How to Deal with Hunger while Fasting [3 Practical Strategies]

dealing with hunger while fasting

If you’re thinking about fasting, you’re probably wondering how hungry you’re gonna get.  

That’s one of the most common concerns I hear:  “I’m gonna get hangry!”

Here’s the good news:

With a thoughtful approach, dealing with hunger pangs while fasting is not that difficult.  It also gets easier the more you do it.

Today I’ll share 3 key strategies that I’ve found helpful for dealing with hunger while fasting.  I’ll also give a brief explanation about “mindfulness”, because I believe it plays an essential role in understanding your own experience with hunger.  

Let’s dive in.

What is Hunger, Exactly?

First, think about how you know when you’re hungry. I think this is a little different for each person.

Most of us have never experienced “true” hunger, because we’re not starving to death or living in a third world country.

What we call hunger is made up of a combination of various thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.  The more aware of these sensations you become, the easier time you’ll have dealing with hunger–more on this below.

What Causes Hunger? 3 Major Contributors

Before talking about how to control hunger, let’s talk a little bit about what causes hunger.

In my view, there are 3 major things that cause people to feel hungry.

Learned Behavior

When you get in the habit of eating at certain times, your body and mind adapt.

For example, if you eat breakfast at 8 a.m. every morning, your digestive system gets used to revving up at that time. And various things happen in your mind and body that cause you to feel hungry.

If you start to change your habits — by skipping breakfast for example — your body and mind will gradually adapt to that as well.

After a while, your digestive system won’t be revving up as much, and your mind won’t be expecting food in the morning.

That’s one reason why intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating) gets easier with practice.

The Rhythm of Your Blood Sugar

Another thing that influences how often you feel hungry is the rhythm of your blood sugar.

In other words, how often do you get blood sugar “spikes”?

Here’s the deal:

Whenever you consume processed carbs (like sweets, white bread, crackers, etc), you get a blood sugar spike and an insulin spike. And then your blood sugar comes crashing down.

blood sugar spikes and crashes make you hungry

When your blood sugar crashes, it goes a little lower than you’re used to. And that makes you feel hungry.

Boredom

A lot of times when we think we feel hungry, we’re really just bored. And since food is fun to eat, that’s one way to alleviate boredom.

When you’re fasting, make a point of staying busy with productive tasks.  Or do something meaningful that doesn’t involve food, like going on a walk, or playing a game with your kids.

By distracting yourself, you won’t have as much time to worry about food.  

This is one of the reasons why I often fast at work. I’m usually quite busy during an ER shift, so I don’t have much time to think about food, which makes fasting pretty easy.

Mindfulness: A Key to Mastering Hunger

Mindfulness means paying attention to your mind and body

When it comes to understanding hunger, I think mindfulness is essential.

Basically, mindfulness means awareness, or paying attention.

In other words, mindfulness is when you pay attention and notice your own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Next time you feel hungry, spend several seconds just looking inward, and see what you notice.

As you explore these sensations with an attitude of curiosity, your hunger will likely soften, and start to fade. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll gain a better understanding of your own body, which is invaluable in the long run.

Key Phrases Related to Mindfulness

When I think of mindfulness, there are a few phrases that help me stay grounded, and avoid getting caught up in thoughts and emotions.

I’ve collected these phrases from various books or similar resources, and I think they work well together.

Here’s the list:

  1. “You are not the voice in your head”
    1. “You don’t need to be a slave to it”
  2. “Observe the dialogue”
  3. “Observe without judgement”
  4. “Thoughts (and emotions) are just suggestions”

In my podcast episode about dealing with hunger, I kind of walk you through each of these phrases and how to apply it.

Here’s the basic idea:

Thoughts and emotions arise on their own. They’re not “you”, they just appear.

You don’t have to do whatever pops into your head, or to continue feeling a certain way. You can just observe the thought or emotion, and let it gradually fade away.

Don’t judge yourself for a particular thought that pops into your head. It’s not you, it’s just a thought.

