Diet question: What's the secret to increasing exercise, eating less, and feeling satisfied (not hungry)?
July 12, 2011 7:23 PM   Subscribe

weight loss filter: how do you balance an increase in exercise (calorie burn) with a decrease of calorie intake without feeling really hungry all the time?

Hi there, sorry for yet another question/request for diet suggestions but I haven't quite found the info I'm looking for and hoping the mefi community will help. - I've been trying to lose about 15 pounds and have gained six pounds instead. I've ramped up my fitness to working out twice a day - I've increased both cardio and using free weights. as a result I eat more because I'm starving and craving larger portions and more carbs. What is the trick to balancing exercising more, which stimulates my metabolism, with eating less and not feeling (sometimes intense) hunger pains all the time. Instead of losing, I've gained six pounds and I'm really stumped by this. Another question I have - when I get home at night after a night of salsa dancing (burning up the dancefloor for about three hours) I'm starving and that's where I really mess up and eat carb-rich foods (like pancakes, oops). What are the best foods to eat at night right before bed - if I go for low fat and low carb, I don't fee satisfied - what satisfies? If I go to sleep without eating, I wake up starving, or I don't fall asleep at all. Thanks in advance!
posted by dmbfan93 to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Protein will generally help you feel full and it doesn't immediately turn into sugar like simple carbs can. A high-protein, moderately fat-filled snack at night should carry you through the night fairly well.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, like xingcat said, protein from meats and eggs (and a little from real nuts like macadamia and almond and greek yogurts) will be much more satisfying than empty carbs. Carbs act as sugars and spike your insulin, etc, your brain's reward centers go "ooh, let's get us some more of that by making you feel crummy when you don't have it" and then you want more sooner.

Also you can eat loads of low-cal veggies.

Also if you're working out loads and surprised your weight's going up...your goals seem off. Muscle weighs more by volume. Ditch the scale; go by how you look and feel. And you aren't necesseraily helping yourself by working out twice a day. Your body does need time to rest, repair, burn fat, etc.
posted by carlh at 7:32 PM on July 12, 2011

"I've been trying to lose about 15 pounds and have gained six pounds instead" - How active were you before starting the exercise program? If you've been very inactive, this may occur with replacing fat with muscle (muscle ways more then fat).

"I've ramped up my fitness to working out twice a day" - stop doing this, your muscles need time to recover and all you're doing is increasing the chance of injury. If you've been extremely active before, ignore this advice.

The other thing is, have you calculated your caloric needs based on your lifestyle or are you just eyeballing what you think? Truthfully, you should never feel hungry to the point that hunger pains are coming into play. That screams to me a binge diet and extremely unhealthy lifestyle. Protein foods will only help feel full, but only if you're getting enough to eat to begin with. Otherwise, your body goes into starvation mode and will start cannibalizing itself, starting with muscle. And your weight loss will start.

Play around on this website, you need to get your diet cleaned up because I have a very strong feeling your on a binge diet to lose 15 pounds in an ungodly amount of time. There is no healthy way to drop more a few (<5>
Calculating Caloric Needs and Nutritional Requirements

The Basics of Losing Fat

posted by lpcxa0 at 7:40 PM on July 12, 2011

Sorry, must have missed a tag with the last post:

Play around on this website, you need to get your diet cleaned up because I have a very strong feeling your on a binge diet to lose 15 pounds in an ungodly amount of time. There is no healthy way to drop more a few (<5>
Calculating Caloric Needs and Nutritional Requirements

The Basics of Losing Fat
posted by lpcxa0 at 7:42 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you run marathons(or do some other seriously intense cardio) exercising will not lead to a great deal of weight loss. It's almost all dieting. That's all you need to know. Suck it , eat less, or try "tricks" be fat. That's all there is to it.
posted by Patbon at 7:43 PM on July 12, 2011

Suck it up*
posted by Patbon at 7:44 PM on July 12, 2011

Eat less.
posted by halogen at 7:44 PM on July 12, 2011

When you are feeling hunger pangs that feel at all like cramps, it's usually because you are dehydrated, not actually hungry.

Really, it's true! Drink more water. And, this is important: drink water BEFORE you work out to be properly hydrated (this was a mistake I made, drinking water as I worked out but not before, and it made such a difference when I learned to hydrate ahead of time!).

Also, if you come back hungry for carbs at night, try eating something before you go dancing instead, too.

