How toManage hunger


Hunger is one of our most basic human instincts.

It drives you to seek the energy your body requires to breathe, move, and perform hundreds of other important functions. Sometimes, your stomach might rumble or you may feel an “empty” sensation that alerts you that it’s time to eat.

Hunger can be a good thing

However, when you’re trying to lose weight, feeling hungry often can be a huge obstacle.

People can generally start feeling hungry anywhere from a couple of hours to more than 12 hours after eating.

Factors that affect how hungry you become after eating — and how soon it happens — include:

  • How many calories you ate
  • The macronutrient mix (ratio of protein, carbs, and fat) of your meal
  • Your body’s individual metabolic response

Hunger vs. appetite

What’s the difference between hunger and appetite?

1 – Hunger hormones
An empty stomach triggers the release of “hunger” hormones that signal your body to rev up its production of stomach acid so you can digest food.

Appetite is a desire to eat, which often occurs due to seeing or smelling appealing foods. Imagine walking by a bakery and getting a whiff of freshly baked bread or noticing a mouthwatering entree through a restaurant window. Even if you weren’t hungry before, you may very well feel like eating!

By contrast, hunger tells your body that it needs food now, from any source that can provide it with energy.

2 – Fullness hormones
After eating, levels of “fullness” hormones increase and you feel satisfied.

An empty stomach triggers the release of “hunger hormones.” After you eat, hunger hormone levels go down, “fullness hormones” are released, and you feel full and satisfied.

In the past, hunger prompted our hunter-gatherer ancestors to seek food for fuel and nourishment. Since we need to eat to survive, we also seem to have evolved to find it pleasurable, which drives appetite.  So, hunger and appetite are indeed linked.

Reasons to eat

Eating for reasons that may seem like hunger, but aren’t, include:

  • Eating due to stress, sadness, or loneliness: When you feel stressed or sad, you may reach for food to relieve these feelings. This is sometimes called “comfort eating” or “emotional eating.” If you’re an emotional eater, the drive to consume food can be so strong that it may feel like true hunger.
  • Eating out of boredom: Feeling bored might prompt you to head to the refrigerator or pantry for inspiration, even though you’re not actually hungry.
  • Eating out of habit: You may get used to eating certain foods at specific times without considering whether you’re truly hungry.
  • Eating in response to external cues: The appearance of food may lead you to mistake a desire to eat for hunger — like smelling the bread in the bakery or seeing the delicious-looking restaurant dish, as described earlier.

The 4 R’s

When you feel like eating but aren’t sure why, turn your attention to the four R’sreplenish, rehydrate, redirect, and relax.

  • Replenish: Make sure you’re getting enough protein, fiber, and fat at meals. On a low carb diet, you should never leave the table feeling hungry. So take more food if you need to.
  • Rehydrate: If you ate a nourishing meal but still feel you need something, try drinking a glass of water or another low carb beverage.
  • Redirect: If you want to eat shortly after a satisfying meal, try redirecting your focus. Work on getting tasks done, call a friend, or do something else that distracts you from thinking about food.
  • Relax: Some days you may truly feel hungrier and want to eat a bit more than usual — and that’s okay! Just feed your body nourishing food and stop eating as soon as you feel full.

Although it may be challenging, you can curb hunger and cravings.

In addition to eating a nutritious low-carb diet, learning to distinguish true hunger from wanting to eat for other reasons is key. Try to avoid foods that stimulate your appetite or trigger cravings.

For more in-depth information, go to our website, where you can read the complete detailed guide and watch the video about how to harness hunger while losing weight.

  1. In one study, when people deliberately ate 250 calories less at a meal, they were hungrier within a few hours, which didn’t happen after they burned the same number of calories during exercise:

    Appetite 2014: Appetite and gut peptide responses to exercise and calorie restriction. The effect of modest energy deficits [randomized crossover trial; moderate evidence]

  2. For instance, eating a high protein, low carb breakfast of eggs has been shown to help overweight people feel full longer and eat less at their next meal compared to eating a high carb, low protein bagel breakfast:

    Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2005: Short-term effect of eggs on satiety in overweight and obese subjects [randomized crossover trial; moderate evidence]

  3. Studies have shown that responses to hunger and fullness can vary a lot from person to person:

    Current Obesity Reports 2019: Issues in measuring and interpreting human appetite (satiety/satiation) and its contribution to obesity [review article; ungraded]

  4. United European Gastroenterology Journal  2021: The gastrointestinal tract in hunger and satiety signalling [overview article; ungraded]

  5. In one study of female students, those identified as “high emotional eaters” consumed much more food after being exposed to conditions designed to make them feel sad vs. conditions designed to make them feel happy:

    Appetite 2013: Emotional eating and food intake after sadness and joy [non-controlled study; weak evidence]

  6. Frontiers in Psychology 2015: Eaten up by boredom: consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self [series of non-controlled studies; weak evidence]

  7. Appetite 2011: The importance of habits in eating behaviour. An overview and recommendations for future research [overview article; ungraded]

  8. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 2017: External cues challenging the internal appetite control system—Overview and practical implications [overview article; ungraded]