One of the biggest culprits to adherence to your plan is hunger. I wrote about that HERE.
The thing with hunger is that in order to lose body fat you can/should expect some hunger involved.
But this can become problematic if it’s too high for too long.
This is why with online clients we work through phases of nutrition. We push fat loss, but we also take time away from dieting for fat loss.
Read HERE about the nutrition phases clients go through.
But there are going to be things that can increase hunger and can make sticking to your nutrition plan much more challenging, and its important to be aware of them.
Even if muscle growth is your goal, it’s important to manage hunger so you dont overshoot and gain excessive amounts of body fat.
Read on so you can gain some insights into what can affect hunger so you can be aware of when hunger might be higher, and you can manage this period appropriately.
Energy availability/large calorie deficits
Energy availability (EA) is defined as the amount of dietary energy available to sustain physiological function after subtracting the energetic cost of exercise (Areta et al., 2021).
This means that the less food you eat and the more you exercise, the lower your energy availability is.
The lower your energy availability is, the more your hunger will increase.
The size of the calorie deficit plays a role here. A smaller deficit will elicit some hunger, but a larger deficit will elicit a larger hunger response (your body fat levels will play a role in this as well, which you will find out soon).
This is why with online clients we dont take away a lot of calories right off the bat nor do we have them do a bunch of training in combination with that.
Read HERE about slow and fast weight loss.
If you struggle with this, you might want to take away fewer calories during your fat loss phases or do less cardio with your calorie deficit.
With online clients, we aim for fat loss rates of about .5 to 1% of BW per week.
If you are sedentary, there could be an increase in hunger levels (Shook et al., 2015), not to mention your energy expenditure will be lower.
If you are super active, you will see an increase in energy expenditure, but if you go too high you might see an increase in hunger levels.
Think back to energy availability here, if your calories are low and you’re moving a ton you’re energy availability will be low so you will see an increase in hunger levels.
Because of this, we need to find that sweet spot in regard to activity levels.
For online clients, aiming for about 8-12k steps per day seems to be the sweet spot to mitigate hunger and see an increase in energy expenditure.
Duration of fat loss phases
How long you diet for fat loss will affect hunger.
The longer you diet for fat loss, the more your hunger will increase over time.
How soon this will happen depends on a few things:
- Size of the calorie deficit
- Energy availability
- Body fat levels
For example, someone who has a small deficit and has high body fat levels can diet for much longer than someone who has a large deficit and has lower levels of body fat.
But generally, the longer you diet the more your hunger will increase.
This is why we focus on fat loss phases of about 8-16 weeks on average with online clients.
Hunger management strategies
Certain foods, eating habits, and meal timing can lower hunger levels.
On the other hand, certain foods, habits, and meal timing can increase hunger levels.
For example, processed foods have been shown to increase hunger levels and cravings. Read HERE about processed foods and hunger levels.
If you want to learn more about how to lower your hunger levels read HERE.
Find strategies that give you the calories you need, but also keep you feeling full throughout the day.
Body fat levels
The leaner you get/are, the more hunger will increase.
Your body sees how much your current energy deficit is and will raise hunger based on that, but it also is looking to see how much body fat you have as well.
If these are low (body fat levels), it’s going to send signals that you need to increase your long and short-term energy stores.
Once you get to around sub 10% for men and sub 17% for females, you will notice hunger increase because your body is worried that it won’t have enough energy at some point.
This means dieting will get very tough at this stage and it might not be worth it for you to get any leaner.
Also, if you do get leaner than this, it might have to be a short term thing (photoshoot, vacation, bodybuilding comp etc.)
Only you can decide this.
Certain phases of your menstrual cycle (the luteal phase, the days following ovulation, and leading up to bleeding) may lend themselves to an increase in hunger and your body may be more primed for fat storage during this time.
You can’t do anything about this, but knowing ahead of time can help you navigate this period.
Poor sleep may cause an increase in hunger.
Whether this is directly or indirectly, you can be certain that poor sleep is going to lead to a drive to eat more the following day(s).
Read HERE for more information on how sleep can affect body composition.
For some people, stress may lower hunger levels, but for others, stress may increase your hunger levels.
If you have been extra hungry, you might want to check to see if you are experiencing higher levels of stress.
I find that those who have stress eaten in the past are more likely to see an increase in hunger under times of stress because your brain expects that dopamine hit when you are stressed.
Your genetics may determine how hungry you get as well.
This doesnt mean you dont try, as some of the things above are playing a role as well. But just realize your genetics might favor having a little extra body fat and losing body fat might be tougher for you.
Some people can maintain a leaner look without any issues whereas others will see things pop up at higher body fat levels than others.
Your environment will also play a massive role in hunger.
If you are constantly bombarded with tasty foods etc., your hunger levels will probably be a bit higher.
Previous body comp
If you were overweight at some point, you will probably experience higher hunger levels than those who have not been overweight.
This is why people have such a tough time maintaining their weight loss.
If you want to read more about this topic click HERE.
This could also be because of your genetics, as you might be someone who is just predisposed to having more body fat.
I hope this gave you more insight into why your hunger levels might be higher.
These are things we work on with clients daily.
If you need more help/structure with your training and/or nutrition then check out our 1:1 coaching program HERE.
Areta, J. L., Taylor, H. L., & Koehler, K. (2021). Low energy availability: history, definition and evidence of its endocrine, metabolic and physiological effects in prospective studies in females and males. European journal of applied physiology, 121(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04516-0
Shook RP, Hand GA, Drenowatz C, Hebert JR, Paluch AE, Blundell JE, Hill JO, Katzmarzyk PT, Church TS, Blair SN. Low levels of physical activity are associated with dysregulation of energy intake and fat mass gain over 1 year. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1332-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115360. Epub 2015 Nov 11. PMID: 26561620; PMCID: PMC4658461.