"I love feeling famished and like I'm going to pass out!" said no one—ever. If you're on the quest to drop pounds, you might be gearing up for constant hunger pangs and feelings of deprivation. But cheer up: Feeling hungry is not essential to slimming down. [Tweet this great news!]
"You don't need to experience the constant urge to nibble to lose weight—in fact, you shouldn't," says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., author of the New York Times bestselling book S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. This is good news to dieters everywhere, but Sass adds, "you should feel mild to moderate hunger three to four times a day at your scheduled mealtimes. A healthy, balanced meal should leave you feeling full and energized for three to five hours, then your hunger should return, which is a signal that it's time to refuel."
This pattern of hunger helps prevent overeating so you're no longer feeding the extra pounds you're trying to shed. At the same time it helps avoid undereating, which starves the lean tissue you need to nourish and can cause ravenous hunger that leads to bingeing. "If you're always hungry, you're not eating enough, which could in turn trigger a breakdown of calorie–burning muscle, slow down your metabolism, and compromise your immune system," Sass says. To be sure you don't ever feel starved, light-headed, or hungry all day, never skip meals or dip below 1,200 daily calories.
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Hunger definitely has a piece in the weight-loss puzzle, and it'll take time to play around with your diet to figure out how food much you need in order to feel hungry at mealtimes and satisfied afterward. If you're not used to feeling hungry, this will also take some adjustment, but take it as a sign that your body is using up the calories you're consuming instead of holding on to them. That natural feeling of hunger a few times a day could be the missing key to unlock the new, slimmer you.