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Turning off the hunger
July 5, 2012 3:19 PM   Subscribe

How can I turn off my hunger when I'm getting good nutrition and my stomach isn't empty?

I'm in a theatre show and very serious about looking accurate for my character. I'm on a diet of about 1200 calories a day and moderate exercise to lose about 2-3 pounds per week leading up to the show. I'm mildly overweight (5'6" slightly bottom-heavy hourglass/T&S skittle, started at a muscular and curvy, 170 pounds, ~40-31-42).

I've lost half a jeans size (no weight, though - I've gained muscle). My stomach is full of things like dark green salads. I take a multivitamin. I drink enough water. I'm getting enough fat. I'm getting enough protein. I'm limited carbs to whole grains (mostly oatmeal). But I'm still mildly to moderately hungry almost all the time. It's as if I've hit the point where my fat cells are just pumping out ghrelin and cackling maliciously. My muscles feel sore for days after my workouts, and I'm rather tired, too. Perhaps it's just my willpower.

I have a deadline in the form of the show, which starts the beginning of August. Is there anything I can do to curb this, or do I just "be present with it" or something? I still feel like I'm losing fat, but is my metabolism slowing?
posted by lemoncakeisalie to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Chew gum. Chug all the cold water you can.
posted by erst at 3:21 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you tried carb cycling? Eating higher carb on workout days after your workouts, low to no carb on rest days? Are you eating at least 1g/lbs bodyweight in protein? 1200 is fairly low for your weight, especially if you're active, so you need to try all the metabolic tricks like carb cycling and doing high protein if you want to stave off the hunger.
posted by schroedinger at 3:24 PM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find flavored (no calorie, no sweetener) seltzer water to be an excellent distraction/stomach-filler when I feel hungry but know I don't need food. Also, I've heard that feeling hungry often is a sign of being dehydrated (that people interpret as hunger), so it might be killing two birds with one stone...
posted by UniversityNomad at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Are you at the upper limit of your calorie intake? Can you snack on celery or sliced cucumbers or something else very low in calories throughout the day?

Is it boredom "snacky" hunger? Is it possible that it's psychological or out of habit?
posted by Sara C. at 3:27 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are doing any serious working out, especially with weights, than eating so few calories may be part of what is causing you to be sore, and may not be helping.

The hunger feeling will likely remain for a while (I don't know how long you've been doing this), but you will get used to it over time. The hunger feeling is there to tell your body that you aren't eating enough, which is exactly what you are doing. If you want the feeling to really go away you need to start giving it more of what it needs (which is the opposite if what you want to do it you are trying to lose weight).

So, I would consider this hunger as a reminder of what you are trying to do, and know that it will likely not go away in the short term, but you will get more used to it and it won't bother you as much as time goes on.
posted by markblasco at 3:28 PM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


How frequently are you eating? If your calories are spread throughout the day, when you get hungry you can always tell yourself, "Okay, I can eat again in just X minutes." Tolerating moderate hunger for short amounts of time is probably okay as long as it doesn't lead to you making terrible food choices when you get hungry.

Everyone's metabolism is a little different, but 1200 calories a day for a 5'6" woman doesn't leap out as "crazy low metabolism! you're starving yourself!"

Also, get as much sleep as you can. That helps. And it sounds like you're doing it already, but the more vegetables you can eat, the better. Clear broth soup can be a good choice, too.

Last thought--how long have you been doing this? I've found that the first week or two can be a real adjustment but after that I get used to the reduced caloric intake and I am not concerned by feeling hungry.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:28 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Previous related remarks by me.

Short version: Try adding hot peppers to your diet.
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drink lots of strong coffee? Smoke cigarettes? Both of these will limit your appetite.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:44 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


It sounds counterintuitive, but up your calories a little (in the form of protein and fat, not carbs.) If you were just hungry, it'd be less of a red flag, but if you're hungry and also not recovering well from your workouts, you're probably not getting enough nutrition.

