Hungry like the wolf during your fasting windows? That’s totally normal when you’re first diving into intermittent fasting. But after two to four weeks, your body should ease into your new routine, according to research by Mark Mattson, PhD, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who has studied intermittent fasting for more than 25 years. To make it easier to get over that first-month hump — or even if it’s been longer and you still find yourself bingeing at your last meal of the day in anticipation of the foodless slog ahead — there are several science-backed ways to trick your body into feeling fuller longer. The tips below can help you stay on track.
Trick #1: Pump Up the Volume
Volumetrics is the concept of consuming food that contains a lot of water. For example, fruits, veggies, smoothies, or soups; or air, like popcorn, are all ideal. These low-calorie foods will “help you stay fuller longer, feel more satisfied, and keep you hydrated,” says Miami-based Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A 2017 Nutrition Bulletin review confirmed that people who noshed on more water-rich, volumetrics-friendly foods naturally ate fewer calories throughout the day.
Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, a San Diego-based registered dietitian and owner of shawsimpleswaps.com, suggests starting a meal with a big salad or broth-based soup, or blending riced cauliflower or spinach into smoothies. You can pump up the volume with more than just veggies and fruit, too. Try stirring a chopped-up hard-boiled egg white or two into your bowl of oatmeal. Or, try adding a cup of plain popcorn to stretch your serving of trail mix.
Trick #2: Pack In More Protein
A diet with a breakdown of 10 to 15 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 55 to 60 percent carbs is standard in both US and Canadian dietary guidelines. But shifting that ratio ever so slightly — to 20 to 25 percent protein, 30 to 35 percent fat, and 45 to 50 percent carbs — and following that strategy for 16 weeks, was shown to offer a bevy of benefits, according to a British Journal of Nutrition study. The people who ate more protein not only lost more weight and body fat than their lower-protein peers, but also found the plan easier to stick with.
Since “protein helps with satiety signaling,” Cynthia Thurlow, NP, a Richmond, Virginia-based nurse practitioner and the author of Intermittent Fasting Transformation, recommends her clients aim for about 30 grams of protein per meal as a starting point. A cup of cottage cheese (28 grams) with berries at meal one. For meal two, 4 ounces of salmon (23 grams) with 1 cup of lentils (18 grams) and some broccoli. For meal three, 1 cup of quinoa (8 grams) with 3 ounces of turkey (26 grams) on whole grain bread with a salad will easily get you over that hurdle. (If you’re eating fewer meals, spread out your intake.)
Trick #3: Get Your Fix of Fiber
Most Americans consume way less fiber than the 25 to 38 grams recommended for women and men, respectively. And it’s not doing your appetite any favors. “The most filling meals and snacks contain a bounty of high-fiber foods with a mix of protein, fat and complex carbs,” Shaw says. Research backs this up. Fiber tends to slow digestion (translation: You feel fuller longer), while increasing the levels of a hunger-related hormone, ghrelin, that tells your brain it’s satisfied on fewer calories than you might be on a fiber-free meal. For easiest digestion, divide your fiber evenly throughout your meals and snacks. This is a better approach than trying to pack it all into one eating occasion.
Trick #4: More H2O
While water shouldn’t replace a meal or snack, staying hydrated can help keep your appetite in check during fasting hours. “Sometimes we think we’re hungry but we’re just thirsty or dehydrated,” Ehsani says. The same part of the brain regulates both hunger and thirst, and can easily mix them up. In one small study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, participants who drank 19 ounces of water before meals ate, on average, 22 percent fewer calories at the next meal than their peers who entered the meal “dry.” If you find plain water to be a little too ho-hum, jazz it up with herbs or fresh slices of citrus or try tea.
Trick #5: Chill Out
If you’re always stressed, you may never feel as full as you could. A 2017 study in the journal Obesity found that individuals who reported higher rates of chronic stress had difficulties regulating ghrelin (yep, that aforementioned hunger hormone). They also had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that amps up appetite, especially for energy-dense, sugary, fatty, and salty foods. “Digestion starts in our brains, so take a few deep breaths before starting a meal,” Thurlow suggests. “This helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which increases stomach acid while lowering cortisol levels so you crave fewer salty and sugary foods.”
ID Your Eating Triggers
Since intermittent fasting involves only eating within certain windows, you’ll rapidly become more aware of your regular eating habits, including those times that you turn to food when you’re not actually physically hungry. Your habits, even just a certain time on the clock, such as 4 p.m. snack time or having a bite before bed — as well as stress, exhaustion, depression, loneliness, and boredom are all common triggers, as is a craving for a comforting dose of childhood nostalgia.
If it’s not within your feeding window and your hunger isn’t truly strong, Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, suggests having a heart to heart with yourself. “If you catch yourself turning to a comfort meal or reaching for a snack, ask, ‘what is the reason I’m turning to food at this time? Do I feel tired? Lonely? Did I have a hard day at work?’” Just keep in mind that emotional eating isn’t always a bad thing, says Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, an Oakland, California-based registered dietitian and creator of the Lower Cholesterol Longer Life Method. “If you’re celebrating a birthday with your kids with cake and ice cream, even if you don’t totally ‘need’ either, that’s OK. However, when you turn to food continually as the sole response to an emotion, it needs to be addressed,” she says.
If you’re not famished — say, you’re at a 1 to 3 on a scale of 1 (ravenous) to 10 (stuffed) — and it’s not truly a special occasion, try switching to a non-food coping mechanism, such as a call with a friend, a walk, going to bed earlier, or journaling. And consider talking to a dietitian if you find it challenging to break the pattern.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Intermittent Fasting For Beginners.