Keto is THE anti-hunger diet. Eating lots of satiating fat, protein, and fibrous but low-carb veggies means that your stomach should feel full 24/7. This is a big contrast to most diets where hunger is often a constant companion.
Non-keto diets rely solely on calorie restriction for weight loss. You eat less, and that creates a calorie deficit. Eating less forces your body to use stored body fat for fuel, and that usually means more hunger.
You don’t need to cut your calories so much on a low-carb diet, but some people are still hungry on keto.
With keto, you eat 20-30 grams of carbs per day, and that puts your body into a state called ketosis. When you cut your carb intake to this level, your body has to use more fat for fuel and, as a result, you lose weight faster. You still need to eat a little less, but you won’t need to starve yourself. Good news, right?!
Unfortunately, some people are still hungry on keto. If that’s you, there is no need to worry; we are here to help.
What is hunger?
The dictionary definition of hunger is discomfort caused by a lack of food. Skip a few meals, and you’ll soon know what hunger feels like. Hunger is the result of several different mechanisms that signal to your brain your body needs (or wants) food. The main hunger mechanisms are:
Low levels of blood glucose – before ketosis, your brain preferentially uses glucose for fuel. It gets that glucose from your blood, and your blood glucose is dependent on your liver glycogen and the carbs you eat. If your blood glucose levels fall, as they do during the transitional phase of keto, you will feel hungry. However, once you enter ketosis, your brain will have an abundant supply of ketones, and this issue ceases to be a problem.
Empty stomach – your stomach is a muscular bag surrounded by a network of stretch receptors. As you eat and your stomach expands, those receptors send messages to your brain to tell you that it’s full. As food digests and leaves your stomach for absorption and elimination, your stomach relaxes and shrinks again. This triggers hunger.
Hormone levels – there are two main hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced by your fat cells. As you lose weight and burn fat, leptin levels start to fall. This can trigger hunger. Ghrelin is known as a satiety hormone. It is mainly produced in your stomach. Increased ghrelin production stimulates your appetite.
Hunger can also be caused by your mental or emotional state. In a lot of cases, hunger is not a physiological need for food, but a psychological need instead. Because of this, if you start to feel your appetite run wild, you need to stop and ask yourself an important question: Are you REALLY hungry?
Are you really hungry?
Hunger and appetite are complex subjects. Even scientists can’t agree on what makes some people hungrier than others. The keto diet is usually very good for controlling hunger. In fact, a lot of keto dieters report that they never feel hungry in ketosis. However, keto hunger is a real problem for some people.
However, before you surrender to the demands of your stomach, you should stop for a moment and ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” The answer may surprise you.
Hunger can be triggered by a range of situations. In some instances, the cause is nutritional hunger. This means you genuinely need some food. In other cases, hunger is a symptom of something other than eating too few calories or nutrients.
Triggers for hunger that are not related to nutrition include:
Thirst – hunger and thirst are often confused. Drink some water, and you may find your hunger disappears. This is especially true if you usually slake your thirst with sugary soda. You crave sugar but, really, it’s water that your body needs.
Cravings – hunger and cravings are two different things, but they are often confused. Cravings tend to be emotional whereas hunger is more physical. You can crave carbs and sugar but be hungry for meat or vegetables. Cravings are often triggered by withdrawal, i.e., cutting carbs during the initial stage of the keto diet.
Emotions – eating is comforting. If you feel sad, lonely, angry, or anxious, food can make you feel better. Many people eat for comfort, but that doesn’t mean you are hungry.
Priming – if you feel hungry after seeing an advert for food, you have been primed. This is not “real” hunger. Instead, it’s a response to an external stimulus.
Habit – do you usually eat your meals at set times? Is 11 a.m. Coffee and cookie time? If so, your hunger is probably habitual rather than the result of a nutritional need.
Boredom – nothing good on TV? Eat something to pass the time! Many people eat when they are bored. That’s why, because you are busy, you may not feel hungry all day but then feel hungry at night when you stop and relax.
Bacterial – the flora and good bacteria in your gut can influence your hunger and appetite. Good bacteria are often negatively affected by an unhealthy diet. The good news is that consuming probiotics can repopulate your good bacteria.
Because hunger can be triggered by so many factors, it’s crucial to identify the reason you feel hungry. In many instances, just waiting for 10-15 minutes will help clarify the situation. Drink some water, relax, and wait and see what happens.
Take notice of your emotional state too. If once that time has elapsed, you still feel hungry, you may need to eat something. But, if your hunger levels have dropped, it’s a safe bet that you weren’t nutritionally hungry, and eating would have been a mistake.
Another way to address hunger to ask yourself a different question: Am I hungry enough to eat raw broccoli. If you are nutritionally hungry, a big cup of raw broccoli will be very tempting. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and sea salt – it’s delicious!