Also, make sure you're sleeping enough that you don't need an alarm to wake up. Sleep is super critical for pretty much everything, including weight loss.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:48 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying Gary Taubes is right about everything, but the study he references here is pretty crazy; people who used to be overweight burn more calories naturally at rest on a high fat, low carb diet. Add fat, take out carbs, see if you're still hungry.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:50 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other thing - how long have you been on the diet? Because if you dropped your carb intake drastically in the last two weeks, then feeling like ass is totally normal and will pass.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:50 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are you eating enough vegetables? The fiber will help fill you up while not contributing very many calories.

Are you snacking? Try eating a fat/protein/carb meal six times a day (instead of the typical three - with lower overall calorie amounts than a "big" meal, of course). It can keep you from crashing later.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:53 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you get enough fiber? I used to be this way - hungry all the time, but then I started eating a lot of lentils and chick peas and stuff like that and that takes care of my constant hunger.
posted by fromageball at 3:53 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(just reread and saw you were taking a multivitamin and eating dark green salads. Skip the multivitamin and add more color to your salads)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2012


For some reason, carrot sticks fill me up pretty well (possibly because they have fiber, which fromageball above says can help). Try snacking on those.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:01 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apples. They totally kill hunger.
posted by fshgrl at 4:19 PM on July 5, 2012


A reputable study correlates weight loss with eating nuts and yogurt. Nuts in particular are "highly satiating", so even though they're calorie-rich, they're worth it. Yogurt changes your gut bacteria. You may want to trade in your oatmeal for legumes, which take longer to digest. To make them feel breakfasty, add an egg.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:22 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


How long have you been doing this? I had a massive hunger headache for a while and then it just wore off and my appetite went down.

Mind you, some people really don't like to feel hungry. I've never been very bothered by it. It's not like I'm never hungry, more that it's not that urgent a signal to me. Unless I'm hallucinating the department secretary on a platter with an apple in his mouth, I don't desperately need to eat until mealtime.
posted by tel3path at 4:37 PM on July 5, 2012


I find warm drinks kill off my hunger pangs. Try cups of tea or coffee or clear soups.
posted by deborah at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


+1 for adding a little more fat/protein to your diet to enlist your natural satiety mechanisms better. try allowing yourself a handful of nuts per day (almonds, pistachios, macademias are all healthy choices), and/or try a snack of meat jerky (House of Jerky has great flavors with no additives) in midafternoon, and you might be surprised how after a few days, you're not getting hungry anymore.

I had hit a weight plateau for about 5 years -- if I went below it, I was hungry all the time (especially for carbs), so I figured that was my ideal weight. after I started eating Paleo (no starches or legumes) and upping the meat and nuts, I dropped another 10 pounds with no hunger; I feel like I eat all the time without gaining weight. not claiming miracle diet magic, just new insights into the way fats and proteins can be much happier for some bodies than others. worth a try, since you're already experimenting.
posted by acm at 4:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you are doing any serious working out, especially with weights, than eating so few calories may be part of what is causing you to be sore, and may not be helping.

This was my thought. I do not know much about nutrition or weight loss generally but I hve also been eating 1200 cal/day more or less as part of a more moderate weight loss program. The big difference is on days when I exercise, I eat more to "make up" the calories I exercise off. Like, the diet I am on is for 1200 calories a day, it's not for 800 [which would be me doing 90 minutes of hard cycling] so when I am exerting myself I try to still maintain 1200-ish calories. You'll have to find the set point that works for you but if exercising is making you feel crappy and not better [and if you're not in the early stages of a low carb thing as restless_nomad mentions] you may want to try to bump up the calories a little more when you're working out a lot.

Also, no matter what you're eating you need to make sure you have some sort of post-workout fuel that helps your muscles bounce back. People usually suggest chocolate milk or other things. I sometimes do lowfat greek yogurt with protein powder and some maple syrup, but something that has a little sugar and a little fat and protein is a good thing to consider.

