Energy being low while cutting is an inconvenience and so is not being able to eat all of the foods you want to but these are not the worst things while cutting for most people. Something people struggle with the most while cutting is hunger.
Being hungry while cutting is a natural response to consuming a caloric deficit for fat loss. To minimize hunger while cutting, keep your caloric deficit low, eat foods that are high in fiber and volume to fill you up (leafy green veg), ensure you stay hydrated, and consume more protein for satiety.
Above I’ve just provided a quick snapshot of some of the most basic, yet essential, things you should be doing while cutting in order to be proactive against hunger. These are steps that should be implemented from day one of your cut.
These tips alone though, are likely not enough to prevent hunger while cutting and in all honesty, it’s not something you can prevent. In this article, I’ll provide a list of quick wins that you can utilize to reduce the likelihood that you’ll be hungry while cutting.
Hungry While Cutting
I’m a big fan of the difficulties with dieting in general (which I know is a strange thing to say). It’s challenging but very smart people have found hacks over the years through research and trial & error to make aspects of the dieting phase much easier.
Through personal experience, I’ve got a few detailed guides on how to bulk with a low appetite and now I want to create the same guide for techniques you can use if you’re hungry while cutting.
Cutting is not an easy process and if it were, there would be a lot more people walking around at a shredded 8% body fat level but the truth is, once you get past a certain point (roughly 12% – 13% body fat), your calorie deficit will be steeper than when you started and hunger will be a more frequent feeling.
Are You Supposed To Feel Hungry When Cutting
This might have never occurred to you before but you are supposed to feel hungry while cutting.
It’s a natural response by the human body and is used as a signal for survival. True hunger means that you need to eat to maintain muscle mass and bodily functions but in modern society, the lines between “psychological hunger” and true hunger are truly blurred.
During a caloric deficit, you do not consume enough calories to meet your daily energy demands and when this is not balanced, your body will signal the brain which will, in turn, be hypersensitive to food because it thinks you need to survive.
Cookies in the office, the smell from the confectionaries as you pick up your morning coffee, I could go on but the list is endless. When cutting you will experience cravings and are also likely to be hungry more often as your stomach is also more likely to be empty more often (more true the deeper you are into a cutting phase).
You, therefore, need to accept some level of hunger when cutting because it’s inevitable. What you can do though is utilize strategies to reduce hunger on a cut as a calorie deficit means you’ll be battling both physical and psychological hunger.
How To Reduce Hunger While Cutting
Ok, so we know that some hunger is to be expected while cutting and the goal is therefore not to eliminate hunger (as this isn’t possible during a calorie deficit) but rather to reduce the frequency and strength of your hunger pangs.
The below is a list of 10 strategies that you can implement relatively easily into your daily routine to reduce the feeling of being hungry while cutting. It’s not an exhaustive list and is instead designed to be easy to implement and most importantly, effective!
1. Have a Small Calorie Deficit
The single most important thing you can do to control hunger while cutting is to ensure your calorie deficit is manageable. You should be looking to average 1 – 2lbs of fat loss per week depending on where you are in your cutting phase.
If all you need to lose 1lb per week is a 100kcal deficit then this is absolutely the route and mentality that you should take for a cut. If instead, you think 100kcal is easy I can do 500kcal and lose even more weight, even quicker, you’ll be fighting an upward battle for the rest of your cut.
To key to a successful, long-lasting, and manageable cut is to get more from less. You want to squeeze out progress every step of the way. If you can lose a few 1lbs on a calorie deficit with no cardio, then absolutely do not start your cut with one hour of cardio.
Firstly, this makes a cut much easier as your lifestyle changes are minimal and then gradually increase by smaller increments. Secondly, it leaves you with more options available for when a cut gets more difficult and you are struggling to see any fat loss.
If you are already consuming a 1,000kcal deficit and doing 1 hour of cardio at the start of a cut, how can you possibly push that harder when your body adjusts after 6 weeks. The same is true for hunger.
If you always maintain the smallest caloric deficit that you need to continue losing body fat, you’ll still see progress without the feelings of excessive hunger. If your deficit is too high though, you’ll still make progress but you’ll also be hungrier because you’re eating less than you need to in order to still see results.
Therefore, start with a modest 100kcal deficit and only make adjustments of 50 – 100kcal with each time your fat loss stalls, this is going to be a slower process but it is much more manageable and will ensure you stick with the plan for the long term.
