Is it normal to feel hungry after starting to eat smaller portions?
January 13, 2020 8:44 PM   Subscribe

So I started analyzing the food I eat and how much of it I eat. I have realized that my portions are too big, and that there's too many calories. I've only been at it for two days, but I find that I feel hungry after eating less. Is this normal? I'm not starving myself or anything but I've felt a somewhat hungry after eating less. Does it just take a while for your body to get used to this?If I just keep at it will it go away after a while?
posted by Tarsonis10 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think this varies drastically from person to person and diet to diet, but for myself (and only for myself), I can say the following:
  • With a typical European/American diet, I am always hungry after I've had a portion size commensurate with my caloric expenditures.
  • With food high in fiber, I find it difficult to eat much of the food. However, if I can manage to eat a decent amount of it, I don't feel hungry even with portion sizes that are somewhat less than my caloric expenditures.
  • With food high in fat, I won't feel hungry immediately after eating, but I will later before the next meal
If I generalize to all food I consume, I would say that whenever I eat enough to not be full after meals, I am eating too much food (evidenced by high caloric intake and weight gain). Whenever I eat such that I want a bit more food at the end of a meal, but not enough to go get/make some more, I tend to be calorie-neutral. Whenever I eat such that I am hungry all day, I tend to be calorie-negative.
posted by saeculorum at 9:06 PM on January 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

What you eat matters as well as portion sizes, and I agree with the above poster that it seems to vary quite a lot by individual.

In contrast to the above person, I find if I eat a lot of fruit/veg, I feel good but become RAVENOUS shortly after; I need fat and protein to stay sated. Refined sugar makes me feel lightheaded and sleepy, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth that makes me just want to eat and eat forever to erase it. Too much flour makes me feel bloated. Too much fat makes me feel sluggish.

But there are some foods that really work with portion control for me, so that smallish portions of meat + vegetables, fish, rice, and some other foods like oatmeal or eggs, will keep me feeling energized, quite full, not unreasonably hungry, and not bloated at all. It took a lot of trial and error to figure this out!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:27 PM on January 13, 2020 [6 favorites]

This totally happens to me and by day five I’m full on a fraction of the food I used to eat.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:15 PM on January 13, 2020 [8 favorites]

This is what soup is for.
posted by gakiko at 12:29 AM on January 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

As people have mentioned above, fat and protein are the key. I find homemade hummus alone incredibly filling, even small portions. I assume it's the protein and fiber from the chickpeas and the tahini and olive oil contribute fat. Reminds me, I should add the ingredients to my grocery list...
posted by whitelotus at 1:40 AM on January 14, 2020

This totally happens to me and has never never never gone away. For me, the fillingness or otherwise of any given meal has always been a matter of absolute quantity; the fat/protein/fibre breakdown has never made any discernible difference.

The only way I have found effective for dealing with it is by adopting a deliberate and principled refusal to continue labelling this gnawing, nagging, thoroughly distracting feeling of desiring to eat more as "hunger". Because if it actually was hunger then the correct fix would be to eat something, but given my BMI, it's manifestly obvious that eating something has been an incorrect response for many many years.

So now it's just "that feeling that always turns up after exercising deliberate portion control" and for the past six months or so I've been following up my deliberate portion control by deliberately choosing to sit with it and observe it for the hour or two it takes to settle down, instead of reacting to it in any way. This is not easy and consumes many spoons.

My hope is that with enough practice I will eventually become able to experience this feeling as purely informational rather than profoundly unpleasant. But even if that never happens, as an obese 58 year old man I simply can't afford to pander to it any more. Because I've been fat, and I've been lean, and lean wins. It just does.
posted by flabdablet at 1:57 AM on January 14, 2020 [16 favorites]

Like a few responders above, when I was on a restricted diet several years back I would get the hunger feeling pretty consistently. I realized that it didn't really hurt, wasn't damaging in any way, and it was negative mostly psychologically so I decided that instead of trying to make it go away I would embrace it as a sign that I was doing the right thing, and soon when the pangs struck I would feel secretly proud of myself, like I had accomplished a thing.
posted by newpotato at 2:23 AM on January 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think it takes a little while for the stomach to let the brain know that you're full. I am in the same boat as St. Peepsburg... if I do this for a couple days then it feels like my stomach shrinks and I feel full after eating less food. All it takes is one day of messing up (eating a full Dos Toros/Chipotle burrito, for example!) and then I'm right back to where I started.

