Does Hunger Mean You’re Burning Fat and Is Starvation A Good Choice For Weight Loss?
There are hundreds of weight loss diets, the healthy and the unhealthy, effective and ineffective, unsustainable, extremely restrictive, less limiting and so on. Each person chooses a diet according to their goal and/or preference, and while some stick to a safe and gradual weight loss plan, others resort to restrictive diets that promise a rapid loss of weight, not realizing that eventually this sort of practice only harms your health and makes you regain that rapidly lost weight. Despite such a great number of healthy and efficient diets, losing weight in general is not usually welcomed as it’s associated with always feeling hungry. Because of that notion, lots of overweight people refuse to diet. This is understandable because no one likes battling hunger, going to bed hungry, or in general feeling hungry. The stereotype outlines the condition that you won’t shed pounds if you don’t feel hungry. But is that really true? Does hunger mean you’re burning fat? And can you slim down without regularly getting hungry? Stick around to find out the answers to all these questions!
Does Hunger Mean You’re Burning Fat and How Weight Loss Works?
To understand whether hunger is the true indicator of weight loss, first you need to know out how this process works. The main staple of slimming down is an energy deficit – the condition of burning more calories than you consume (8). When you burn more calories than you eat, the body uses up all the energy available from your food intake and then resorts to other sources of energy – fat depositions (10). As a result, you burn fat and shed pounds. In order to lose 1 pound (0.45 kg) of fat, you need to burn 3500 calories per week.
For optimal weight loss, it is recommended that you reduce your daily energy intake by 500-1000 calories. In doing so, you will be able to lose 1-2 pounds (0.45-1 kg) a week (3). Such a rate of weight loss is considered healthy and sustainable and is recommended by the experts in most cases. You may reduce even more calories, which will result in a more rapid weight loss, but this is known to be short-lived, and sometimes even not safe (12). That is why, such diet plans, as a 500-calorie diet, or 600-calorie diet, which are very restrictive, may be harmful for your health, and should be followed only in the severe cases of obesity and under medical supervision (5).
Although technically the more calories you restrict – the more fat you burn, this is not always the case. When your body is in extreme energy deficit, it enters survival mode, as when anytime it feels like it is under the risk of starvation (11). It slows your metabolism, burns fewer calories, and tries to save up as much energy as possible. In such cases, you begin to burn muscle mass (2). So, despite certain beliefs, consuming an extremely low number of calories, and starving your body will only hinder your fat loss.
How Hunger Works?
Now, the second important topic that will help you answer the question: “Does hunger mean you’re burning fat?” is hunger. So, what is hunger really? Hunger is a sensation that is only indirectly linked to the need for food. Here is how it works (9):
- It starts with a vagus nerve sending a signal to the brain about how full or empty your stomach is, and about various nutrients present in the intestines.
- When you are hungry, levels of key nutrients in your blood, like glucose, are at their lowest.
- Cells in your stomach and intestine start to produce ghrelin – a hormone that triggers the feeling of hunger.
- The rumbling in your stomach, which is called “borborygmus” occurs when it has been empty for two hours and starts to contract and sweep the remaining food into the intestines.
- When the signal reaches your brain, it increases your impulsiveness and reduces your ability to focus on long-term decisions, making food your number one priority.
Although your gastrointestinal tract induces the feeling of hunger, your brain is the one in charge of the process. It picks up the signal from the stomach and tells you that it is time to eat. However, that doesn’t explain why sometimes hunger can be induced even by the sight, smell, or just a thought of food. The thing here is, that there are two types of hunger.
The first type, homeostatic hunger, is focused on balancing your energy reserves short-term, while the second type, hedonic hunger, is responsible for energy storage and uses any opportunity that it can to do so. That is why sometimes even when you are already full, you reach for that extra bite of your favorite dish, or a tasty snack. Although hedonic hunger may have been one of the key factors that contributed to the survival of humanity when humans were hunter-gatherers, in modern times this is an instinct only and adds to the risk of overeating, and the development of obesity (13).
Does Hunger Mean You’re Burning Fat?
It is time to answer the question that brought you to this article in the first place, and that is “Does hunger mean you’re burning fat?”. Based on what was stated above, from the previous information, you can probably come to the conclusion that hunger doesn’t have much to do with the fat-burning process. Hunger indicates that you are running low on nutrients and energy, not that your body is starting to burn fat storage. Furthermore, long-lasting hunger induced by the drastic calorie restriction is an indicator of starvation, which will only slow down your metabolism and weight loss. You can also be hungry for something while you are still quite full, which will result in the accumulation of energy in the form of fat.
Although you may feel hungry when you are trying to lose weight, and restrict your energy intake, being hungry doesn’t mean that you’re burning fat, because you can shed pounds without always feeling hungry. The main factor that affects this is the means of how you are losing weight.
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How To Slim Down Without Always Feeling Hungry?
Despite the stereotype, losing weight is not based on starvation, and doesn’t require you to endure the feeling of hunger all the time. A smart diet can do both – help you shed pounds while keeping you full and satisfied. It is up to you, whether you want to constantly fight off the thoughts of food, or stick to a healthy diet, and keep your hunger at bay. Here are some tips and recommendations that will help you effectively fight and suppress your hunger during weight loss (6):
As people often confuse hunger with thirst, drinking a glass of plain water here and there throughout the day will not only improve your skin, lubricate your joints and protect sensitive tissues, but also make you feel a bit fuller. Experts recommended that an average adult man should drink about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluid a day, while for women it is 11.5 cups (2.7 liters). This amount includes fluids from water, other beverages and drinks, and food.
