You’ve done your research, heard the testimonies and watched people transform their health with intermittent fasting. You’re convinced. Intermittent fasting is a simple solution to improve health, well-being and longevity. But hang on, there’s one minor issue — hunger.
“How could I willingly invite hunger into my life? “
Indeed, hunger is part of intermittent fasting, but most likely not as you apprehend it. If you’ve ever experienced hunger pangs, or “hanger’ (feeling hungry and angry), you may assume that this feeling is ten times worse when fasting. This is not the case. Hunger is transient, and will only last about 20 minutes — most people are unaware of this, as they don’t let hunger linger long enough, if at all.
In some cases, people never reach a true state of hunger, as their appetite keeps them consistently full. Appetite is a desire to eat, which can be triggered by hormones, senses (sights, smells and sounds), or emotions like boredom and stress. True hunger on the other hand is a physical need to eat, often coupled with stomach grumbling and discomfort. This is an important distinction to make, as if you understand why you feel hungry, you will be able to take control of the situation, and your hunger.
The most important thing to understand is that it’s ok to feel hungry, and not to be afraid of it. It may feel temporarily uncomfortable, but nothing bad will happen. As Pavlov demonstrated, hunger is a conditioned response to a stimulus, which can be reconditioned. For example, have you ever noticed that hunger strikes at the same time, each day?
If you’ve ever taken care of a pet with a regular feeding schedule, you will know this to be true — they will incessantly watch your every move just before supper.
This is because the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, rises in anticipation for a usual meal — the body has learned to stimulate hunger, at normally feeding times. Clever, eh?!
The initial phases of fasting are definitely the most challenging as your ‘learned appetite’ will nudge you to eat, and true hunger will take some getting use to. However, there are many techniques that will help you ride the hunger wave, comfortably. In this article I will discuss 7 tricks that help manage hunger, so that you can reach your fasting goal.
1. Eat low-carb, high fat
What you eat, is just as important as when you eat. Remember that intermittent fasting is not a passport to eat poor quality food. Rather, use it to get the most out of your diet and health.
We recommend you stick to high quality, low carbohydrate, high fat and moderate protein meals in-between fasts. This will stabilise blood sugars, promote satiety, and make fasting run that little bit smoother.
Intermittent fasting is normally a natural development from a well established low-carb diet, as reduced hunger is very common.
For whatever reason you are doing intermittent fasting, a high fat, low-carb diet will enhance your results, helping you reach your health goals, faster.
2. Begin with low-carb and fat adaption
Following on from the point above, a good way to start intermittent fasting is to prepare the foundation with a low-carb diet. Once you’re fat adapted (ie. efficiently using fat for fuel, rather than glucose), your appetite will have significantly reduced, and fasting will feel instinctive and effortless.
Give yourself at least two weeks to adjust your diet, and then consider adding in intermittent fasting.
3. Reduce stress, get a good night sleep and avoid alcohol
Poor sleep, stress and alcohol have a profound effect on appetite as they disrupt hormone and blood sugar control.
You can side step these sugar and hormone induced hunger pangs by improving sleep quality, practicing stress reduction techniques and limiting alcohol consumption.
To improve sleep quality, makes sure your bedroom is cool and well ventilated; stick to a regular bedtime, that’s not too late; block out noise and light; don’t eat at least 3 hours before bed; avoid screens and blue light an hour before bedtime; wind down with a book; incorporate exercise into your day.
A good night sleep will certainly have a positive, knock on effect to your stress levels. For an extra bit of calm and serotonin (happy hormone), you can also practice stress reducing techniques like yoga, meditation, exercise, journalling and counselling.
Try to limit alcohol consumption as much as possible, but particularly the day before a fast, to prevent erratic hormones and blood sugars. Understandably, if you do want to drink alcohol, choose low-carb options in moderation. Our guide to alcohol will explain this in more detail.
4. Stay hydrated
Thirst can often be confused with a feeling of hunger, so keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water. Get a head start on hydration and try to drink one to two glasses of water when you first wake up. Aim for about 2–3 litres, total each day — drinking too much water will flush out important electrolytes, so don’t go overboard.
Drinking water can also give a physical filling of fullness, which will help with true hunger pangs. No matter what hunger you are experiencing, water is your weapon during fasting.
If you find it difficult to drink water, especially in the morning, try adjusting the temperature —this will make it more palatable, based on your preference for warm or chilled water. Alternatively if that doesn’t work, you could try sparkling water with a mint and lemon infusion.
5. Replace electrolytes and eat salt
Electrolyte loss is a common and normal response during intermittent fasting. As a result, you may experience dry mouth and thirst, despite your effort of drinking gallons of water. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and make you feel hungry (as described above, thirst can often be confused with hunger).
Electrolytes are integral for health and wellbeing, so we urge you to keep levels in tip top shape, before symptoms set in. To replace electrolytes, you can drink bone broth and salt food liberally during your eating window. Additionally, a magnesium and potassium supplement can be helpful (you can take these while you fast). Here is our guide on electrolytes, which will go through it in more detail.
A pinch of salt is also a great way to cleanse the palate and dampen hunger. Use a small bit at a time, a few dabs on your tongue, and let it work its magic — in no time, hunger will vanish, along with that horrible coating in the mouth.
6. Drink a tea or coffee.
Fill the gap of food with a freshly brewed, black tea or coffee. Similarly like drinking water, a hot beverage will give you a sense of fullness, but will also occupy the “hand to mouth” action, making you feel like you have eaten.
If you’re really struggling with hunger and intermittent fasting, consider drinking bulletproof coffee — coffee with added fats like butter, coconut oil, MCT oil and ghee. The fat will keep you full, whilst maintaining ketosis and autophagy — two key processes that underpin fasting and its benefits. For the fasting purist, consuming a single calorie will break a fast, however, if adding fat to your coffee means that you stick with a fast, or find it easier, then I would say it’s 100% worth it.
7. Distract yourself
Organise exercise, activities and seeing friends when you would normally eat or if hunger flares up. As we discussed earlier, ghrelin levels will rise around meal times, so get prepared and make sure you have something nice to do around these times. You’ll be so preoccupied with enjoying yourself, ghrelin induced hunger will have come and gone, without you even noticing. By all means, whatever you do, don’t let yourself get bored, as we all know, this is an easy pass for hunger to creep in!
Prepare for hunger, but don’t be afraid of it. I promise you, hunger will not be as bad as you anticipate. With these tips and tricks under your belt, you will be able to quickly cast aside hunger pangs and reach your fasting goal.
Bear in mind that fasting disrupts our conditioned appetite, so the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Before you know it, fasting will be an instinctive, natural part of your day, as you respond to the rhythm of true hunger, rather than appetite.
With all that said, if hunger feels too overwhelming, you may need to adjust your fasting regime. Fasting should feel relatively effortless, comfortable and fit into your life. For more details on this, check out last week’s post where I discuss the best way to tailor a fast into your lifestyle.
Like what you’re hearing?
Stay tuned for more guides, to help you with your health journey.
Take care 👋
I’m sure you’re curious about the science behind all this 🔬 Here are some recent medical publications about this topic: