Eating at a caloric deficit for extended periods isn’t just physically difficult, but also mentally. Battling hunger cravings can be frustrating because you’re often fighting both brain and body, trying to convince them that no, you don’t actually want to eat that cookie.
Luckily there are several methods, backed by scientific evidence, that can help curb hunger cravings.
The body naturally produces a variety of peptides and hormones that suppress hunger.
One class of receptors, called mechanoreceptors, are located in the stomach and intestines and are not actually activated by any specific molecule, but by the stretching of tissue. That means that expanding the stomach will result in appetite suppression, regardless of what is causing the expansion.
Eating low-calorie food that results in intestinal bulk is a good way to limit caloric intake while suppressing the urge to eat more. While vegetables with a high water content will shrivel and shrink after consumption, foods high in soluble fiber will ‘gel’ and expand in the stomach. Vegetables high in cellulose, an indigestible carbohydrate, will also result in increased intestinal bulk.
A popular supplemental fiber option is Metamucil. Metamucil is a digestion aid made up of flavored soluble fiber. It can be added to a shake, but just make sure to drink the shake quickly or else the Metamucil will gel before it hits the intestines.
Do not use appetite suppressant products that are not digestible. Sponges, stomach balloons, and other devices are dangerous and can cause intestinal blockage, which is a medical emergency.
Emotional eating is a common symptom of stress and can derail weight loss. Since emotional eating is not a result of physical hunger pangs, it cannot necessarily be controlled through increased fiber intake.
The best way to fight emotional eating is to buckle down and take on your stress. Though it is impossible to provide a generalized solution that will work to alleviate everyone’s stress, maintaining healthy sleep habits and dialing in your diet are two good lifestyle steps to reducing stress.
A consistent sleep schedule in a quiet, dark sleep environment is vital to reducing stress.
If lifestyle changes don’t alleviate stress and emotional eating episodes continue, considering supplementing an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbal supplements that cause a mild stress response after supplementation. This response desensitizes the body to further, real stress.
Supplementing an adaptogen will not directly reduce hunger, but it can reduce the hunger cravings sometimes associated with increased stress levels.
Adrenaline also reduces appetite. When the body is stimulated, blood is redirected away from the digestive tract, to help prepare for a fight – or flight.
Stimulants and other supplements that increase adrenaline also have this effect. A low dose of a stimulant can help reduce hunger, but too much can result in nausea and other side effects.
People that aren’t used to caffeine can drink coffee in the morning to reduce hunger. This strategy may not be effective for people that are used to caffeine.
Other, more powerful stimulants, like synephrine and yohimbine, can also reduce hunger cravings, but they may not be appropriate for daily use like coffee is.
Using stimulants to curb hunger cravings at night is not recommended due to their disruptive effect on sleep.
There are also several supplements with preliminary evidence to support appetite suppression. These include ginger, 5-HTP, and Caralluma fimbriata. Much more research is needed before these supplements can be recommended specifically to curb hunger cravings.
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Have you heard of Hoodia gordonii or Garcinia cambogia supplements advertised as appetite suppressants? Both of these supplements had promising animal evidence for their effects on appetite, but follow-up studies revealed these effects didn’t occur when the herbs were supplemented by people. Unfortunately, marketing had already spread these products far and wide.
There are no shortcuts in health and nutrition. Still, many people need some help with hunger cravings now and then. That’s why there are hundreds of products aimed at suppressing appetite. Yet most of the effective strategies listed above don’t even involve supplements!
In other words, don’t waste money on hype. Fiber is way cheaper.