Learning to control hunger is probably the biggest hurdle when you’re on a weight loss plan. It’s a complaint I hear more often than any other. Some people gripe about counting calories or keeping a food diary; others grumble about making time to exercise. But not a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that they just can’t stop being hungry, and that they’re “starving all the time!”

I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve that can help you control hunger naturally, but the first step is to figure out if you are really and truly hungry in the first place.

How to Tell If You’re Truly Hungry
Feeling hungry isn’t the same thing as “wanting something to eat.” There are few telltale signs that can help you distinguish stress-related or emotional hunger from true, physical hunger.

First, ask yourself these questions:

Does your stomach rumble?
Is your energy level dipping?
Do you have a little bit of “brain fog” or feel “cranky”?
If any of those things happen to you, you probably do need some fuel. These are all common symptoms of true hunger. When you feel this way, your body is likely to respond when you eat something—and you’ll probably feel better.

If you’re eating for reasons other than hunger—if you’re just bored, angry, or depressed—food probably won’t make you any less bored, angry, or depressed. Or, if it does, you probably won’t feel that way for long.

If it’s emotion or stress that’s driving you, or if you got the urge to eat something simply because it looked good or smelled good, you’re probably not truly hungry. In that case, you’ll want to find other ways to deal with the urge to eat.

5 Best Ways to Control Your Hunger
Hunger control is aimed at curbing true hunger: the growling stomach, the low energy, or the irritability that often comes when your body needs fuel. Since true hunger naturally drives you to eat, you’ll want to learn some healthy, hunger-stopping strategies if your goal is to lose weight through calorie restriction.

So, here are my top 5 tips to control hunger and curb your appetite.

1. Use protein as a hunger-buster.
Protein satisfies hunger better than carbohydrates or fat, so try to include some lean protein at each meal and snack. In fact, protein works its magic not only in your digestive tract, but it also affects your brain chemistry in a way that helps you feel satisfied and mentally sharp.

2. Fill yourself up with watery, high-fiber foods.
Water and fiber have no calories. But watery, high-fiber foods are “bulky” and take up more space in your stomach, so they help to fill you up. Most veggies (except the starchy ones like potatoes, corn, and peas) have very few calories per serving because they contain so much water and fiber. Watery fruits like melons and pineapple, and high fiber fruits like berries, can also help fill you up for a relatively low-calorie cost.

3. Exercise can help control hunger.
A bout of exercise can suppress hunger hormones, which can curb your appetite. But in order to sustain your activity, your body needs to be properly fueled. Sometimes, in an effort to lose weight, people cut their calories too much and just don’t have the energy to keep up with their exercise. So, the whole process backfires. People often tell me that they feel as if exercise makes them hungry and leads them to eat more. But often, that’s because they haven’t fueled up properly before and after their workouts.

4. Drink fluids to help you feel less hungry.
Drinking fluids with your meals may make your meals feel more filling. And some people confuse thirst with hunger, so even though their bodies are craving fluid, they wind up eating instead. If you stay hydrated, that’s less likely to happen.

5. Eating small, frequent meals can help curb your appetite.
When you eat small meals every few hours, it helps keep your blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day. This is important since dips in your blood sugar can cause your hunger to spike. Even if you think a smaller amount of food won’t be enough to hold you, the knowledge that you’ll be eating again in just a few hours often makes it easier to manage your hunger.

Susan Bowerman
Susan Bowerman
M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
Susan Bowerman is the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition. She also serves as a chairwoman of the Dietetic Advisory Board (DAB). As a registered dietitian, she educates distributors about our global nutrition philosophy and is responsible for developing nutrition education and training materials.

Bowerman earned a B.S. in Biology with distinction from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and holds two board certifications as a specialist in Sports Dietetics and in Obesity and Weight Management. When she is not busy teaching and writing, Susan enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and gardening. Her favorite Herbalife Nutrition products include Simply Probiotic and Herbalife Nutrition Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix Banana Caramel.