One of the top 5 fears around keto is the fear of being hungry or experiencing food cravings. When done properly, you’re not going to go hungry on keto. This article covers the physical, emotional and psychological hunger and food cravings you can experience on keto, and how to overcome them.
Hungry For More?
If you have chosen to go keto to help you lose weight, you may naturally be concerned about feeling hungry. Fear not my friend! Keto is the best diet for managing your appetite to aid weight loss. Why? Because it influences the hormonal signals that cause hunger. This is one reason people love keto so much – there is much less hunger than on a calorie matched low-fat diet.
There are different types of hunger, some of which are totally unrelated to food. Hunger is defined as “a feeling of discomfort caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat.” But, most people are detached from sensations and feelings that arise in the body. So we find it hard to know if we really need to eat. Often we are trying to suppress uncomfortable emotions with food, or we are bored and acting out of habit. Knowing how you are feeling, and why, is key to making the best decisions.
The 10 Types of Hunger
There are at least ten types of hunger. Which of these are familiar to you?
#1 Nutritional Hunger – this is the only true hunger, when your body needs nutrition.
#2 Thirst– our sense of thirst is easily muddled with hunger, if in doubt drink first.
#3 Variety – we are programmed to seek nutritional variety so want different tastes, textures and colors
#4 Low Blood Sugar – the body protects glycogen stores, before ketosis kicks in, by triggering hunger if blood sugar drops.
#5 Emotional Hunger – food is comforting, acting just like a drug and stimulating feel good neurotransmitters.
#6 Empty Stomach– receptors in the stomach sense emptiness and since we usually keep it full, emptiness feels odd.
#7 Priming – advertisers use food images, artificial smells and happy people to ‘prime’ us to want to eat.
#8 Bacterial– the bad bacteria rooted in your gut influence bad dietary choices.
#9 Habitual – familiar people, places, actions and environments trigger habitual eating, felt as hunger
#10 Addiction – there are many highly addictive substances commonly added to processed foods
Are You Really Hungry?
Question # 1. Do I need some nutrition?
So, when you next feel hungry, ask yourself some questions:
Do you need to consume more macro nutrients? For example have you eaten sufficient fat? Are you lacking an essential micronutrient, for example magnesium which can be found in chocolate? If the answer is yes, then go ahead and consume the nutrition you need. If the answers is no, then ask more questions.
Question # 2. Do I need more hydration?
The answer is almost always yes! We are chronically dehydrated. On keto you need to drink more water and consume enough salts to manage electrolyte levels. Drink a big glass of water, wait 15 minutes then ask yourself again if you are hungry.
Question #3. Am I bored or dissatisfied with my food?
When we eat the same old thing, over and over again, we get both mentally and nutritionally bored.
If after eating you still want ‘more’ this could be variety hunger. Add some new ingredients, flavors or cooking methods to your repertoire. Also consider adding variety to your life in other ways, for example would you benefit from trying a new activity, food, or going somewhere you’ve never been before?
Question #4. Has my blood sugar risen then dropped?
If you are following a standard keto diet then you don’t normally eat carbs which elevate blood sugar. Blood sugar will only ‘drop’ and create hunger after it has risen. So, the trick is to stay away from carbs which make it rise (and avoid excess protein which has the same effect).
If you accidentally got back on the blood-sugar roller-coaster: all you can do is ride it out. Take note of which food has done this to you and avoid it in the future. Stay hydrated, consider exercising to burn it off and wait for things to return to normal.
Question #5: Am I experiencing or suppressing an emotion?
We often feel emotions in the gut, like butterflies in the stomach when we are nervous. Since food and emotions are ‘co-located’ we often confuse the two. We also habitually use food to ‘stuff down’ emotions we don’t want to experience.
Imagine the following scenario: you are going to a party but feel a little nervous and when you arrive there is nobody there you know. Standing by in the corner you feel isolated and lonely, you start to feel self-conscious about being by yourself. Suddenly you spot a buffet packed with food! You wander over with good intentions, just to have a ‘look.’ But, all the food looks and smells delicious and so tempting. You ‘realize’ you are much more ‘hungry’ than you first thought. As you begin to eat you no longer feel nervous, isolated, lonely or self-conscious. You are filled with the food sensations and in that moment nothing else matters.
