I recently received the following question from a reader: “I’m eating healthy food, and a good amount, but lately I haven’t been feeling full or satisfied. Any tips?”
This is a really good question and a situation that I can definitely relate to!
I’ve experienced this before, especially during marathon training or other periods where I’m exercising more than what my body is typically accustomed to, although it can also happen if you’re not active or simply exercising moderately.
I’ve found that it can be for a number of different reasons. Here are some suggestions based on my own experience.
1. Eat Slower
Like, much slower. Check out this article in the NY Times about “mindful eating.” Really and truly eating mindfully — concentrating on one bite at a time, chewing slowly, consciously savoring each bite, eliminating distractions — is a hard habit to develop and hold onto, but I definitely notice a difference in my satiety and satisfaction when I do implement it.
2. Is it Emotional?
If you just ate but still feel hungry or unsatisfied, stop and ask yourself: “Am I really hungry? Or am I bored, sad, anxious or wanting to eat more for some other reason besides actual hunger?”
I am very guilty of eating just to eat every now and then, but the better solution in this situation is to pause and regroup.
Try and figure out if something else is going on and drink a glass of water while you ponder. If you’re not really hungry the feeling will likely pass.
3. Eat What You (Really) Want
I’ve learned that sometimes, if I’m feeling perpetually unsatisfied, it could be because even though I’m eating healthy, I’m kind of unknowingly denying my body and/or mind of what it’s craving.
I’m not saying that I go and eat a bunch of candy or cookies every time my sweet tooth kicks in. But what I mean is, if I’m craving a cheeseburger or a piece of pizza but I had been planning on eating something lighter like a salad for a fifth day in a row, I’ll just go for the hamburger or the pizza (or whatever it is I want) and enjoy it.
Eating 100 percent healthy 100 percent of the time is totally unrealistic and, quite frankly, an unhealthy way to approach your diet. Plus, if you’re like most people (including myself), if you continually deny your cravings for less-nutritious foods, eventually you will cave and at that point you’ll probably be more likely to go overboard compared to if you had just listened to your body originally and had a small or regular amount of whatever it was you were craving to satisfy the urge.
Also, this totally applies to healthier foods too. The body is extremely adept at letting us know what it needs. For example, if you’re craving something sweet it might mean your body is seeking out important nutrients from fruit, or if you’re feeling like eating something salty it might mean your body needs to replenish some of its sodium stores.
Bottom line: Focus on eating more intuitively instead of stressing out about eating “perfectly.” This is the approach that has personally worked best for me in terms of consistently keeping up with overall healthy eating habits.
4. Make Sure You’re Eating Enough
If you’re truly, legitimately feeling actual hunger after eating there’s a chance that you’re not consuming enough calories. Especially if you’re exercising consistently or training particularly hard, your body will need more calories than you might think.
One simple way to make sure you’re eating enough is to aim to include lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates at each meal. This chart by Precision Nutrition shows you an estimate of the recommended amount of each per meal based on your activity levels using easy-to-remember measurements. Click the image to see the whole infographic and complete guide.
Personally, I don’t recommend counting calories — I find it too tedious and believe life is too short — so I really recommend the above method instead, but if you feel it could be helpful for you Cassey from Blogiates will show you how to calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) so you can find out how many calories you need per day based on your body type and level of physical activity.
5. Make Sure You’re Eating Enough Protein
Protein is important for a number of different reasons, one of them being its ability to help us feel satiated and satisfied. Research shows that healthy sources of protein can help with weight control.
The most common healthy sources are lean meats like chicken, turkey or salmon, for example. But you can also find protein in plant sources, like quinoa, lentils and beans.
Personally, I like supplementing with a plant-based protein shake directly after my tough workouts (especially after strength training). It’s beneficial for muscle repair and growth to consume protein within at least 30 to 45 minutes of your intense workouts.
You can learn more about how to determine how much protein you should eat each day here.
6. Make Sure You’re Sleeping Enough
Sleep plays an important role in regulating the hormones that influence our feelings of hunger and satiety.
When we don’t sleep enough, the body tends to produce more of a hormone called ghrelin, which can make us feel hungry, even if we’re really not, and less leptin, the hormone that tells the brain we’re full.
On the other hand, when you do get enough sleep (about 7-9 hours per night, regularly) the body produces the right amount these hormones so that our hunger cues are more on point.
Now your turn — Have you ever experienced feeling hungry when you know you probably shouldn’t be? Let me know in the comments below!