water’ or ‘pile your plate with veggies’.
The key, says Laura Lloyd, is in your thoughts and mindfully lived experience of hunger.
Let me start with my own lived experience:
I was a binge eater as a teen, so avoiding ‘restriction’ mentality is important to me.
So for years, I didn’t dare to explore what hunger felt like again.
I hadn’t started binge eating because of any particular diet, I had just tried to make a rule for myself that I’d always skip lunch at school, and that instantly made me want to eat!
But there was one time, later in life – when I was trying to lose the weight of having had babies, actually – when I tried the 5:2 diet my friend had raved about.
I never recommend diets, including intermittent fasting, detox regimes, or any of the other ways to try and make weight loss happen faster than your ability to assimilate new lifestyle habits and thought patterns can keep up with, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
But before I tell you about my little 5:2 foray and what I learned, I want to just say really clearly: my position on dieting isn’t a moral one, it’s practical.
I don’t hate diets or think they are evil.
A summary of my view on diets is this:
- The diet industry’s scare tactics and fat-shaming approach isn’t helpful, but that’s the diet market, not the actual diets.
- The thinking patterns diets foster aren’t helpful: “How can I endure eating less than normal, so that I can lose weight quickly, and then everything will be peachy.”
- They aren’t sustainable, so aren’t a lifelong solution.
- They have a terrible track record for weight regain, as this meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies shows.
- They don’t solve the problems (aka your crappy thinking) that made most of us feel compelled to eat in the first place.
- BUT I’d defend anyone’s right to discuss weight loss, experiment with different food combinations, and try to find out what works for them.
Most diets have one single gem of wisdom within them.
For me, intermittent fasting wasn’t sustainable – I used it as an excuse to overeat on non-fasting days, so it gave me an echo of the binge eating behaviours that had plagued my teens (all diets pretty much do that to me in fact).
So, I’m not recommending it – and actually if you follow my method, you won’t actually need to do any dieting at all to lose your weight and maintain your weight loss. I’m serious. Because I’ll teach you to manage your mind around food.
But the one gem of learning I did get from intermittent fasting was this: I could handle my hunger way more than I thought I could.
Before I let myself get hungry over an expanse of hours, I had thought I was someone who ‘had to’ eat when she got hungry, or she became really moody.
So I feared getting hungry, and often ate ‘in case’ I got hungry later – which is, when you think about it, bonkers.
You will always get hungry. You can’t ‘prevent’ hunger.
In fact, do you want to? We want to get hungry, right?
Food tastes good, and it’s so much easier to notice when you’re satisfied, when you let yourself get properly hungry.
And if you want to lose weight, having the courage to wait until you get a clear, pleasant hunger signal from your body that it needs a refuel is a key skill.
In the subsequent years, I have learnt to experiment with hunger and explore it in more mindful detail.
That’s something I do with clients too – but just to be clear, it’s a very gentle exploration.
I’d NEVER ask a client to fast! What we do is, experiments where you wait a smidgin longer than usual, and check in with your body’s sensations.
Here’s what I’ve learned about hunger from self-experimentation – not necessarily fasting.
- You can’t ‘prevent’ hunger. In fact, you WANT to get hungry later.
- We worry we won’t have access to food when we need it. In practice, this is extremely rare. We can almost always have something later. Especially if we put it in our bag right now!
- Also, it feels really SURE when you actually get hungry. It’s a really good signal on your body’s compass – you know where you are then.
- You can’t really know when you’re satisfied unless you start from properly hungry.
- It’s very difficult to know when to stop eating, if you have no hunger to satisfy. You’re just satisfying your craving for tastes and flavours, which is hard to do unless you actually bore or disgust yourself with them.
- The truth is, hunger sensations wax and wane.
- You can drink a glass of water, wait 15 minutes. Not hours! Just a little. The water is not to fill you up, it’s to make sure you weren’t really thirsty, when you thought you were hungry.
- If it’s an emotional craving, it usually passes, or you find a way to meet the need.
- Either way, if you’re still hungry, you can always choose to eat.
- Waiting too long isn’t cool. I swear at things, hit my shins on the dishwasher, and talk to my husband in a weird snippy way.
- When I snap at the kids, burn the food, try to multitask, drop things, fumble with my keys… I know I’ve waiting a tad too long.
If you learn to wait a few minutes, that just gives your body a chance to burn a few more calories.
That’ll add up over time.
You don’t need to starve yourself to eat a little less. A tiny little less. Willingly. What’s pleasant, what’s manageable, what you feel motivated to do.
Some people worry that playing with hunger will set in motion ‘restriction mentality’ and ‘deprivation’ and send the body into ‘starvation mode’.
I used to think that too and was really scared of triggering my past binge eating habits if I experimented.
The truth is, restriction is a bunch of thoughts about martyrdom, self-sacrifice, deprivation, and having to abide by rules from on high (rather than making choices for yourself). It’s not an eating behaviour.
I mean, imagine two people.
One person can wait 15 minutes to see if they are truly hungry with a restriction mentality.
They might tell themselves “I’m not allowed to eat, I don’t deserve to eat, if I eat I won’t lose weight”, and that’s restrictive thinking that focuses on lack.
Another person can make themselves a cup of tea and be curious about how they feel in a few minutes’ time.
15 minutes will not spangle your metabolism.
Day upon day of hardly having any food or telling yourself might give you a biological backlash where you feel compelled to restock your body afterwards.
Deprivation is a thought that requires intervention. It’s up to you to turn it around.
Do you agree? I’d like to hear your comments below.