“Why am I still hungry after eating protein and veggies?!”
Do you find that even though you eat plenty of the right things, you feel like you’re way more hungry than you should be?
You’re eating plenty of protein and veggies, but you feel like a bottomless pit when eating. Or maybe you get hungry only 1-2 hours after a meal. Or maybe you’re experiencing some other form of incomplete satisfaction… your meals just aren’t cutting it for you.
With the changes that you’ve made, this level of hunger feels weird and a little frustrating. Right?
And you’ve been around the block enough times to know that this much hunger is a bad sign for your hopes of achieving sustainable weight loss. You know that being this hungry will either lead to you consciously saying “screw it!” and returning to old habits… or that it will lead to your body DEMANDING more food and experiencing binging and/or mindless eating episodes.
While it’s true that your diet changes should allow you to attain more of what I call “fullness per calorie”, people often simplify this concept a bit too much and miss some critical nuances.
First, you need to take your starting point into consideration. “More protein, veggies, and fruits” is often great advice. But more than WHAT, exactly?
If you’re just starting out on your path towards sustainable weight loss, most likely you’re not eating nearly enough protein, veggies, or both. In which case, aiming for “more!” is a very worthwhile endeavor.
But that doesn’t mean that your diet should consist ONLY of these foods. Over time, you might find you start thinking your habits of protein eating and veggie eating have become diet rules demanding that you take in way more of these than you would like.
That is the voice of all-or-nothing thinking embedded into your brain, sabotaging you with its subliminal message marketing for the diet industry… trying to get you to cross the line from making sustainable changes to following a new set of diet rules.
Second, protein, fruits, and veggies are not the only foods that contribute to feeling full.
The analogy I have used with my clients for some time is that satiety is like a table.
Supporting this table, we have 4 legs:
- Dietary fat.
Depending on how you want to think about it, you could assign “fiber” to the 3rd and/or 4th legs, since it provides “bulk” but is technically a carbohydrate and is abundant in many starchy foods.
Volume refers to the total space that your food occupies. The more your stomach feels stretched, the more “fullness” you experience. This is the main way that increasing fruit and veggie intake increases your fullness per calorie.
So what’s going on when it doesn’t work?
It’s simple, really. You can’t expect one leg to keep the table strong and sturdy.
“But but but…I eat plenty of protein too!”
Cool! 2 legs are better than 1. Unfortunately, though, our table hasn’t evolved to be able to walk upright, so we’re going to need all 4 legs.
Each of the 4 “legs” works on satiety through a different mechanism. Your body responds to the intake of fat, protein, carbohydrate, and total volume in different ways.
When you neglect 1 or more of these legs, you get an incomplete level of satisfaction. You feel satisfied and not satisfied at the same time…or you find yourself temporarily satisfied, but that table quickly comes crashing down.
Third, when you chop off one or more legs of the table, you can dramatically change your calorie intake.
Hell, this might even be why you took out the hacksaw and starting cutting out the carbs and/or fat in the first place.
When you reduce intake of specific macronutrients, you can create a sudden and dramatic decrease in your calorie intake. No matter how much you’re maximizing your fullness per calorie with strong nutrition and lifestyle habits, there’s no getting around that you need enough calories.
You can have perfect consistency with your workout routine, sleep 9 hours a night, and have the perfect balance percentage-wise of protein, carbs, and fat…but if you’re only eating 800 calories per day, you’re going to want to chew your arm off.
This calorie void is often short lived. It is typically filled in by overeating later in the day or by replacement calories sneaking in. As in, you dropped your calories by 800 a day by no longer eating grains or white potatoes and then “for some reason” ;-), you want to make lots of bacon and recipes with lots of cheese.
Who wants to be hungry all the time? I sure as hell don’t. It’s natural that your body will do its best to resist that.
And let’s be real. There’s only so much that herbs and spices can do to a meal consisting of just chicken and broccoli. Satisfaction isn’t purely a physical experience. Flavor and enjoyment are really important too.
By weakening 1 or more of your legs of the satiety table, you end up reducing how much fullness per calorie you’re getting.
Shifting your diet to more protein and veggies helps until a certain point…and then shifting it more only results in diminishing returns.
You become more “hangry” and everyone knows “watch out! They’re on a diet and can blow at any moment!”.
You find yourself “for some reason” in the kitchen more often.
You find yourself more vulnerable to the impulses of emotional eating.
And it becomes exhausting to try to distract yourself from all your favorite foods that you’re trying your hardest to avoid.
Protein and veggies are very powerful weapons for helping you to feel satisfied while losing weight.
But that’s mainly because you aren’t – or weren’t – getting enough of them.
If you are getting plenty, it’s possible that fat and carbs will be “the new” protein and veggies for you, where deliberating increasing one or both of them will make a dramatic increase in how satisfied your diet is making you.
The key is to find the balance that is right for you. Not to deliberately create an imbalance.
Also, I’ve written above exclusively about health and weight loss habits directly related to the types of foods you eat, but there is a wide variety of other habits that contribute to enabling you to feel more satisfied while reducing your calories. What you put on your plate is an important piece of the puzzle, but it is still just one piece.
For more guidance and support for creating changes that you can sustain (and won’t leave you feeling hungry all the time), click here to check out The Habit Project™.