Blog Weight Loss Does Hunger Mean You’re Burning Fat? Answering the Million-Dollar Question

Does Hunger Mean You’re Burning Fat? Answering the Million-Dollar Question

The fitness landscape is evolving rapidly. Research and studies in this sphere help us discover some incredible facts about how our bodies work. One question that is asked often is: does hunger mean you are burning fat?

The answer to this, like many questions regarding fitness, isn’t as straightforward as you may think. If you often experience hunger pangs and wonder if it’s your body burning calories, you should examine the link between hunger signals and the body’s metabolic process.

Hunger may be one sign that your body is running out of fuel, which could result in turning to its stored fat reserves. But this isn’t the only factor at play. 

Some people may assume that dieting and starving yourself leads to more weight loss, which is actually more harmful than beneficial. Let’s learn more about the science behind weight loss and whether these assumptions are true or not.

Are You Burning Fat when You’re Hungry?

When considering the question, does hunger mean you’re burning fat? it’s important to understand the connection between hunger and weight loss.

Weight loss typically occurs by consuming fewer calories and burning more calories than normal. When you consume fewer calories, your body resorts to other sources of energy such as fat stores to utilize energy (17). This results in weight loss over time. 

At the same time, hunger is a natural response to the body’s lack of nutrients. It signals the body that it’s time to eat. The feeling of hunger starts when your blood glucose level is low. This stimulates the production of ghrelin or a hunger hormone that triggers the feeling of hunger (14).

When your stomach has been empty for hours, it causes rumbling which sweeps the remaining food into your intestines and signals the brain to focus on hunger and making food the number one priority. To increase blood glucose levels, your body releases glucagon, which extracts energy from glycogen stores in your muscles and liver to release stored sugar into the bloodstream (5).

After the carbohydrate stores have been utilized, your body starts extracting energy from fat stores and you burn fat and/or muscle. This happens in extreme starvation and must be avoided as starving yourself can cause more harm.

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When you starve yourself by skipping meals, your body goes into energy conservation mode, which prevents fat loss and slows down metabolism, inhibiting your efforts to lose weight (3). Therefore, you must consume regular healthy meals and moderately reduce your daily caloric intake to lose weight sustainably.

In a nutshell, feeling hungry is not a sign of fat burning or weight loss as hunger is simply a natural sensation to an empty stomach and a lack of nutrients in the body. It is not a sign that should be ignored. 

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How Do You Know If Your Body Is Burning Fat?

Tracking your fat loss can be helpful on your weight loss journey. Here are some visible signs of fat-burning through which you may know if your body is burning fat:

Less Hunger

If you feel less hungry than usual, this may indicate that your weight loss efforts are working. If your diet includes more proteins and fiber, you may feel fuller for longer. Protein affects the levels of hormones and other signaling molecules that tell your brain you’re satisfied (1). Fiber slows down the food moving through your digestive tract so you have the sensation of feeling full for longer. 

Mood Elevation

You may notice that you feel better generally when you’re losing weight. This is because weight loss can improve your psychological well-being. According to a 2013 study, individuals who were trying to lose weight experienced higher positive well-being, vitality, and self-control, together with less anxiety and depression (13).

Clothes Fit Differently

One of the biggest benefits of losing weight is that your clothes start to fit differently. This may mean that your current clothing fits more loosely or you can fit into something that has been too tight for a while. If you feel a shrinkage in your measurements, this means your body is efficiently burning fat and slimming down. This can enhance your motivation and make you persistent on your weight loss journey.

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According to a 2017 study of active duty military personnel, 77% of women and 36% of men said fitting into clothes was a motivation for losing weight (8).

does hunger mean you're burning fat  

Improvement in Blood Pressure

Being overweight or obese places you at higher risk of high blood pressure, which could lead to a stroke or heart attack (4). When you have high blood pressure and lose weight, your blood pressure is likely to lower, which protects your heart and improves your health.

Reduction in Chronic Pain

As your body burns fat and you lose weight, the severity of chronic pain may also diminish, particularly in weight-bearing areas such as the lower back or lower legs. A 2017 study found that individuals who lost at least 10% of weight experienced a significant improvement in the spatial distribution of pain, fatigue, and depressive symptoms (7).

