The dieting struggle is real. When you cut calories to lose weight you feel hungrier than you do eating at caloric maintenance or surplus. Your body really doesn’t care about your desire to look leaner. It gets used to being in a certain body fat percentage range and likes to keep you there. Your body’s desire to maintain homeostasis becomes more evident the leaner you get. One of the strategies it uses is increasing your hunger to make you eat more to get back to its comfortable ‘set-point’. Being hungry all the time stinks and it’s easy to become food-focused and lose sight of your long-term goals when faced with instant gratification decisions like, ‘should I eat my salad or this fluffy glazed donut?’.
Successful dieting most definitely requires willpower and the ability to delay gratification but it doesn’t need to be a constant struggle. When dieting, you can (and should) modify the way that you eat to make it easier on yourself. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to decrease hunger and diet more effectively:
1. Ensure you’re drinking enough water
Thirst can mask itself as hunger so being dehydrated can really work against you when you’re trying to diet. I’m not going to delve into all the reasons you should be drinking water but suffice it to say that being properly hydrated is extremely important and most people I encounter are just not drinking enough (water ;)). Although everyone’s requirement is going to be slightly different, you can use this formula as a rough estimate of how much water you should be drinking in a day; 1/2 of your body weight (lbs) in ounces. E.g. 180 lbs/2 = 90 ounces or 2.66 litres of water. This doesn’t include water that you lose from sweating so make sure if it’s really hot outside or you’re exercising intensely you’re replacing that lost water as well.
2. Increase food VOLUME
One of the best ways to reduce hunger is to fill up your stomach with high volume, low calorie foods. The best food for this? Vegetables! Vegetables are a dieter’s best friend because you can eat a whole lot of them for very few calories. Not to mention, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. It’s easy to get focused on macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) and forget about the importance of micronutrients. When eating fewer calories, it’s especially important to make sure you’re getting all your necessary vitamins and minerals, so nutrient-dense foods like vegetables should be prioritized. Increasing food volume during a dieting phase can also be helpful psychologically. Sometimes the biggest struggle with dieting isn’t the reduced calories but feeling like you’re being deprived by the smaller portion sizes and not being able to snack all the time. Increasing food volume really helps with this.
3. Prioritize protein
No, you won’t go into kidney failure eating more than 0.8 grams of protein/1 kg body weight. The RDA for protein is arguably very low, especially for active individuals. Increasing your protein intake is actually one of the best things you can do while dieting. Protein helps to prevent muscle breakdown, preserving more of your hard-earned muscle. We’ve all seen someone who has lost a lot of weight whose size has decreased but their form has not changed. That’s because along with the fat they’ve lost, they’ve lost a decent amount of muscle mass. If you want to look leaner and avoid getting ‘skinny fat’, your goal should be to maximize body fat loss and minimize muscle loss. Protein has also been proven to increase satiety, keeping you fuller for longer and therefore less focused on when your next meal will be.
4. Limit calorie dense, nutrient poor foods
Eliminating or reducing your consumption of calorie dense foods that ‘eat’ a lot into your daily caloric allowance without providing much in return is probably the most logical dieting strategy. If you want to feel full while eating fewer calories, chowing down on deep dish pizza and sipping pumpkin spice lattes isn’t going to work well for you as it will leave with very few calories remaining to get in your necessary nutrients. You should even be mindful of the amount of calorie-dense ‘healthy’ foods that you’re consuming. Avocado is a good example. Avocado is an excellent source of healthy fats but adding 1/2 of a large avocado to your salad is going to add ~160 calories to that meal. I’m not saying you should avoid avocados, just be mindful of your portion sizes and don’t treat healthy foods like ‘free calories’.
5. Allow yourself occasional treats
So I realize that my previous point is to avoid high calorie, nutrient-poor foods but I also firmly believe that you need to make your diet work for you so that it’s realistic and sustainable. The most ‘ideal’ diet plan is not going to be ideal for you if you can’t stick to it because you feel deprived all the time. Make intelligent choices and base your diet largely around whole, nutritious foods but try to get out of the ‘good vs bad’ food mentality. If you usually have 1/2 sweet potato with cinnamon and almond butter for snack (which is super tasty, btw) and one day you decide you really want to have ice cream after dinner with your friend, then forgo the snack and have that instead. As long as you’re watching your portion sizes, there’s absolutely no reason that certain foods have to be completely ‘off-limits’ (barring of course food allergies, religious, or personal ethical reasons). It is far worse to restrict yourself and then eventually binge on these ‘forbidden foods’ than it is to fit them into your diet plan.
