If you've recently upped your mileage or started training for a long distance race, it's perfectly normal to need more food to fuel your runs. But if you’re constantly battling hunger pangs to the point of obsession, instead of looking in the fridge for the 27th time today, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself what you can do to stop feeling hungry all the time.
Whether you are constantly thinking about food, find you are suddenly ravenous, or you suffer from ‘runger’ (post run hunger that drives you to EAT ALL THE THINGS), with a little analysis and planning you can do something about it.
Note: if your appetite really is an unstoppable force, visit your GP. There may be an underlying problem.
Eat real food
Your body needs nutrients, not just calories, and unfortunately many of the processed, starchy foods we tend to eat are lacking in nutrients. We’re talking white bread, white rice, pasta, ready meals, processed foods, biscuits and so on.
Don’t avoid full fat foods, such as full fat yoghurt, oils, cheese and butter. It’s a myth that fat makes you fat. The body needs some fat, as part of a balanced diet, to keep you healthy. Protein and fat take longer to digest and make you feel full for longer, so make sure you are including the right balance in your diet between carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables in your meals, they will help fill you up and give you the nutrients your body needs.
Opt for slow release foods
Choose foods that offer a slow release of energy. This will help manage your blood sugar levels. Avoid high GI foods containing simple carbohydrates (white bread, white potatoes, white rice, sugary drinks, doughnuts, biscuits and cakes). These cause your blood sugar levels to spike, and then crash as your body pumps out insulin to deal with it.
Opt instead for complex carbohydrates (whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, sweet potatoes). These take longer to digest and provided a more sustained release of energy meaning you won’t crash immediately afterwards.
Eat little and often
If your blood sugar levels fluctuate a lot, leaving you shaky and feeling spaced out between meals, try eating little and often. You can have smaller meals more often, or go for more substantial healthy snacks that include protein and fat to be eaten between smaller main meals.
For healthy snacks try nuts, vegetables with hummus, avocado, full fat yoghurt, apple slices with cheese or a banana with nut butter.
Don't forget protein and fats
If eating little and often doesn’t work for you as you find you never feel satisfied, try doing the opposite. Have a hearty breakfast which includes some protein, such as eggs with wholemeal toast, smoked salmon or avocado on toast, or porridge with a banana and chopped nuts.
Make sure you have a balanced, nutritious lunch that includes protein such as fish, chicken, pulses or tofu, whole grains and plenty of vegetables, with perhaps a piece of fruit for dessert. Eat slowly and enjoy the taste of your food. Plan your dinner in advance and again go for whole, nutritious foods. And try and resist the urge to snack between meals.
Are you actually hungry?
Make sure you are actually hungry, and not just bored or thirsty. The urge to eat is an easy distraction when at work or studying, or when you are bored and have nothing else to think about. Get good at recognising when you are actually hungry – wait ten minutes (go for a walk, do something else) and see if you are still hungry afterwards.
Prepare food in advance
Think about what you are going to eat over the coming week. Plan some meals, and shop for ingredients. Prepare lunches to take to work, trawl the internet for inspiration and get used to preparing healthy wholefood meals.
If you wait until you are hungry before planning what you are going to eat, you are much more likely to make poor food choices and end up with a rollercoaster of blood sugar levels. For recipe inspiration, try our healthy lunchbox ideas!
Keep a stock of healthy snacks
If you normally get hungry mid afternoon and end up scoffing a Mars bar from the work vending machine, you will benefit from a bit of forward planning. Try taking some balanced and nutritious snacks to work with you, such as carrot sticks and hummus, oatcakes with cottage cheese or rice cakes with peanut butter.
Crunchy snacks are often more satisfying to eat than soft snacks. But rather than crisps, which are laden with saturated fats, go for some crunchy carrots, chopped bell peppers, raw cauliflower or rye crispbreads.
Get a good night’s sleep
Lack of sleep can mess with your levels of grehlin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, and leptin, the hormone that sends signals to your brain that you are full and should stop eating. Added to that is the fairly obvious point that when we are asleep, we are not eating (or constantly thinking about food)!
If you are overstressed you are likely to feel 'emotionally hungry' and reach for comfort in the form of food. Practise stress-reducing activities such as yoga, or going for a walk or a run. When your brain is calm and you are thinking positively and logically you are less likely to overindulge. For more stress-busting tips, click here
Are you drinking enough water?
Make sure you are properly hydrated, as it's easy to confuse thirst with hunger. When you’re dehydrated, concentration slips and you may reach for a sugary snack to help you focus, leading to more energy spikes and crashes. Keep a jug of water and a glass on your desk or nearby to sip on throughout the day. Don’t wait until you are dying of thirst to drink.
Try a restricted calorie day
Sometimes it’s useful to remember what it feels like to be really hungry, just for a day. Restricted calorie days can be a useful tool to check in with your body’s hunger signals, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Try restricting your calories to just 500 for women or 600 for men for one day (as done in the 5:2 diet and other intermittent fasting programmes). You will feel hungry but because you are doing it on purpose, it will feel different.
In the following days, you’ll no doubt enjoy being able to eat properly, but you should realise that the 'hunger' you have been experiencing between meals isn’t necessarily real hunger, just a generic urge to eat that’s driven by a host of other factors.