More Energy

In addition to experiencing less pain, you may notice that you feel more energetic throughout the day. This is because when you weigh less, everything you do throughout the day requires less energy, so you may feel that you have energy to spare. If you feel ready to kick-start your day, this may be a sign that your body is burning fat.

Less Snoring

Overweight people often experience snoring and are at higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea due to increased pressure on their airways. If you start snoring less, this may be a sign that you’re burning fat.

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Should You Feel Hungry when Losing Weight?

Feeling hungry when losing weight is common, but there are things you can do to prevent this. It happens for several reasons. When you initiate your weight-loss journey, you restrict calories and consume less than you did before starting your weight-loss journey.

As your body goes through hormonal changes, this leads to higher feelings of hunger caused by the production of hunger hormone, ghrelin. When you restrict your caloric intake, ghrelin production increases and leptin decreases, which is associated with feelings of fullness.

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In addition, when you consume fewer calories, your body breaks down fat stores to make up any energy shortfall. This can lead to feelings of hunger. Also, when you drastically cut down calories and starve yourself, your blood glucose levels drop, which leads to hunger (6).

Eating foods that are high in fiber and/or protein but low in calories can help stave off hunger. Fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins such as beans and legumes are great to help fill you up. Staying hydrated can also help, as can finding other activities to do if you think your urge to eat may be related to emotional cues or boredom. 

How Do I Put My Body in Fat-Burning Mode?

Losing weight is a challenging task that requires dedication and persistence. Although you may feel a temptation to indulge in short-term diets, it’s better to take it slow as sustainable fat loss happens gradually.

Here’s how you can put your body in fat-burning mode:

Perform Strength Training

Strength training may seem counterintuitive when losing weight. However, it works as a fat-burning exercise that does wonders for your weight-loss journey. This is because when you lift weights, your muscle mass increases, which takes more energy to maintain, helping you burn fat. Multiple studies have shown that strength training for at least 4 weeks may decrease body fat by an average of 1.46% (12).

Get More Sleep

You may not believe it, but going to bed early could be quite beneficial for your fat-loss journey. Having adequate sleep reduces cravings and makes you feel less hungry than when you’re sleep-deprived.

Eat Healthy Fats

Another way to put your body into fat-burning mode is by consuming healthy fats. Ultra-processed or fried foods tend to contain more unhealthy fat and are associated with weight gain. Instead, switch to healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados, seeds, nuts, fish, and other vegetable oils. A study followed participants who consumed the Mediterranean diet and discovered that these people showed greater weight loss than a low-fat diet after 12 months or more (9).

Make Changes to Your Diet

Making certain changes to your diet will help your body get into fat-burning mode faster, such as replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with zero-calorie drinks. Drinks such as sodas or other sugary drinks are packed with calories that can contribute to weight gain.

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Try replacing sodas with water or unsweetened tea. You may also consume certain fat-burning drinks such as green tea, which is rich in antioxidants, potentially helping boost metabolism slightly and ultimately contributing to fat loss.

In addition, try to incorporate soluble fiber found in plants in your diet as it absorbs water and moves slowly through your GI tract, which helps you feel satiated for a long time. Consuming high-fiber fat-burning foods such as fruits, legumes, nuts, and vegetables is often recommended to help with weight loss (2).

does hunger mean you're burning fat  

How Long Does it Take for Your Body to Start Burning Stored Fat?

The ability to burn stored fat is dependent on multiple factors such as diet, physical activity, and fitness level. Generally, it is believed to take approximately 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise to start burning body fat (17). When you work out, your body utilizes energy from glycogen stores in your muscles. The liver also releases glycogen to cope with fluctuating blood glucose levels.

To speed up fat-burning, you can reduce your calorie intake and increase your physical activity (both through exercise and simply moving more throughout the day) to create an energy deficit. This means that you’re burning more energy (calories) than you consume in a day. Your body will turn to its fat stores to make up the difference. By being consistent in your weight loss efforts, you may easily and effectively lose weight and burn fat.