Also to answer your main question I have a lot of luck with decaf coffee and/or more vinegary things like a cup of borscht as far as feeling "fed" when I'm just having some non-hunger food pangs.
posted by jessamyn at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know why, but the supplement reservetrol completely kills my appetite. I take 500mg 2x daily and have to remind myself to eat Ymmv.
posted by chaoscutie at 6:34 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's no shortage of anecdotal nonsense out there and I firmly believe we are all very different with respect to our ideal diet but look into a ketogenic diet. First time I've ever tried to lose weight and haven't been starving. My BMR is higher than yours and I am averaging 1200-1400 cals/day without even trying. I will warn you, this diet runs counter to everything you ever thought about weight loss.
posted by karlos at 6:50 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might have some success in cutting out flour products and replacing them with sweet potatoes or rice (either white or brown, but cooked in water). Flour products are very calorie-dense and nutrition-poor.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:48 PM on July 5, 2012


Fiber makes you feel full for longer because it's tougher to digest (I think?), so things like Apples or fiber cereals will keep you feeling full longer.

When I was dieting, every night I had a bowl of popcorn without butter. This makes you feel like you've snacked, is pretty filling, and low on calories.

Consider medication or diet pills. Some of these can really help with hunger pangs, as well as give you an energy boost.

If you've lost no weight and gained all muscle, then perhaps you should modify your exercise regimen to include more running, cycling, etc.

Good luck.
posted by xammerboy at 9:14 PM on July 5, 2012


It's already been said, but drink more coffee. You body is craving quick energy (ie carbs) so give it something else - like caffeine.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:40 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Late to the game on this, but wanted to mention that you might try tracking your Omega 3-to-6 ratio. I found this essay by Susan Allport to be very interesting: http://www.susanallport.com/ (click on the "Omega 6 me" link in the upper LH corner). She ate a diet heavy in Omega 6 fats for a month and at the end found that her metabolism had slowed.

(And nuts, while satiating, are high in Omega 6s and easy to overdo--I found when I quit snacking on nuts I dropped some fat pretty easily. Although you mention you are tracking calories, so perhaps this is not an issue for you.)
posted by indognito at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Walnuts are an exception which are high in omega 3.
posted by Michele in California at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


A handful of almonds absolutely kills any appetite. These are my absolute favorite and about 10 or 12 with a big glass of water/diet soda should keep hunger at bay for a couple hours and only set you back about 80-100 calories.
posted by jabes at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, meant kills *my* appetite. I don't have first-hand knowledge of anyone else's appetite.
posted by jabes at 12:09 PM on July 6, 2012


I drink more coffee or tea to help combat this.

Brushing your teeth mid-day might help for a while. I find that when I brush normally (morning, night), it signals my brain that I'm done eating for a while. Doing this at different times during the day helps send that same signal. This doesn't last forever, but it works when you mix it up with other stuff. Also, if you do brush, then cheat, whatever you eat tastes icky.

Also, if you are tired all the time and sore, you probably aren't eating enough calories. You can up it just a bit, still lose weight and lessen the tiredness/soreness. I know you're on a deadline, but I had a personal trainer for a while who insisted I gradually decrease calories over time. She told me doing a big jump at once, kicks off the 'starvation' signal at the sudden decrease (which leads to all sorts of hunger, cravings, other stuff I'm not qualified to speculate on). Doing so gradually gives your body time to adjust and not likely to notice the deficit.
posted by getmetoSF at 12:50 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My actor friends swear by strong black coffee, yogurt, ice cold seltzer water, and popcorn.
posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great answers, all!

Two more questions:

1) Pseudoephedrine cuts my appetite. Is it safe to take Sudafed daily for the next month?

2) Does alcohol mess with metabolism? I've been having 1 oz (.75 of a shot) daily of really good, single-barrel, 100 proof whiskey so I don't lose my tolerance (I'm 21 and a lightweight, and it's under 100 calories). I eat first so I'm not snacking while buzzed. Is this okay?

Other info...

I started about three weeks ago and cut carbs but not percentage-wise. I definitely didn't ease into the calorie cut, though.