I do think that dieting is key, and really should be done first. Once you get used to eating less, then add in exercise gradually. That's just what works best for me, though. If you want to keep going the way you are, you'll have to tell yourself not to give into those cravings for a while and tough it out, as Patbon says, and then they will lessen. But, as I said, I get used to eating less first, so YMMV.
posted by misha at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

What has worked for me: I use the lose it! App and programmed it so that I lose one pound a week. It recommends about1600 calories a day for me and if I stick to that I'm not hungry but I do lose weight. If I exercise I can enter that into the app and the app factors in the calories so I can eat a little more.
posted by bananafish at 8:20 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The information that Halogen linked to (diet is more important than exercise) has been very much true in my experience. I have done the exercise/ diet combo on and off for years and never with any particularly amazing or long lasting results. like you, exercise made me ravenous and although i tried to eat healthy, my cravings for whatever bad thing i wanted were easier to justify- "well i DID just work out, i guess I can have this." but a few years ago, when I stopped eating meat and went vegetarian (not for health reasons) i was amazed- i lost about 20 pounds with no exercise whatsoever, and my weight hasn't changed much at all since then. well, i do have a dog who i walk a few times a day, so i get SOME exercise but i don't go to the gym or anything like that. and when i changed my diet, i didn't change my activity level at all. and i don't really know why, but somehow my desired portion size has shrunk over the past few years as well. i just don't feel the need to eat as much, plus my tolerance for fatty and crappy foods is a lot lower than it used to be. i actually crave vegetables and healthy things now. i would have never thought it possible. changing your diet can be amazing.

but- don't get me wrong. i'm thinner and presumably healthier now, but i'm definitely still . . . soft. I want to start running and biking more, not to lose weight (already did that) but just to tone up. i think that must be what exercise is really for.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:03 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in your boat. Eventually it will work if you are really sticking to the diet. I just kicked into gear after 6 weeks of working out and dieting.

1) Eat vegetables, tons of them
2) Water, lots of water- I try to drink a big glass before I eat

All in time keep it up!
posted by ibakecake at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of waters, lots of fruits and veggies, maybe an apple with peanut butter if you are craving sweet plus fatty. Keep all the very tempting foods out of the house.

Most importantly: feeling hungry doesn't necessarily mean you need to eat. Get used to getting based some hunger. If you are like me, your body isn't always good at know when it's actually angry. So be okay with being a bit hungry.

And walking up hungry is good! For me, that means I didn't overeat the night before.

When you come back from salsa: drink a huge glass of water and maybe a piece of fruit. Take a shower and brush your teeth. I bet you won't be hungry after that.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2011

Small meals every 2-3 hours, each including some protein, are the way to go. And I will tell you that for me going vegetarian (still eating fish, seafood, dairy and eggs) with a focus on whole foods has been a very effective way to lose weight while feeling energized.
posted by bearwife at 10:31 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perspective from a thin person:

I'm a 6' 145lb man, and am one of those people who "cannot get fat no matter what they eat". I have lost 4lb in the last two months despite not trying to. My exercise during this period was quite low, consisting of cycling for transportation within a miniscule town.

The reality of the situation is, I spend the majority of my waking hours experiencing atleast some degree of hunger pain. I am just too lazy to walk over to the kitchen and prepare myself food, so I don't eat. Since my lack of consumption is not due to any conscious effort to avoid eating, in my mind I am always eating whatever I want whenever I want, and this is what I tell people (often to their amazement).

In summary, in case the above was confusing: the people you envy, whose metabolisms supposedly burn off everything they eat, actually eat less than you. They have simply conditioned themselves to become used to constant hunger.

Eat less to lose weight. Some discipline may be required. I think the most productive way for you to proceed is to consume foods which are filling but contain little calories. Some of the replies above have touched on this topic.
posted by BeaverTerror at 11:03 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just another point I forgot to mention: I spent 16 weeks bicycling 7600km from Shanghai to Singapore last summer and lost just 8lb, so attempting to exercise to lose weight is basically futile. You really have to eat less.
posted by BeaverTerror at 11:07 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Suck it , eat less, or try "tricks"
Ahhhh.... The West Hollywood Diet ....
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:48 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that has helped me a lot is tracking calories, without setting a hard limit. Just being aware of the amount I eat makes it easier to resist, or at least choose lower-calorie options. For example, I could have a few bites of chocolate (20 grams), or a whole apple for about 100 calories, and I know the apple will be more filling.

If you want to use calories to motivate yourself, 1 pound of weight gain/loss is about 3500 calories. For me, losing weight gradually (1-2 pounds/week) is more about avoiding 3000+ calorie days than trying to drastically cut my ordinary eating.
posted by verzor at 12:08 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

*Eat fiber, it makes you feel full.
*Drink plenty of water especially before exercising (to see how much water you lose through exercising is to weigh yourself before and after. The difference is water loss. You can easily lose several pounds of water while exercising.)
*Eat good fats to help make you feel full via the hormone Leptin. Note that satiety research is complex and on-going.
*Eat more calories! My nutrition teacher last year talked about how a lot of college students had trouble gaining muscle mass even though they were lifting all the time and eating tons of protein. Turns out they were not eating enough calories needed to build muscle. All that extra protein their were eating was being converted to carbohydrates for energy. If I remember correctly all they had to do was eat like 1-2 bagels. She also said that after exercising your liver needs its glycogen stores replenished so she recommended eating (some protein with carbs) like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on 100% whole wheat.

