Practicing intermittent fasting is a great way to accelerate weight loss or get your weight loss plan back on track. However, it can be intimidating thinking about going without food for 16 or more hours. In this blog post, I share 5 tricks for controlling hunger while fasting.
Controlling Hunger While Fasting – At-A-Glance
- Start Short: To stay ahead of hunger, start with a 12-hour fast and gradually lengthen your fasting window.
- Drink Carbonated Water: Unsweetened carbonated waters have a substantial feel that is more satisfying than plain water.
- Take Electrolytes: Dehydration can mimic hunger. Electrolytes are essential minerals that help you stay hydrated.
- Eat for Easier Fasting: A low-carb/high-fat diet stabilizes blood sugar, keeping hunger and cravings under control during your fast.
- Take a 10-Minute Timeout: When hunger strikes, wait 10 minutes. Because hunger naturally ebbs and flows, you end up feeling in control when that time has passed.
5 Tricks for Controlling Hunger While Fasting [Video]
Intermittent Fasting and Food Cravings
Intermittent fasting is what it sounds like; it is a strategy that requires you to insert periods of fasting into your day or week. I wrote a book that outlines the many health benefits of fasting, but I would say that the main reason fasting has caught on is because of the tremendous weight loss benefits that it delivers.
The challenge is that we live in a 24/7 society where food and food reminders in the form of commercials and ads surround us at all hours of the day and night. This constant barrage has made an impact, and science shows that more than half of us are all-day grazers, eating from the time we get up to the time we go to bed (1).
This continual feeding keeps insulin levels high, which is a state that promotes fat storage and blocks fat burning.
The more you practice intermittent fasting, the easier it gets to control hunger, simply because these wonderfully responsive machines (bodies) that we live in adapt to the new way we feed ourselves, quieting mental, physical, and hormonal hunger signals. However, getting to that point does not happen overnight, and while you can use crutches like cream in your coffee to ease hunger as you fast, you’ll get the most benefit by staying calorie-free during your fasting hours. So here are 5 tricks to make calorie-free fasting easier.
1. Start with Short Fasts
For many of us, deciding to lose weight has a trigger. Something catches our attention, and we make a mental declaration that NOW is the time to lose weight. There is nothing wrong with that mindset, and it can act as a great motivator. However, it can also cause us to attempt a giant leap into fasting that can backfire, leading to a binge.
To stay ahead of hunger, I recommend starting with a short fast and then adding hours as you progress through the coming weeks. By doing this, you work with your body instead of against it. You want your body to be your ally because it has hormones on its side that can quickly overtake willpower.
So, trick #1 for keeping hunger in check is to start with a 12-hour fast and work up from there. Tonight, stop eating after dinner and note the time. You can break your fast after 12 hours have passed. Many of you will find that you can make it 12 hours easily, and in a few days, you can lengthen your fast to 14 hours, 16 hours, or longer without hunger overwhelming you.
2. Drink Carbonated Water
When you go for 16 hours without food, you will be skipping a typical mealtime. We are creatures of habit, so it is common for your brain to look for something to grab and consume during those hours. I have a blog post on what does and doesn’t break a fast. However, in the strictest sense, a fast is performed without food, drink, or substances that challenge your metabolism. In other words, water only.
Water works, but if you are bored with plain water, a trick worth trying is to drink unsweetened carbonated water. These bubbly waters are available in different forms, including club soda, seltzer, and sparkling water. They have a more substantial feel to them than plain water that you may find satisfying as you progress through your fast.
3. Take Electrolytes
There are many reasons that it is important to stay hydrated during your fasting period. One reason is that dehydration can mimic hunger. Carbonated water will help you stay hydrated, and some of these waters contain minerals that support your body during a fast. However, to get a more significant grasp on hunger, it helps to supplement with electrolytes.
Electrolytes are essential minerals that your body needs to perform countless functions, from regulating nerve and muscle actions to keeping you hydrated. Your body naturally loses electrolytes when you fast, so you’ll feel your best and feel in control of hunger when you replenish electrolytes regularly. This can be accomplished by simply adding a pinch of sea salt to a food or drink or using an electrolyte supplement.
4. Eat for Easier Fasting
That lower insulin effect requires you to take steps to stay hydrated, but it is not a bad thing when it comes to weight loss. When insulin is low, your body is able to release fat from storage. This is one of the perks of fasting, but it doesn’t have to end when your eating window opens up. You can continue this low insulin advantage and control hunger all day long by making smart food choices.
Fasting is not an excuse to eat all the junk food you want. If your eating window is filled with refined carbohydrates like bread, sugary energy bars, pasta, and sweetened soda, your blood sugar, and insulin levels are sent on a rollercoaster ride with steep peaks and crashes that block fat loss and drive hunger and cravings.
So, trick #4 is to eat for easier fasting by focusing on blood sugar and insulin-stabilizing foods. Carbohydrates cause the most significant spike in blood sugar and insulin, and fats cause the least. By eating a low-carb, high-fat diet, you keep blood sugar and insulin levels steady, keeping hunger and cravings under control during your fast.
If you’re not sure which foods are low in carbs, you can download my list of 100 low carb foods.
5. Take a 10-Minute Timeout
Even with the right diet, hunger will present itself during your fast. Hunger is a fickle thing. It will rise and fall throughout your day based on hormone and blood sugar levels as well as environmental cues. For instance, the clock says noon, so you think about lunch. You smell french fries and suddenly have a desire to eat french fries.
Because of its come-and-go nature, you can expect to experience pangs of hunger during your fasting hours, but you can also count on them to subside. So, a great trick for controlling hunger during a fast is to take a 10-minute timeout.
When you experience hunger, take a look at the clock and tell yourself that you’ll wait and make a decision whether or not to break your fast when 10 minutes have passed. The beauty of this trick is that most of us are easily distracted. By declaring to yourself that you’ll pick up this eating topic later, your brain naturally moves on to something else. Because hunger naturally ebbs and flows, you end up feeling under control when that time has passed, or, like I often experience, a half hour or more goes by before you even remember the deal you made with yourself, making it easy to continue fasting.
When done properly, fasting is a great tool for improving health and accelerating weight loss. The key to keeping hunger at bay is to work with your body. Start with short fasts, giving your body time to adapt to your new eating pattern. Keep things interesting and stay hydrated with carbonated water and electrolytes. Train yourself to ride out hunger by using 10-minutes timeouts and make fasting easier and more effective by following a low carb, high-fat diet. To help you with food choices, you can download my list of 100 low carb foods here.
(1) Gill, Shubhroz, and Satchidananda Panda. “A smartphone app reveals erratic diurnal eating patterns in humans that can be modulated for health benefits.” Cell metabolism 22.5 (2015): 789-798.
(2) Tiwari, Swasti, Shahla Riazi, and Carolyn A. Ecelbarger. “Insulin’s impact on renal sodium transport and blood pressure in health, obesity, and diabetes.” American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology (2007).