Upping calories for workout days: I forgot to mention that I've been eating about 200 calories more on days that I work out hard (and up to 1500 or 1600 calories on days I walk like 12 miles or something). I'm aiming for a 1500-calorie-per-day deficit for 3 pounds of weight loss per week. I'm not quite hitting that - more like 1100 per day. I'm hoping that changing the content of my diet will let me get that deficit I'm aiming for, but it's unclear if that's true.

Vegetables: I'm pretty much at the upper limit of how many vegetables and how much fiber I can tolerate. I have slightly wonky digestion (damn you, vagus nerve), so I tolerate less fiber and get reflux if I have too much. (Also, I've eaten 200 calories of carrots in an hour plenty of times - they're sugary for a vegetable. I tried celery last night just in case, but no, I still hate it, and it helped not at all. XD It's not about stomach emptiness or fullness but about chemical hunger.)

Fat and protein: You guys are right - I've not been getting enough. Last night I ate about 250 calories worth of fresh mozzarella and reduced fat cheddar, and I didn't feel hungry at all for the first time in days! That's barely any calories in the scheme of my day.

Caffeine: Helpful! Thanks!
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 2:03 PM on July 6, 2012


Pseudoephedrine cuts my appetite. Is it safe to take Sudafed daily for the next month?

This is going to raise your cortisol levels, which is going to tend to make you lose less weight and make your recovery harder.Caffeine tends to do the same thing. If your sleep is perfect and your life is low-stress, then they might be useful tools, but if not, then I wouldn't go there.

Does alcohol mess with metabolism?

Alcohol messes with metabolism like whoa. Keeping your tolerance is fine, I guess, but this goal directly conflicts with your weight loss goal. Figure out which one is more important to you right now.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:12 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Vegetables: I'm pretty much at the upper limit of how many vegetables and how much fiber I can tolerate.

Which is how much? Because that might be pat of the problem - if you're not hitting the 5/day and you're having digestion issues, is it doctor time? When you first start eating high fiber things start seeming "wrong" for a while, until your body gets used to it. Only asking because you didn't give a number.

I tried celery last night just in case, but no, I still hate it, and it helped not at all. XD It's not about stomach emptiness or fullness but about chemical hunger.)

The two go hand-in-hand, though. The physical expansion of your stomach causes chemicals to be released into your blood stream. But yes, what chemicals you're throwing in there also plays a role.

How/what are you eating first? The "chemical" hunger comes from glucose levels, plain and simple. I've found that eating something sweet (high glycemic index) causes me to eat less overall. For example if I go to panera and get a sandwich and pastry and start on the sandwich, I'll finish that, then the pastry. If I take a few bites of the pastry first, I only eat half the sandwich.

Your energy comes from carbs. I cannot even discuss things like the misnamed paleo diet without becoming apoplectic. If you're feeling low on energy, boost your carbs. Drink a small amount of juice or eat some yogurt (which contains a ton of sugar). Couple that with the fats and proteins and you should be good. But relying on sources other than carbs for energy can cause damage to your body.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 4:04 PM on July 6, 2012


Alcohol messes with metabolism like whoa. Keeping your tolerance is fine, I guess, but this goal directly conflicts with your weight loss goal. Figure out which one is more important to you right now.

It's not binary. That's an artificial dichotomy. Unless it's really THAT bad - are there studies that show a link?

Which is how much? Because that might be pat of the problem - if you're not hitting the 5/day and you're having digestion issues, is it doctor time? When you first start eating high fiber things start seeming "wrong" for a while, until your body gets used to it. Only asking because you didn't give a number.

About 15 grams a day. I was diagnosed with mild gastroparesis a couple years ago - nothing severely wrong, just some mild nerve damage (ideopathic but probably from a stomach virus in 2010). It's pretty common. The treatment is a low-residue diet (low-fiber, AWFUL). My digestion improved, but I was still on this white-bread, no-whole-grains diet, so my weight shot up. I slowly went back to an almost-normal diet, but I can't eat, say, 40 grams a day like some people can.