But, if you want a candy bar or sandwich instead, you aren’t nutritionally hungry. The cause of your hunger is something like boredom or habit instead. If you are hungry enough to eat some broccoli, you should go ahead and eat. But, if you don’t want the broccoli, your hunger is probably all in your mind. Of course, if you hate broccoli, this won’t work so feel free to substitute your preferred low-carb veggie such as asparagus spears, baby spinach, or carrot sticks.
Tips To Beat Keto Hunger And Cravings
Even if you have established that you aren’t nutritionally hungry, hunger can still feel very real. You might be able to tough it out, using your willpower to resist the gnawing sensation in your stomach, but it can sometimes be so powerful that you are tempted to break your diet and eat. That’s not too big a problem if you eat keto diet-friendly foods, but if you eat carbs, you’ll be out of ketosis and won’t burn fat or lose weight.
Here are TEN tips to beat hunger and cravings on the keto diet.
1. Eat more frequently
From a caloric point of view, it doesn’t matter if you eat one big meal per day or four smaller meals. However, to beat hunger, more frequent meals are often the best. Providing your body with a steady supply of food means you should experience less hunger and more stable energy levels.
2. Fiber up!
Fiber contains no carbs or calories, but it’s filling. Fibrous foods like non-starchy vegetables stay in your stomach for longer and cause greater stomach distension. Both of these characteristics mean that fibrous foods are filling and can help ward off hunger.
3. Stay busy
One of the best ways to avoid hunger is to stay busy. Distracting your mind means you won’t be able to think about your stomach. Do anything that will occupy your mind – and your hands so you can’t reach for food! Mow the lawn, go for a walk, make a phone call, write an email, or play a video game. Do anything that will take your mind off food.
4. Avoid hunger triggers
Hunger can be triggered by lots of different things. Walking past a bakery and smelling bread, drinking alcohol, or even specific people may be associated with eating. If you notice your hunger is always worse in certain situations, avoid those situations like the hunger triggering plague they are!
5. Eat mindfully
It takes about 15-30 minutes for your stomach stretch receptors to tell your brain you are full. That means your hunger window can remains open for longer than it should, allowing you time to overeat. Eat more slowly and mindfully so that the “full message” has time to reach your brain. That way, your hunger will be satisfied sooner, and you are less likely to consume more food than you need.
6. Don’t starve yourself
Going on a diet invariably means eating less, but that doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself. It’s great you are dedicated and determined to lose weight, but overzealous food restriction will invariably lead to increased hunger. Eat less, but don’t eat so little that you feel constantly hungry. If you are so hungry you break your diet, you will have defeated the entire purpose of eating less.
7. Cut down on stress
Stress is the leading cause of non-nutritional hunger. Eating makes you feel good, and many people turn to food when they are stressed. Modern life is often very stressful, and that means comfort eating can be a constant problem.
Stress also encourages fat storage making it a double whammy for derailing your weight loss efforts. Be aware of how stress affects your appetite and take steps to avoid it wherever you can. Look for non-food ways to alleviate stress, such as taking a walk, talking to a trusted friend, or drinking chamomile tea.
8. Get more sleep
Your body needs two things for energy – food and sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, it’s only logical that your body will seek an alternative source of energy; food. If you are hungry all the time, you may be sleep deprived. Make sure you get at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night to avoid hunger. As an added benefit, you can’t eat while you are sleeping!
9. Adapt your diet for exercise
If you are an ardent exerciser, you may experience more hunger. This is especially true if you are trying to get by on fewer calories. Very strict diets and intense workouts are not compatible. If you are training hard, you may need to eat more food, so you have the energy you need for your workouts. Eating a little more should help prevent hunger.
10. Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
Cutting carbs can make you miss foods like candy bars, soda, and desserts. Luckily, there are lots of sweet-tasting keto friendly foods you can eat that contain carb-free artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Unfortunately, these substances can stimulate hunger and trigger cravings. You may experience less hunger if you quit these foods altogether rather than trying to replace them with “fake” alternatives.
In many cases, hunger is all in your mind. That’s especially true if you follow the keto diet correctly. Fat, protein and fibrous vegetables are inherently filling. If you do keto right, you should not experience much hunger. In fact, many keto dieters are amazed that they experience no hunger when they make the switch to low-carb eating.
That being said, hunger can still happen with keto, and it can be hard to overcome. We are hardwired to satiate hunger and hunger is often seen as something bad that should be avoided.
The truth is that hunger is actually a good thing. It means your body has run out of food and is making the switch to burning fat for fuel. The next time you feel hungry, don’t panic or worry, and don’t instantly grab something to eat. Instead, embrace your hunger as the positive sign it is. Your diet is working!