Why is Exercise Important? (starts at 1:11:13) Hint its not to burn calories.
To increase skeletal muscle which burns more calories especially sugars (ie: fructose) by increasing insulin sensitivity and the speed of the citric acid cycle.

Losing weight isn't all about eating less, but also about what you eat. See the second part of this post from me in regards to nutrition and weight loss.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 2:05 AM on July 13, 2011

You're going to be even more confused after reading the assortment of advice already given to you in this thread.

Already a few of my favorite gems, If you've been very inactive, this may occur with replacing fat with muscle (muscle ways more then fat).

Yup, a female that's not on any drugs gained 6lbs, all in lean mass, by salsa dancing and eating pancakes at 1am.

Why are you stumped about gaining 6lbs? Are you keeping a daily food diary?
You probably just need to stick to a structured workout schedule and diet. The "exercise is not important for weight loss" crowd is correct but only sort of. You're going to want to maintain a proper diet AND workout.


Answering your question:
You're going to feel hungry. That's just how it is.
Cinnamon, Apples, Spinach, Lettuce, Protein Shakes, Green Tea and Water are all very good low calorie natural appetite suppressants.


You didn't write much about what you're currently doing but here is some bonus information as an easy formula for success:

Move to 4 meals a day. (This semi caloric trickle method has a tendency for people to feel less hungry since they are eating regularly throughout the day. I prefer 6 meals a day when dieting.)
Optional: Eat a salad of just lettuce and balsamic vinegar before each meal. This will help you feel more full.
Eat carbs in the morning. This means if you want some fruit do it in the morning.
Don't eat bread. At all. Seriously. This includes bread like things, like pancakes.
Eat vegetables whenever you want.
No sauces or anything that isn't 0 calories. The carrots don't need ranch dressing.
You want to eat fats. You can't go low fat and low carb. There is nothing wrong with fats. For many people eating healthy fats is essential to losing body fat. Hooray for all natural pb.

Log everything you eat for two weeks and eat the same amount of calories roughly each week. If you don't lose any weight then cut 300 calories out a day and repeat.

Try to get in 5 hours of actual hard exercise a week. Things like jogging on the treadmill for 30 minutes is a warm-up and doesn't count towards the 5 hours.

If you get your calorie counts right in the first week you could lose the 15lbs in 1 month.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:53 AM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've been cutting back on my carbs, but I've noticed something about the difference in the hunger-sensation: when I have a carb-filled breakfast at 7, when I'm getting hungry at around 11:30 I also feel letharic and 'stupider' (for lack of better description). Now that I've been getting fat and protein for breakfast and cut the carbs, I've been still feeling hungry at 11:30, but without the weakness. I also eat less at lunch, even though I feel just as hungry. I write off the hungry sensation as something that just happens when it's getting to be time to eat, and I don't let it run my day. I'd say that as long as the hungry feeling isn't combined with a loss of energy or some other negative physical reaction, just allow yourself to be accustomed to feeling hungry and eventually you'll acclimate.

But the hungry-before-bed thing is a little different, because you're using a lot of energy and then not planning on eating for eight or more hours: there's lots of good food suggestions upthread, but definitely don't carb-load before sleeping; your body is doing a lot of work overnight, and if it's spending its time turning carbs into fat it's not helping.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:17 AM on July 13, 2011

As others have said, eating fats and proteins will help keep you more full than carbs. I switched from eating cereal for breakfast (which was mostly carbs) to fattier things like an english muffin with cashew butter, sardines on toast, or yogurt (NOT the fat-free kind). These keep me much more full than cereal ever did, so I'm not tempted to start snacking at 10am.

You might want to also consider reading the book Good Calories, Bad Calories.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:53 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

As several people have mentioned, there are a number of foods that are relatively filling and relatively low calorie. There's a specific diet based on that principle: volumetrics.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd look into the "Slow Carb" topics if I were you. The other posts of drinking water and avoiding white carbs is good advice. Legumes are great for keeping you full, they take a while to break down and you can eat a lot of them to fill up.

I suspect what you are experiencing is a combination of building muscle, increasing your metabolism, and over-eating to compensate. The trick from here on is to adjust your diet so you're not so hungry. Slower digested foods and water can really help you there.
posted by eggm4n at 7:31 AM on July 13, 2011

Eat more fat! (the good kinds: eggs, avacados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish, grain fed meats) they make you feel full and keep you satisfied. Plus your brain needs it.

Eat more veggies & fruit: the more color the better.

Drink more water!

Try to eat only things that walk, swim, fly, or have been grown from the ground (and not processed)

Once you stop eating junk, your cravings for it will subside. Stick with it, you might be fatigued and feeling strange for the first few weeks, but it will get better!!

Good luck!

I eat eggs for breakfast every day because it is the only thing that keeps me from eating junk before lunch.
posted by LZel at 7:55 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAD, but I have lost 145 pounds, and am currently training for my first marathon.

I agree with others above that weight loss is mostly about what you eat, and less about exercise. Exercise for fitness, which is important in keeping the weight off, but diet for weight loss.

Anecdotally, I lift weights, run a lot, and watch what I eat. When I balance these things they each do well, but when I focus on one the others suffer. When I was trying to get stronger, I was lifting a lot, but had less energy to run and was eating more. When I am trying to lose weight, I have less energy to run and lift. Now that I am running a lot for my training, I have a minimal strength regiment, and have gained back a few pounds. I read, before starting my marathon program, that I should expect to gain 5-7 pounds over the course of it.

dmbfan93: "how do you balance an increase in exercise (calorie burn) with a decrease of calorie intake without feeling really hungry all the time?"

I try to eat very healthy. A lot of fruits and veggies, 12-15 servings a day. Whenever I get hungry, this is what I have, an apple, or some grapes, or watermelon, or whatever is in season. I am trying to cut back my meat intake. For my initial weight loss I cut out simple carbs (white rice, white bread, etc.) and this cut back my overall grain intake substantially. I rarely eat sugar, fried foods, or anything heavily processed.

dmbfan93: " What are the best foods to eat at night right before bed"

Depending on how hungry I was, I would have some fruit (likely a banana), or maybe a big salad. Then I would add some nuts, since the protein and fat help satiety. One of my go-to snacks is to cut a banana in half lengthwise and put peanut butter (or maybe even Nutella) in it like a sandwich. But I watch the serving sizes on that, since nuts are one of my big weaknesses.

lpcxa0: ""I've ramped up my fitness to working out twice a day" - stop doing this, your muscles need time to recover and all you're doing is increasing the chance of injury."

This depends on what you are doing. If it targets different muscle groups you will be fine. So if the program is yoga or running or weights in the morning, and salsa dancing in the evening, that is great.

Good luck! Feel free to memail me if there is anything I can do to help.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:22 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do an hour of cardio plus weights 3-5 days a week and I get through the day without fainting or bingeing by eating small low-carb*/high fat meals/snacks every few hours. Instead of 3 regular meals, I'll eat 5-6 small portions of things like chicken salad, almonds, cheese and Atkins bars. If you must eat a big meal for lunch or dinner (I tend to get full after a few bites, but I understand that others have bigger appetites), I'd recommend a BIG salad made with spinach, tons of protein (chicken, boiled eggs, cheese, nuts, etc.) and balsamic vinaigrette.

I make sure I eat something about an hour before my workout (usually raw almonds). I also like to drink a low-carb protein shake after each workout. Not only does it help repair and build muscle, but it also curbs the intense post-workout hunger pangs. Then I usually wait an hour or two before eating a dinner that is high in protein. Staying hydrated also helps, so I sip water all day long.

I'm not super strict about this all the time, but this kind of diet works best for me when trying to exercise and lose weight. YMMV.

*I'm not saying you HAVE to cut carbs, but I find that they slow me down and I always end up wanting more 2 hours later. Plus, protein really does fill you up.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 10:55 AM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You're looking for foods that taste good and fill you up with the least amount of calories. Volumetrics is a good start. Popcorn, fruits and vegetables are great before bed. You can eat a whole bag of carrots.

I think the pendulum of exercise or diet for weight loss has swung too far towards diet in this thread. In fact, it's not a dichotomy at all. Yes, if you exercise 3 hours a day, you can still gain weight if you eat poorly. And yes, that 500-calorie muffin takes a lot less time to eat than to burn off through exercise. But if you ride your bike for an hour a day, you will lose weight faster than if you don't, all else being equal. The question is how to keep your hunger in check (and that happens to be the question asked by the OP!)
posted by pollex at 12:31 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing more fat -- while fat has more calories than proteins or carbs, an amount of fat will satiate you better than the equivalent amount of carbohydrates. If you want to do "low-carb" I would argue a 40/40/20 split of protein/fat/carbohydrates will keep you feeling full and will also help with your weight training. Also, the most successful 'diets' will be a combination of caloric/nutrient intake AND exercise, although diet seems to play a larger role in fat loss -- fitness ensures that when the fat is gone there is something substantially better underneath.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2011

If increasing fat intake, which is probably a good thing for weight loss, you might take care to keep your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio no lower than 1:4. Higher than this, and it creates systemic inflammation which can worsen leptin problems, heart disease, and even depression and anxiety. Best wishes to you!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:40 PM on July 14, 2011

*Lower than this
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:40 PM on July 14, 2011

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