How/what are you eating first? The "chemical" hunger comes from glucose levels, plain and simple. I've found that eating something sweet (high glycemic index) causes me to eat less overall. For example if I go to panera and get a sandwich and pastry and start on the sandwich, I'll finish that, then the pastry. If I take a few bites of the pastry first, I only eat half the sandwich.

I don't really have a system as far as that, but that sounds like it wouldn't work for me and my blood sugar. High glycemic index foods make me HUNGRY. I've cut back on carbs and replaced them with fat and protein, and that really helped. I bought some really good and bitter honey (chestnut honey) today, though, which will help with sugar cravings because it's so strongly flavored.

I can't do Atkins (hard to get into ketosis and MISERABLE - I watched my dad do it by the book and yo-yo for years), and I understand that high-protein is bad unless you're in ketosis, so don't worry, I won't damage myself. The human body didn't evolve to run on grains - it was meant to run on vegetables, fat, and protein, mostly. That doesn't mean I have to cut gluten and such, just that I should be aware, I think.
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 6:29 PM on July 6, 2012


I just realized that sounded a bit snarky. Unintentional, sorry!

Thanks again, everyone, for the help! This site is quite better and quicker than anything else I've tried. :)
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 6:30 PM on July 6, 2012


Here's a decent summary of alcohol metabolism. The relevant bit:
Because your body can't store alcohol and must metabolize it right away, other metabolic processes suffer. Your body won't metabolize sugars and fats as efficiently during the metabolism of alcohol, and drinking heavily can cause your metabolism to slow.
So you're not only taking in empty carbs, but you're interfering with burning the rest of the nutrients in your system when you drink. Also, alcohol tends to screw with your gut in general, which helps nothing.

I'm far too lazy to source this to actual studies, but I will say I can't lose weight if I'm drinking regularly - even one drink a night, or a couple drinks one night a week. It really seems to screw things up for me. If you have a hard weight-loss deadline, why risk it?
posted by restless_nomad at 6:38 PM on July 6, 2012


Oh! One more question, too:

Which is better for my metabolism and blood glucose levels:

1) a non-nutritive sweetener like stevia (I've read that NNSs can cause your brain to be confused about calorie content in a way that makes you hungrier)?

2) honey/agave, which obviously contain calories?

Because your body can't store alcohol and must metabolize it right away, other metabolic processes suffer. Your body won't metabolize sugars and fats as efficiently during the metabolism of alcohol

Given my understanding that drinking is healthiest at one drink a day or not at all (occasional or sporadic drinking seems to be the worse), it looks like I should cut it out completely until August. Thank you!

Also, I realized that Splenda isn't really calorie-free. Damn those nutrition label laws! That's up to about 100 calories a day in pure sugar I was eating without knowing (and probably screwing with my glycemic response, too).
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 8:18 PM on July 6, 2012


Another tool for your belt: for breakfast, a small bowl of plain oatmeal (I like the packets, although a lot of people hate them) with a tablespoon of peanut butter swirled in and a tablespoon of plain sliced almonds. Delicious, with fat and protein for satiety, and I can eat it at 7 am and not feel any hunger whatsoever until 1 or 2 pm. I'm a similar size to you and following a similar regimen.
posted by Ruby Lennox at 7:35 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't say which is better between stevia or honey, they're both probably fine in moderation. But agave is one of the worst sweeteners, period. It's mostly fructose, which is quite bad for you in excess (either of total calories or of fructose) and it doesn't even have the antioxidant profile of raw sugar.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:06 AM on July 7, 2012


Thank you for the oatmeal suggestion, Ruby!

I've cut out the alcohol. :( But I did put some bourbon in my oatmeal this morning (it boils for 9 minutes, so the alcohol was mostly gone). I also added some chestnut honey.

I was a bit less hungry today, but that could be because I was mostly sedentary.

Thanks for all the help, everyone!
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 1:25 AM on July 8, 2012


I lost nine pounds! :)
posted by lemoncakeisalie at 8:53 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Congrats! And break a leg!
posted by restless_nomad at 9:02 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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