We all know that hunger is a bi-product of dieting for fat loss. In a prolonged energy deficit with the aim of losing fat you should expect that at some stage a level of hunger will develop and is something that you will have to consistently deal with on the path to a leaner physique. Let’s be honest, dieting would be a breeze for everyone if hunger wasn’t an issue. In terms of addressing hunger, eating to satiety is the obvious answer which of course is not always conducive to fat loss. You could wrap an internal band around your gut to help, but I don’t recommend it (unless medically it’s been advised)
Feeling hungry and craving food is a large part of why so many fat loss diets fail. Our bodies don’t like being in a net energy deficit and therefore it will do a number of things physiologically to get you out of that deficit. Combine this with psychological factors that arise from that same deficit and you find yourself in a situation where every bone in your body is telling you to eat until you are full and sometimes even further!
So how can we mitigate the effects of hunger? Well aside from cognitive restraint and some determination to reach your goal, we can look into way to increase satiation from the resources we have available.
“Satiety is the feeling of fullness after a meal, while satiation is the end of the desire to eat”
Satiety is somewhat of a ‘diet hack’. Essentially there are groups of foods that if you eat more often than not will help make you less hungry in a fat loss diet? We see quite regularly the advocating for eating any foods you want that fit your macros or more specifically any of the yummy tasty foods you want to fit your macros. Whilst the underlying concept is not wrong as you’re still aiming for a calorie deficit, executing the required behaviour proves hard in most cases. Why? If the goal is to fit as much so called ‘junk’ food into our prescribed macros, the thing that will catch up to the majority of us is hunger. It’s all well and good to enjoy eating palatable foods when dieting, but be prepared to be hungry. The reason being is that these foods are what you’d categorise as calorie dense. This means for the volume of food you ingest, the calorie content is relatively high and whilst you may enjoy your meal you’ll likely be left hungry. Further, highly palatable foods are designed to make you want to go back for more as they generally have high sugar and fat contents. If you instead temporarily sacrifice the need to eat these tasty palatable foods for more filling foods, your dieting experience might require much less cognitive restraint to see you through to the end.
Halt et al. produced a satiety index of common foods.
38 different foods were tested with 240 calories of each food being provided. They found that boiled potatoes had an satiety index of 323% compared to white bread being the reference food having an SI of 100%. “Serving size of the test food was the strongest predictor of SI.”
There is a vast array of food outside of the 38 foods listed which will also provide high ratings on the satiety index, some are lean proteins such as steak and chicken, numerous vegetables and fruits.
Foods that are highly satiating are what we categorise as having a low calorie density. Essentially you can eat large volumes of that food for a smaller number of calories. These foods generally include 1 or more of the following.
- High protein
- High fibre
- High water content
- Generally less fat
Eating these types of foods will result in large bulky meals containing low calories. The ability to eat these volumes of food will cause gastric distention which will enable the stomach to send signals to the brain to recognise satiety. Highly palatable small meals on the other hand won’t have the same desired effect. With satiation being so low with the aforementioned meal, the desire to eat again sooner will ultimately make your dieting experience that much harder to deal with.
Practical take aways and lessons learnt
On the surface, the concept of simply adhering to a calorie target with whatever foods you like seems relatively straight forward. Anyone who has dieted for to relatively lean or long periods of time will tell you it doesn’t generally work that way. Whilst it may be doable, it would come with a cost and you have to ask yourself, is it really worth spending all that time being hungry, craving more food and fighting the good fight to remain in cognitive control of your food consumption? Or is a temporary sacrifice of stepping away from the most palatable foods in a bid to increase your satiety during a diet more worth your while. If you are the outlier that can resist temptation to eat during extreme hunger for weeks on end as long as you get your food fix then go for it. But for the majority of the population this won’t cut it I know for a fact that I would rather feel full during the length of a diet than have a burger each day. Opting for foods and structuring meals on the high end of the satiety index will help you remain fuller for longer and in turn help you to navigate the harshness of dieting.