A thought or emotion is just a “suggestion”. You don’t have to act on it. Just take note of it, perhaps explore it. And then shift your attention back to the present moment.

Next time you feel a craving, try applying some of these principles. Observe without judgment, and see what happens. Chances are, the craving will start to fade.

How to Deal with Hunger on a “Normal” Day (Not Fasting)

Here’s my number one key for avoiding cravings on a typical day:

Eat whole, unprocessed foods that are high in protein and fat.

Fat and protein stimulate satiety, so you won’t get nearly as many cravings. That’s because you won’t spike your blood sugar as often, or come crashing down.

For example, if you have a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and an avocado, you’re going to be full for a long, long time.

In contrast, if your breakfast is pancakes or Pop-Tarts, your blood sugar will spike and then come crashing down. That’ll make you hungry again about an hour later.

So on a typical day, dealing with hunger starts with the type of food that you eat.

3 Strategies to Deal with Hunger while Fasting

When it comes to hunger and fasting, there are three key tips that can help you control hunger pangs while you fast.

These apply during both short-term intermittent fasting, as well as extended fasting.

Step 1:  Observe

The first step is just to pay attention. In other words, practice a little bit of mindfulness (as I described above).

When you observe your physical sensations, thoughts, or emotions, you start to understand a little bit better what’s actually happening in your body.

When you observe something like hunger, or cravings, typically it will soften and become easier to deal with.

So the first step is simply to watch, without judgment, and then wait a few minutes. See what happens.

Start practicing this a little bit each day, so you can get better at paying attention to your own body and mind.

Step 2:  Boost Your Electrolytes

If you try a little mindfulness and you’re still feeling hungry, the next step is to boost your electrolytes.

The most important electrolyte is sodium / salt.

There are various ways to get more salt while you fast, but here’s an easy one:

Dissolve a bouillon cube in some hot water, and then slowly drink it.

Try that, or something similar, and then wait about a half hour. See how you’re feeling.

There’s a pretty good chance you won’t feel as hungry anymore.

(By the way, the other two electrolytes you may want to supplement are magnesium and potassium. But salt is the most important.)

Step 3:  Use “Training Wheels”

use training wheels to control hunger while you fast

If you’ve tried the steps above, and you’re still feeling hungry.

Go ahead and use some “training wheels”.

Training wheels are small amounts of certain foods that don’t really disrupt your fast that much. But they give you a little extra boost to help you keep going.

A few examples I’ve used include chia seeds, bone broth, olives, or pecans. None of these will spike your blood sugar or insulin, but all of them can give you a little extra boost.

Whatever it is, use a relatively small amount, and then wait a while. Most likely, your hunger will go away.

By the way, using training wheels means you’re doing kind of a “dirty” or “modified” fast. If you want to learn more about dirty fasting, feel free to check out my Dirty Fasting Cheat Sheet, where I give you an overview + specific recommendations about what to use.

You can get the Dirty Fasting Cheat Sheet right here. 

Summary and Final Thoughts

Naturally, people worry about getting hungry while they fast.

And sometimes you will get hungry.

The first step is to look inward and try to understand what you’re feeling.

Observe your thoughts and emotions, as well as physical sensations. See what this hunger thing actually is.

As you observe, chances are the hunger will soften, and get easier to deal with. It might even go away.

If you’re still feeling hungry after that, go ahead and boost your electrolytes. Then wait a while.

Then, if needed, use some training wheels to give you a little extra boost so you can keep fasting.

It also helps if you stay busy with something productive or meaningful that doesn’t involve food. That gives you less of an opportunity to worry about what you could eat.  

Chances are, with one or more of these steps you’ll be able to manage your hunger and keep fasting, and ultimately get some of the health benefits you’re looking for.

Happy fasting!

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Ben Tanner, PA-C

Ben Tanner, PA-C

Ben has been practicing as a physician assistant (PA, or PA-C, similar to a doctor) in emergency medicine, urgent care, and family practice since 2014. Since 2016, he has developed an avid interest in various forms of fasting, using it to improve his own health while helping friends, family, and patients do the same.

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