2. Eat for Volume & Fiber
These could be two separate points but I’ve put them together because they serve a similar purpose. Firstly, consuming empty calories (high sugar foods that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream) which means that you are going long periods of time without food in your stomach.
Scientists have studied hunger for decades and found that when the stomach is empty, the hormone “ghrelin” will send a signal to your brain to stimulate appetite and food consumption. The key to controlling ghrelin is to therefore reduce the amount of time each day that your stomach is empty.
I mentioned earlier that people suffer from psychological hunger and when we are in a state of hunger, our body wants foods that it can store as fat (to protect against the potential of limited food in the future) and this is where “snacks” and sugary foods become more appealing and cravings get activated.
Cravings and hunger are closely related but cravings will tend to be satisfied with emotional eating rather than logical choices that deep down, you know you should be making. These decisions are not a weakness but minimizing the need to make them is more important.
Therefore, you want to consume foods that are filling and have plenty of volume whilst also taking longer to digest. By volume, I mean more total food per gram which could mean the food is low in energy density, contains plenty of water, fiber, and/or protein.
The best examples of voluminous foods (which are also considered to be foods high in satiety index) are:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Boiled potatoes
- High protein foods (chicken, fish)
A leafy green salad with fatty fish could be a 500kcal meal yet leave you feeling full for hours whilst also taking just as long to actually digest the food (due to the high fiber content in leafy green veg) yet a 500kcal chocolate bar could be digested and absorbed leaving you hungry from the moment you consumed it.
This is why food choices are so important, the calories on a cut can be identical but certain foods will make your cut so much more bearable and reduce hunger if you opt for foods with a low energy density that is also high in fiber, water, and protein.
3. Stay Active
Boredom and idleness is a key trigger for emotional eating. People eat when they are bored but when you are not mentally or physically stimulated, you’ll also be much more sensitive to noticing feelings of hunger and once your mind focuses on this, it can be very difficult to switch the distraction.
People will usually recommend exercising more as it will have the dual benefit of keeping you active whilst also burning some extra calories in the process but this is not necessarily the case. The more calories you expend and the energy you burn, the greater your calorie deficit will be.
This is likely to cause more feelings of hunger. Therefore, staying active instead means mentally (and to an extent physically). Chores around the house, hobbies that make you engaged will stave off feelings of hunger as your mind is focused elsewhere.
It’s likely everyone reading this can think of a time in their lives when they were so engrossed in a task that they actually forgot to eat. Hours might have passed and by the time you notice the time, it’s only then that you think you’ve not eaten anything. Not the feeling of hunger but just the thought that you should eat.
Mindlessly watching Netflix or playing video games is not something that will act as a distraction though and instead, this mindless action will lead to boredom and wanting food so find ways to stay truly active and engaged while cutting to reduce hunger.
4. Keep Hydrated
This is an easy one as everyone can increase their water intake with genuinely minimal effort!
The need for hydration and food are feelings that are similar but hard to distinguish. Oftentimes when people think they are hungry, they are actually thirsty and in need of water.
Water acts as a natural appetite suppressant and staying fully hydrated will eliminate any confusion between hunger of thirst which can easily be a quick win for eliminating hunger on a cut.
Water helps to fill your stomach research also shows that drinking two glasses of water before a meal helps reduce food consumption but up to 22% with scientists also stating that around 500ml of water should be enough to stretch the stomach and send signals of fullness to the brain.
5. Consumes More Protein
Similar to consuming foods that are high in fiber and volume, foods that are high in satiety are also an excellent option for reducing hunger while cutting and one of the best options for this is to consume more protein.
Protein intake is crucial when cutting as it will help to preserve muscle mass that could otherwise be broken down and used as energy in place of body fat. The reason for this is that the body won’t target fat when in a calorie deficit, it will use a combination of methods for energy production.
A high protein intake will activate muscle protein synthesis and this will help to minimize any muscle degradation and preserve your current level of muscle.
Studies also show that a higher protein diet can help to improve appetite control and satiety which is essential for preventing hunger on a cut. My recommendation would be to consume 1g per 1lb of bodyweight as a minimum with people going as high as 1.5g per 1lb of body weight in some cases.
This will need to be considered alongside your current macronutrient split but for reduced hunger, higher protein intake should be standard practice.
6. Eat Slower
Slower eaters are likely to be more successful at losing weight than a quick eater. Slowing down your eating speed can help you better savor and enjoy the food you are eating which is something many don’t consider during a cut but it also has other benefits.