You may be interested in the Confucian/Japanese practice of eating until you're 80% full.
posted by Grither at 5:21 AM on January 14, 2020

Drink more water! It should help make you feel more full.
posted by mareli at 5:46 AM on January 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

My personal anecdata:

About a year ago I started exercising regularly and also tracking my food intake. I was very resistant to start, because it seemed like a lot of work. I had previously tried more approximate heuristics like counting meals -- but the problem was that I had no clue what foods were high or low in calories, and also that I could easily consume a bottomless amount of food without really noticing.

So I eventually decided to give a more formal approach a go. It was initially as annoying as I had thought it would be, but I gradually figured out what foods actually had a high caloric content and needed to be tracked, and what foods I couldn't be bothered to track, and how to guesstimate what to enter for a soup or stew without adding up every carrot while cooking, etc..

I was initially quite hungry at the end of the day. I had previously observed that whenever I ate an unusually large amount of food, I would be really hungry the next day -- I imagined that this was because of my body coming to "expect" a higher level of nutrition, or my stomach expanding, or something, but those are probably unscientific explanations.

But I did adjust to the lower intake reasonably quickly. I have noticed that I can no longer eat as much as I used to even if I try -- I actually feel full and ill now (after a lag, unfortunately -- this happened a couple of times before I remembered not to do it again).

I would suggest maybe tapering the intake off more gradually rather than instantly cutting yourself off -- don't go to bed hungry and miserable, even if it means going over your target for a few days.

I suspect that while I wasn't recording my intake, I could easily have been consuming multiples of my recommended daily intake, hence the initial adjustment period. So in comparison a few hundred kcal seems like small potatoes, and I don't beat myself up over going over the target, especially if I was more active during the day. (My gym instructor suggests that instead of attempting to track "calories lost through exercise" we just adjust our daily target by about 200 kcal on the days that we go to the gym.)
posted by confluency at 5:47 AM on January 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Something else I forgot about: time your meals to suit your own schedule. I'm a night owl, so I try not to go through most of my allocated daily intake in the morning. I usually eat "breakfast" at around lunchtime.
posted by confluency at 5:54 AM on January 14, 2020

My personal experience with hunger:

Back when I weighed over 300 lbs, and was trying to lose weight by caloric restriction using standard nutritional advice (low fat/whole grains/limited red meat/lots of fruits and vegetables), I'd get so miserably, gnawingly hungry that I was afraid I'd pass out. It affected my energy and mood and I eventually stopped dieting because being so unhappy all the time was affecting my relationships at home and work.

Several years on, via MeFi in fact, I encountered a video that made the case that high insulin levels cause a state of fuel storage (as fat) and prevent fat from leaving fat cells. I read Gary Taubes' book, stopped eating carbohydrates, and lost 50 lbs in a year. The most remarkable thing about that to me was that my experiences of hunger and satiation were *completely different* than anything I'd experienced in the prior 40+ years. I never once felt that miserable, lightheaded, bitchy hungry feeling; instead I found that I would just kind of be thinking about food, and when I was thinking about food a lot, I realized, "oh, maybe I should eat some". Likewise, I didn't stop eating because my stomach was distended; I stopped because at a certain point the idea of eating more just became unappetizing.

After several years of experimenting, I've conclusively confirmed that difference in hunger/satiation depending on whether there are carbohydrates in my diet or whether I'm locked down hard into keto mode.

My takeaway, informed by my background as a biochemist:

The feeling of hunger is triggered by the levels of nutrients in your bloodstream. It doesn't relate to the amount of stored fuel (mostly fat) in your body. In theory, your body is supposed to be able to smoothly transition between drawing on nutrients that have just entered your bloodstream through eating (and, of course, after you eat fuel you don't need right at that moment gets stored away in your fat cells) and the stored fuel in your fat cells, when those freshly-eaten nutrients are depleted.