You can see how positive emotions felt while eating suppress less palatable emotions. By looking for patterns in your own emotional hunger it can help you spot the causes. What are your triggers for emotional eating? Boredom is the number one emotional trigger for eating! What does your body really need? What could satisfy you emotionally instead?
Question #6: Is my stomach simply empty?
It is perfectly safe to have an empty stomach. Most of us never really feel what it is like to be completely empty as we eat so often. The sensations we know as hunger are often the stomach still digesting the last meal. Give your body a chance to recover and your stomach the opportunity to fully empty, you may feel new sensations or even emotions as you experience a new kind of void. If emptiness is difficult, find ways to distract yourself or focus your mind elsewhere. Mint or ginger tea will reduce physical feelings of nausea and fill you up with liquids until your next meal.
Question #7: Has something external triggered my appetite?
There are immense profits associated with food-marketing. Advertising, product placement, bill boards and artificial scents are all designed to increase your appetite. If you are suddenly hit by the urge to eat, take a look around you. Could something have triggered your desire to eat? Did you smell something tasty? Don’t let profits dictate your choices, look out for external influences.
Question #8. Are my bacteria hungry?
This might seem like an odd question, but, the ‘bad’ bacteria in our gut influence our dietary decisions.
Bacteria take control by hijacking the Vagus nerve and creating urges that drive their own sugar addiction. If you find yourself wanting to grab carb-rich food and scoff it down, blame your bacteria!
High quality probiotics and prebiotics re-stock the good bacteria and improve your immune system. The good guys make you grab fresh vegetables (as this is what feeds them).
Question #9. Is this just a habit?
We are creatures of habit: 90% of our thoughts and actions are repetitions of past thoughts and actions.
When we visit the same places, we expect the same things. When we hang around with the same people, we predict the same experiences. When it’s noon we expect lunch! Without examination we continue old and unhelpful eating habits. Are there specific events, times, places or people with habitual eating patterns? Preparing yourself mentally for habitual eating patterns will help you break them.
Question #10. Do I want something addictive?
If you are hungry for something dense, carb-heavy or loaded with sugar then it is more than likely addiction. Sugar and refined carbs are much more addictive than illegal street drugs. Most of what we think of as a craving to satisfy our sweet tooth is actually acute addiction. Physiologically the brain reacts to super-sweet refined sugars as if it were a drug.
Sugars found in nature, such as wild blackberries, are much less sweet and therefore less addictive. Modern processed foods are packed with sugars and other additives (like MSG) which increase addiction. When cravings kick in, calm yourself with deep breaths, fresh air and a distraction. Remind yourself this is an addiction, and you do not wish to be drug dependent.
Recognize Your Hunger
So, we have presented a long list of reasons we feel hunger, but only one of them is because we actually need to eat!Hunger is a very strong survival instinct and we can’t just tell it to go away. We need to learn to understand and manage it in ways which support us. While traditional diets don’t manage hunger, the keto diet is designed to keep hunger to a minimum. Fat will keep you feeling full and satisfied for several hours. If you are still hungry after working through question it could be that you are not eating enough fat. Or you need to kick-start your metabolic systems with intermittent fasting, which we’ll look at in the next article.
We suggest you ignore most of the food-based advice you have grown up with. Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. We do not need to eat or snack every few hours. And it’s ok to feel a little hungry! This is your diet, for your body. You chose exactly what you want to eat and when to nourish your needs. Don’t give in to bacterial, habitual and primed hungers or addictive cravings. Food is not entertainment and emotions do not need suppressing. Unless you’re genuinely nutritionally hungry, don’t eat!
- We feel hunger for all kinds of reasons, only one of them being nutritional
- The other reasons we feel hunger are because we’re thirsty, because we want more variety, having low blood sugar, for emotional reasons, have an empty stomach, being ‘primed’ by food adverts, because our gut bacteria are influencing our thinking, out of habit, and because of addiction
- Recognizing what kind of hunger we have will support us in making well informed decisions about whether or not we need to eat or what food would truly be suitable for us