Those that eat slower are less prone to weight gain or overeating, they take more enjoyment from their food and will also feel fuller from a smaller amount of food (though I’m not sure how the science backs that up and personally think it’s more of a placebo effect).
Some quick wins to eat slower are chewing more, the average person will chew very little and it’s recommended that you slow down to chew your food 20 times. Another good strategy is to place the fork down between bites and also eat fibrous foods that take more chewing in order to break them down.
7. Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
The simple act of eating more frequently can help to reduce hunger and spacing your meals out throughout the day is an excellent strategy to fend off hunger. When bulking, spacing out your meals helps to improve digestion and improve hunger.
On a cut, you don’t want to be hungrier but spacing out your meals have more of a psychological effect as you are now eating more frequently with smaller meals. Your daily calorie intake will remain the same but eating more frequently will help you to mentally feel less hungry.
The longer you go without food the hungrier to tend to get and spacing your meals out every 2 – 3 hours may seem tedious, especially if the meals are not that high in calories but the simple act of eating more often will help with satiety and feeling fuller for longer.
8. Prep Your Meals in Advance
We live in a convenient society. Everything is 1-minute meals, takeaway, microwave foods, ready-cooked foods, foods delivered to your doorstep quicker than what it would take for you to cook the food yourself from scratch.
With the high level of convenience also comes a certain degree of weakness. Convenience is now the easy option and unfortunately, the easy option is not always well aligned with your cutting goals. These quick meals often lack any nutrient density and when looking for convenience, you are more likely to make bad food choices.
The key to a cut is often meal prep. You need to take the thought process out of the equation entirely because when you feel hungry, your decision-making will be affected and your willpower with seeing you make choices that are not aligned with your goals.
When people think of set meal plans, they think of boring food, no variety, and restriction but really meal plans and meal prep is one of the best processes for adherence to a cut and for sticking to the process.
When you take decision making out of the process, you won’t suffer from decision fatigue which is something that can often lead to poor choices being made with you usually opting for the worst option.
Planning your meals ensures you always have the ideal option and it eliminates poor choices. While it’s not necessarily a trick that will directly impact hunger, it is something that will help you better manage hunger and stick to your plan.
9. Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the biggest causes of overeating and when you’re low on calories during a cut, any form of stress can heighten your cravings for food (for the dopamine hit) and will accelerate your feelings of hunger.
Stress over a long duration causes your body to release more cortisol which is a hormone that also increases appetite. There is a strong correlation between stress, overeating, and obesity but this is slightly less relevant to this topic.
Instead, the issue is the increased appetite and cravings that come with stress. This makes it much more likely that you’ll give in to feelings of hunger when cutting and it’s a difficult situation to try and overcome.
The worst thing about stress eating is that it’s not satisfying and will be detrimental to your weight loss journey. World champion bodybuilders are successful because they can eliminate stress from their lives. They eat, train, and sleep but this approach is not really an option for most people.
Work, money, family, chores, events… are all things that can cause stress in everyday life and it can be hard to avoid, cutting itself can even be stressful! Therefore, you are not on a mission to eliminate stress but rather to reduce it.
I’m not a life coach so you’ll need to find ways to reduce stress in your everyday life but what I can recommend are ways you can actively reduce stress. A good night’s sleep, deep tissue massage, walking, laughter, relaxation, hot/cold therapy, hormonal balance (I take a zinc and magnesium supplement for example because otherwise, I’m deficient through weight training).
There are definitely things in your control in relation to stress and implementing some of them could be the difference between giving into hunger or barely noticing it.
10. Get More Sleep
Finally, this one is linked to stress and is something that is fully in your control and that is to get more sleep. Research shows that a lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin which increase appetite and make you feel hungrier.
This is true with studies showing that just one single night of sleep deprivation is enough to lead to increased ghrelin levels and hunger. This goes to show just how impactful sleep can be, not just when cutting but during any time of the year.
When on a cut, it’s therefore essential that you are getting a full night’s sleep and routine is going to be key during a cut just like prepping your meals and spacing them out. Therefore set a bedtime, stop the stimulating tasks late at night, reduce electronic usage and blue light and try to relax and let melatonin production kick it.
I know it’s easy to say sleep more when that might not be easy in actuality but a cut is hard enough as it is without facing the negative impacts of sleep deprivation as well!
Being hungry while cutting is something that should be expected and accepted. Cutting isn’t easy and if it were, we’d likely all be shredded year-round.
There are ways to minimize the feelings of hunger on a cut though and hopefully, you’ve found some of the strategies above will be easy to implement and appetite saving during your cut!
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