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Best Exercises to Burn Fat

If you want to burn fat sustainably and effectively, the following workouts may help (11):

Jumping Jacks

Cardio is ideal for pumping your heart rate and burning calories. Jumping jacks are considered to be one of the best fat-burning exercises that can be performed anywhere and anytime. To perform this:

  1. Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your arms by your sides.
  3. Set a timer for 30 seconds and jump and thrust your arms out and over your head.
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Squat Jumps

Squats are considered to be helpful for toning your thighs and legs and squat jumps offer strength training with cardio.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  1. Bend your knees slightly and lower yourself in a squat position.
  2. Jump by thrusting your body upward.
  3. Land on your feet in a squat position.
  4. Do this at least 10 times.

High Knees

If you’re a beginner to cardio, high knees could help you jumpstart an exercise routine. To perform high knees:

  1. Stand on the ground and raise your right knee to your chest.
  2. Switch to your other knee.
  3. Alternate between both knees.
  4. Increase this motion slightly to do a full cardio workout.

These exercises are just an example of how you can gently boost your weight loss with no equipment required. Create combinations of these exercises to make your workout sessions fun, or just do a set every hour or so while you’re working or doing other things. Try to eat a healthy, balanced, reduced-calorie diet to ensure you hit your goals. You may also follow the 21-day fat loss challenge, which is a gradual, controlled, and long-term approach to losing weight.

Read more: Counting Macros for Weight Loss: Pros, Cons, and How-To (A Beginner’s Guide)

does hunger mean you're burning fat  


  • Do you burn more fat if you work out when hungry?

No, you don’t burn more fat when you work out hungry or on an empty stomach. The amount of calories you burn on an empty stomach is similar to what you burn after consuming a pre-workout meal.

  • How many hours without food is considered an empty stomach?

According to the FDA, an empty stomach for medication-taking purposes is considered one hour before eating or two hours after eating (10).

  • How long does it take your stomach to shrink?

When you consume food or eat a hefty meal, your stomach expands to hold the food and then shrinks back to its original size after four hours once your food passes into the small intestine (18).

  • Does drinking water on an empty stomach help?

Drinking water is important, but it doesn’t matter if you drink it on an empty stomach or with a meal. Drinking water throughout the day can help make sure you get enough fluid to stay properly hydrated.

The Bottom Line

If you’re wondering if hunger means you’re burning fat, the answer is no. Hunger is a natural response to depleting nutrients and is the body’s signal to consume food. On the other hand, you may feel hungry when you burn fat by working out or restricting calories, but there are things you can do to prevent this. It’s important to follow a gradual weight loss routine to lose weight sustainably.

By prioritizing nutritious foods and maintaining a consistent exercise routine, you can achieve sustainable weight management goals. Remember, listening to your body’s hunger signals is important, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle in a healthy lifestyle.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. 9 Important Functions of Protein in Your Body (2023,
  2. 22 High Fiber Foods You Should Eat (2023,
  4. Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity (n.d.,
  5. Glucagon Physiology  (2019,
  6. How to Lose Weight Without Feeling Hungry (n.d.,
  7. Improvement in the Spatial Distribution of Pain, Somatic Symptoms, and Depression After a Weight Loss Intervention (2017,
  8. Motivations for Weight Loss Among Active Duty Military Personnel (2017,
  9. Systematic Review of the Mediterranean Diet for Long-Term Weight Loss (2015,
  10. ‘Take on an Empty Stomach.’ How Do You Know When Your Stomach Is Empty? (2018,
  11. The Best Fat-Burning Exercises for at Home and the Gym (2023,
  12. The Effect of Resistance Training in Healthy Adults on Body Fat Percentage, Fat Mass and Visceral Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2018,
  13. Weight Change, Psychological Well-Being, and Vitality in Adults Participating in a Cognitive-Behavioral Weight Loss Program (2016,
  14. What happens in my body when I feel hungry? (n.d.,
  15. What Is a Ketone (2023,
  16. What to know about ketosis (2020,
  17. Where Does Body Fat Go When You Lose Weight? (2019, health.clevelandclinic. org)
  18. Your Digestive System (2023,
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