6. DIET SLOWLY – read on, this one is important
When you diet, you will, undoubtedly, eventually hit a ‘sticking point’ where your body adapts to the number of calories you’re consuming and burning and stops losing weight. Your body’s #1 goal is survival so when it senses food scarcity, it slows down your metabolism to make sure you have enough stored fat to help you survive a possible famine. Great adaptive mechanism for people who have to deal with food scarcity….not so much for people who have tempting fast foods available to them 24/7. In order to restart weight loss, you have to decrease calories further and/or increase energy expenditure. A mistake I see people making ALL the time is cutting calories too drastically initially, leaving them with nowhere to go when weight loss stalls. This is especially common for women who are often made to believe that 1,200 calories is a magical weight loss number they should aim for.
Yo-yo dieting: Here’s how this usually plays out; you drop calories too quickly, your metabolism slows down, and weight loss stalls. You’re always hungry and feeling restricted but you aren’t losing any more weight. Frustration sets in and you slip back into old eating habits, except now your metabolism is slower than before and you haven’t given your body adequate time to rebuild your previous metabolic capacity. You put back on all the weight you lost and then some. Wash, rinse, repeat. This is the yo-yo dieting struggle and why people often end up even heavier than they were before they started dieting.
A better strategy: Drop calories only as much as is necessary to slowly and steadily drop body fat. You should aim to diet on as many calories as possible. If you can lose weight by dropping your calories from 2,200 to 1,900, you’re far better off starting with that and then lowering calories further when fat loss stalls vs immediately dropping to 1,200 and then having nowhere to go when your body adapts. Although it’s tempting to drastically cut calories and lose weight as quickly as possible, this short-term strategy will sabotage your long-term goals.
DIET-FRIENDLY FOODS AND RECIPES:
Here are some recipes and foods that I like to incorporate when I’m dieting to add volume and flavour without adding many calories.
– soups and bone broth – I’m talking plain pureed soups, not heavy, cream-based ones
– veggie sticks with greek yogurt ‘ranch’ dipping sauce
– mushrooms – adds ‘meatiness’ to dishes for a whopping 15 calories/cup
– egg whites
– chia seeds – I like to add 1 tbsp to oats, yogurt, and shakes to increase bulk
– guar gum – I add ~1/2 tsp to smoothies with a lot of ice to make them super-duper thick.
– low cal condiments and spices to add flavour with minimal calories – mustard, cinnamon, sriracha, nutritional yeast, etc.
– soda water
– kombucha – a good pop/juice substitute. Low in sugar and calories and loaded with gut-friendly bacteria
– 1 large head of cauliflower
– 2/3 cup plain greek yogurt
– 2 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 2 tsp sriracha sauce
– almond milk – just enough so it blends more easily. I used ~1/4 cup.
– salt and pepper – to taste
– optional: 1 tsp dried dill weed
Directions: Chop cauliflower and steam until soft enough that a fork easily slides through. Transfer to a food processor or powerful blender (I used a Vitamix) and add all remaining ingredients. Process until smooth but thick. The consistency is similar to whipped potatoes but slightly thinner. Makes ~6 cups.
1 cup cauliflower mash – Nutrition Breakdown:
Calories: 61 calories
Carbs: 7 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fat: 2 grams
1 cup standard mashed potatoes – Nutrition Breakdown:
Calories: 214 calories
Carbs: 31 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Fat: 9 grams
Broccoli & Mushroom omelette
– 2/3 cup egg whites
– 1 whole egg
– 2 tbsp chopped onion
– 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
– 1/2 cup chopped broccoli
– 1 cup spinach or arugula
– 1/4 cup salsa
Directions: Chop and saute onion, broccoli, and mushrooms in a small amount of oil (I use coconut oil). When almost cooked, add spinach/arugula and cover for ~1 minute. Put aside when cooked. Beat egg with egg whites in a small bowl and add to lightly greased medium sized pan on med/low heat. Cover and let cook until it has solidified. Add cooked veggies and fold over. Add salsa in or on the side.
Broccoli & Mushroom omelette – Nutrition Breakdown:
Carbs: 11 grams
Protein: 28 grams
Fat: 5 grams
Spinach & Mushroom IHOP omelette – Nutrition Breakdown:
Carbs: 21 grams
Protein: 43 grams
Fat: 82 grams!!!!
Greek Yogurt ‘Ranch’ sauce
– 2 tbsp 0% plain greek yogurt
– 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tsp lime juice
– 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
– 1 tsp dried dill weed (optional)
– Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: Mix all ingredients together. That’s it!
2 tbsp Greek Yogurt ‘Ranch’ sauce – Nutrition Breakdown:
Carbs: 2 grams
Protein: 5 grams
Fat: 0 grams
2 tbsp Regular Ranch Dressing – Nutrition Breakdown:
Carbs: 2 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Fat: 15 grams
Remember to keep your eyes on the prize. Be consistent, remember your goals, make smart food swaps, and be patient. Slow changes are usually the most sustainable changes.