Drink a glass of water before, during, and after exercise, with and between every meal (7). If you are trying to lose weight, you should steer clear of alcohol and sugary drinks, such as soda or commercial juice, as they will only add to your energy intake, without providing you with any essential nutrients. In place of these and if you don’t like plain water, you may select unsweetened coffee and tea, which have been proven to be quite beneficial for weight loss, other options include lemon or cucumber water.
Make sure your meals include protein, healthy fats, and fiber
All these nutrients are known for their ability to prolongate the feeling of satiety. Protein acts as an appetite suppressant, and along with certain healthy fats may significantly decrease your hunger. Your diet should include the following protein-rich foods:
- Lean meats
- Beans and legumes
- Soy products
- Greek yogurt
It is also recommended that you eat more healthy fats from the following sources:
- Nuts and nut oils
- Seeds and seed oils
- Olives and olive oil
Fiber doesn’t break down so quickly like other foods, and remains in your body longer, adding to the feeling of satiety. For adequate amounts of fiber, you should consume the following fiber-rich foods:
- Whole grains
- Unpeeled vegetables
- Apples and avocados
- Chia seeds
- Beans and pulses
Switch to dark chocolate
If you have a sweet tooth, and can’t live without chocolate, then luckily, there is a solution for you. Replace your milk chocolate with a dark one. A 2010 study has has shown that dark chocolate could help suppress appetite and decrease cravings.
Reduce stress levels
Add some spices and ingredients that reduce appetite
Some ingredients can make your meal or snack more satiating. For example, ginger could reduce appetite and increase satiety, so drinking a cup of unsweetened tea with ginger and lemon can be a great low-calorie option for breakfast or dinner. Honey could delay the hunger hormone ghrelin response, so consider adding it rather than refined sugar. People who are used to spicy food can try to spice up their meal with the addition of cayenne pepper, a worthy spice for weight loss diet regimes.
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Is it ok to workout on an empty stomach?
It depends on what kind of workout you are going to perform. If it is walking or running on an empty stomach, you should be alright as long as you are staying within 70 to 80 percent of your maximum aerobic rate. However, if you are aiming at a killer workout, it is better to grab something to eat, before getting down to business. In that way, you will deplete your carbohydrate stores and start burning fat within 16 or 20 minutes.
Overall, a fasting workout carries the risk of going into a hypoglycemic episode, where your body glucose falls, and you may pass out (1).
How to reset your body to lose fat?
In order to increase your metabolism and start burning fat, you need to make the following changes in your diet and lifestyle (4):
Eat enough healthy fats
Consume plenty of foods with unsaturated fats, such as avocados, nuts and seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and some grass-fed butter.
Consume real, whole foods
These include non-starchy vegetables (spinach, kale, bell peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, and others), lower-sugar fruits and berries, grass-fed meats, pastured chicken and eggs, wild-caught fish.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is extremely important for the proper functioning of your body. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and lots of other health problems. An average adult should sleep at least 7 hours a day, in order to maintain optimal health.
Avoid refined carbs and processed sugars
Reduce the consumption of alcohol, white breads, cereals, crisps, biscuits, and cakes.
Even a 30-minute walk a day will significantly add to your fat burning process. Choose the activity which you like the best and make it a regular part of your health.
Consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting has been proven to be effective at helping you to burn fat, by inducing ketosis – a state where your body runs out of glucose and resorts to burning fat. It has also shown to increase insulin sensitivity. There are various types of intermittent fasting, each has its benefits and goals. You can try 14/10 intermittent fasting, as it is relatively easier to follow if you are new to the concept of fasting.
Although weight loss is often associated with hunger, they are not one in the same. If you are looking for an answer to the question: “Does hunger mean you’re burning fat?”, then this article was the right place for you. And so the answer is no, because you can burn fat without always being hungry. All you need is to choose the right diet, with an adequate energy restriction, and exercise regularly. If you still suffer from occasional hunger pangs, then the above-listed tips and recommendations are all you need to continue losing weight, while keeping your hunger at bay. However, before making any abrupt changes in your lifestyle, please consult a dietitian.
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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!
- Can I Work Out On an Empty Stomach? (n.d., webmd.com)
- Changes in fat-free mass during significant weight loss: a systematic review (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- How to reset your midlife body to burn fat – in six easy steps (2019, telegraph.co.uk)
- Rapid Weight Loss (2019, webmd.com)
- Ten natural ways to suppress appetite (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Water: How much should you drink every day? (2017, mayoclinic.org)
- Weight-loss basics (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- What happens in my body when I feel hungry? (n.d., sciencefocus.com)
- Where Does Body Fat Go When You Lose Weight? (2019, health.clevelandclinic.org)
- Why Am I Losing Weight But Not Body Fat? (2019, livestrong.com)
- Why do doctors recommend a slow rate of weight loss? What’s wrong with fast weight loss? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Why do we get hungry? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)