Have you noticed that you’re feeling less hungry on keto? There are several reasons for that. Read on to find out more!
I used to be one hangry witch.
The day my now-husband proposed to me, Thanksgiving 2013, he almost postponed the proposal because… even though I had a huge Thanksgiving lunch just a few hours earlier, that night I was irritated, short, impatient, and bratty… all cause I needed a snack.
Thankfully my husband, the long-suffering man that he is, got me a gas station taquito and told me to get over it, then proceeded to ask my spoiled butt to marry him.
We celebrated our engagement at the mall, with midnight food court Greek food and Black Friday people watching.
Such good memories, forever marred by my hangryness.
And for the longest time, I didn’t understand how I could be so hungry after having such a large meal not too long before.
Fast forward a few years, I went to visit my parents after lunch one day and didn’t get back home until 8:30 that night. It was when I got home that I realized I hadn’t eaten for almost nine hours… and I wasn’t hungry at all.
The difference? I was in ketosis. I was shocked, considering my body has never let me go that long without eating before, without some serious protesting.
But as I continued to study the science behind ketogenic diets, I realized that there are 3 key reasons your appetite decreases while on keto. Here they are:
1. Protein and fat are more filling than carbs
Let’s think for a moment about which is more filling: 1 cup of corn flakes with 1/2 cup skim milk (170 calories, 6 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 40 grams carb) or 2 eggs cooked in 1 tsp butter (190 calories, 12 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 1 gram carb).
What’s your guess? Clearly, it’s the eggs cooked in butter, which would sustain you MUCH longer than corn flakes and skim milk, despite being only 20 more calories. This tells us something: the composition of our food affects our hunger.
With little-to-no protein and absolutely NO fat, your body processes the cereal made from finely ground grain and fluid skim milk extremely quickly. Alternatively, the protein and fat are digested much more slowly – resulting in lasting fullness.
2. Keto stabilizes your blood sugar levels
Let’s continue working with our milk and cereal example from above. Pretend you’ve eaten this meal, providing 40 grams of carb with absolutely no fat and only 6 grams of protein.
These rapidly-broken-down carbs are going to cause your blood sugar to rise quickly because there’s little protein or fat to slow down digestion.
With a spike in blood sugar, your body is going to release a large amount of insulin to cover that sugar. Insulin shuttles excess blood sugar out of your blood stream and into short-term storage (muscle, liver) or long-term storage (fat cells). And your body really doesn’t have much capacity for short-term sugar storage, so it’s very likely that a lot of that sugar that just hit your bloodstream all at once will be converted to fat.
In addition, if you’re overweight or obese you are likely insulin resistant to some degree, which means your body doesn’t “listen” to insulin as well as it should. In response, your body actually secretes even MORE insulin to get the job done. This can cause a lot of problems, one being that your body is forever trapped in “fat storage” mode and you struggle to lose weight.
So once insulin does its thing, that sugar is gone, locked away in long-term storage and far away from your bloodstream. You’ve swung from a rapid high in blood sugar to what seems to like a low – signaling to your body that you need to eat NOW. And if you choose another high-carb meal, then you get stuck in this vicious cycle of extreme hunger every few hours that is often accompanied by a bad mood (AKA being hangry).
However, if you were to eat eggs with butter, providing only one gram of carb, the effect on your blood sugar is going to be minimal if it happens at all. Therefore, there is little to no insulin released, and your blood sugar levels stay more even – resulting in less hangryness, even when you do (eventually) get hungry.
3. Keto resets your hunger hormones
Being in ketosis can actually affect your hunger and satiety hormones, as well.
Insulin, of course, is a key hunger-regulating hormone. And we already know that a keto diet can help bring down those insulin levels. But there’s one other major player I want to discuss today: leptin. (There are many other hormones that affect hunger, but if I went through all of them this would be a book and not a blog post. Just an FYI!)
Leptin is often referred to as the satiety hormone because it tells your brain that you’re full and ready to stop eating. However, like with insulin, people who are overweight or obese are often leptin resistant to some extent. This means their brain isn’t getting those satiety signals the way they should be, resulting in a powerful appetite that is hard to satisfy. These people often have high leptin levels, but are still hungry.
Luckily, ketogenic diets can help increase leptin sensitivity, so your brain is able to better process the signals that you have eaten enough and it’s time to stop.
Should I still eat if I’m not hungry on keto?
Honestly, it’s up to you. There are many benefits of intermittent fasting while on keto, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
I recommend eating at least one large meal per day (preferably two) to make sure you’re giving your body the protein and nutrients it needs.
However, some fasting advocates have protocols that involve several days of fasting, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose or if you are a type 2 diabetic. If you plan to fast for more than 24 hours, I implore you to work very closely with a doctor who is familiar with fasting. Dr. Jason Fung (the fasting guru) accepts virtual clients through his The Fasting Method program.
If you’re underweight, highly active, or young and still growing… don’t fast!
And if you’re hungry, eat! Once you’re in ketosis, it is easier to trust your body’s hunger signals because they have not been hijacked by the sugar-insulin-hangry cycle we discussed above.
How long until I’m not hungry on keto?
When you initially start the keto diet, you will probably be MORE hungry than usual.
This is because there is a huge metabolic shift taking place in your body. You are shifting from burning sugar to burning fat, and your body is crying out for the fuel that it’s used to: sugar.
However, eventually that switch will flip and your body will start burning fat, and this is when most people begin to experience remarkable decreases in their hunger. This process takes about a week, but can take less or more time depending on a number of factors.
My tips for staying faithful to the diet while making this adjustment are:
- Don’t count calories. Eat keto-friendly foods to satiety to get through the initial hunger.
- Drink plenty of water. You are going to drop a lot of water weight at first, which can leave you feeling really bad (and more likely to give in and eat some carbs) if you’re not replenishing your fluid stores.
- Supplement with electrolytes. On keto, your body needs more salt, potassium, and magnesium. You will feel TERRIBLE if you do not get enough of these as you are transitioning into ketosis. Read in detail about the supplements you need here.
- Keep breath mints nearby. Dragon breath is a sure sign that your body has made the switch, and though it may be cause for excitement for you… the people around you will not share your enthusiasm. Trust me on this one.
If you stick to it, you will reach a point when your hunger becomes SO much more manageable. And if you’ve always struggled with your hunger, that is going to be such a great moment for you. It definitely was for me!