It seems clear that people differ in terms of the ease at which that transition takes place. Sometimes it just takes a few days of eating less for your body to get used to the "new normal". Sometimes it helps to boost protein and fat, as others have recommended (which almost certainly means a smaller percentage of calories from carbohydrates). Sometimes exercise and increased fitness tips that balance. Sometimes getting rid of carbs entirely is needed. Jason Fung's book The Obesity Code talks about several other factors (like stress and sleep) that more than likely influence this too.

I think it's a matter of experimentation to see what makes the difference for you. If you are confident that your calorie target is well-grounded, be patient and try different things. It probably makes sense to try each approach for at least a few days for a week, so see if your body starts to adapt. Fortunately you'll be eating every day for the rest of your life, so you have a lot of time to experiment!
posted by Sublimity at 6:08 AM on January 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

Yes, this is normal. I deal with it by having between-meal snacks of what I consider “unlimited” foods: dark green veggies like broccoli, kale, spinach (with balsamic vinegar). Cauliflower, celery. Oranges. Up to 1 apple a day. Edamame. Miso soup. It helps to have more bulk in your tummy. It also helps to drink a lot of water and hot herbal tea.

The good news is that your stomach will shrink over the course of just a few weeks, and your meals will feel satisfying again! You may still need snacks between meals.
posted by amaire at 6:09 AM on January 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I can be below my calorie needs without being hungry. What triggers hunger for me is often low blood sugar (e.g., if I ate something sugary an hour ago). When I did a Whole 30 (no refined sugar or carbs) month, after the initial adjustment period (the first week, which is admittedly rough), I was never hungry, had tons of energy, and lost weight (which wasn't even my intention). Right now I'm losing about 1-2 pounds / week just by keeping an eye on the calorie count but without cutting out any particular foods.
posted by slidell at 7:05 AM on January 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I started eating less (counting calories and maintaining a 500-600 daily deficit), I felt very hungry much of the time for the first three weeks. After that the hunger pangs eased off.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:31 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Once I cut carbs and ate mostly fat/protein/veggies my appetite plummeted and my portion size shrunk naturally. Trying to eat smaller portions but still keeping carbs in rotation was a literal impossibility. Carbs create a strong blood sugar/craving/hunger cycle that I could never beat. Steady, level blood sugar as a result of fat and protein was the key to it all. Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:16 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Once I cut carbs and ate mostly fat/protein/veggies my appetite plummeted and my portion size shrunk naturally. Trying to eat smaller portions but still keeping carbs in rotation was a literal impossibility. Carbs create a strong blood sugar/craving/hunger cycle that I could never beat. Steady, level blood sugar as a result of fat and protein was the key to it all. Good luck.

Count me as a third person who had to give carbs the boot.

I decided to try a month of no rice/pasta/bread/sugar really just as a lark several years ago. My appetite disappeared. Completely unexpectedly, I also suddenly stopped getting afternoon headaches that I had been getting for years.

I certainly don't think low carb diets are for everyone, but I undeniably function better on one.
posted by antimony at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I see what you guys mean. This isn't my first foray into improving food choices, however, as a matter of fact I belive this is the culmination of what has been going on for at least 6 or more years into creating a healthy lifestyle.

Anyway, judging from what has been said I think what's going on is normal. I didn't just cut my portions by a third or a fourth, I started eating half of what I was eating before. Also, I've pretty much cut all carbohydrates out. If I do eat any then it's whole grain bread, sometimes a burger(a very healthy burger), and maybe tortillas but other than that I don't eat that many carbohydrates. I can't take them out completely however, if I do my body starts saving fat, I've tried it before and things just took an unexpected turn.

Anyway, thanks for the advice. I'm sure this change is going to hit a personal milestone for me.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 11:33 AM on January 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes I think you will adapt. Apparently there are stretch receptors in the intestines that communicate satiety to the brain. Once they adapt to a lower volume of food you'll be comfortable with smaller portions. Eating slowly may help too.

If you want to eat simple carbs, potatoes are apparently higher on the satiety index than pasta or rice. I also agree with what others have said about which foods are/not filling.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:44 PM on January 15, 2020

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