The Dieter’s Dilemma – How to Stay Full in a Caloric Deficit
Being hungry sucks.
Whether you’re prepping for a figure competition, cutting to a lower weight class, or leaning out for beach season is irrelevant.
You’re dieting, you’re hungry, and you want to eat…a lot.
With only a couple hundred calories left to spare in your daily quota you find yourself walking back and forth between the refrigerator and dry foods section, on the hunt for a satiating and at least semi-decent tasting snack.
This goes on for 15-30 minutes before you:
- Chug water and get out of the kitchen ASAP
- Eat an entire head of lettuce while trying to convince yourself that it tastes like General Tso’s Chicken, or
- Say “f*** it” and eat the whole tub of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream which you were supposed to be saving for your next “cheat meal.”
I’m sure many of you reading this are nodding your head in agreement and thinking “haaa…been there, done that!”
Unfortunately, hunger is not only a natural reaction to dieting but it actually increases because of it. Our bodies are exceptionally good at preventing us from venturing into the lower body fat ranges and, when we try to bypass this system, the body has numerous mechanisms to try and stop us – one of which is hunger. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense as it’s the body’s way of avoiding starvation and death.
Obviously this isn’t ideal, especially for those of us trying to achieve and maintain a lean physique, but that’s just the way it is.
Well, not so fast. I might have a solution.
After delving into the research, collecting an obscene amount of anecdotal reports, and working with a variety of clientele, I’ve compiled numerous “tricks of the trade” to subdue hunger without pounding a ton of calories.
What follows is a list of various foods and mental strategies to incorporate within your daily life to help you achieve and maintain a lean physique.
The first section is broken down into the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) where I outline my go-to foods during fat loss. In essence, I summarize the importance of a high protein diet with a distinct emphasis on fruits and veggies.
The second section is geared towards those less commonly known “tricks of the trade” in which I provide a host of low-calorie, satiating, and delightfully tasty food options.
Finally, I wrap everything up with several of my clients’ and my own personal favorite recipes as well as several strategies that will hopefully aid in making the dieting process easier to handle.
If you’re not sure how to set your calorie/macronutrient requirements or how to train during fat loss, I suggest you start here.
Once you have your nutrition and training routine in place, the following information may be exactly what you’ve been searching for to help you achieve your ultimate body composition goals.
P.S. If you have a favorite trick or tip that I didn’t include, please post it in the comments section at the end!
I’ve spoken about the various benefits of protein numerous times before so I won’t go into any great detail here. However, to satisfy my OCD for the sake of completeness I’ll briefly cover the highlights.
Higher protein intakes are extraordinarily important and can be tremendously advantageous while dieting. From its ability to spare muscle, to its high thermic effect, to its capacity to blunt hunger, protein is the Chuck Norris of macros.
Make protein a priority…like this guy
Now that we’ve covered the basics, below I’ve provided a list of my favorite low-calorie/high-protein food sources.
- Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breast.
Yes, it’s bland and boring but boneless/skinless chicken breast is low calorie, high protein, and when eaten dry is bizarrely satiating. While perusing some bb.com forums I came across the following epic quote by Martin Berkhan discussing the benefits of dry chicken:
“If you’re looking to go low calorie, very high protein and low everything else (i.e. PSMF or similar), 250-300 g of dry chicken breast is something you might wanna add to your menu. I’ve tried every protein source under the sun and haven’t found anything that will satiate you more calorie for calorie.
Key point is to not add stuff to it. It should be dry and boring, and it will take you a long time to finish it because the meat is so damn solid. Jaw muscles get a solid workout. Ain’t exactly a meal you’ll be seeing on Top Chef any time soon but it gets the job done on PSMF type diets or similar very high protein setups designed to be short in duration and cause fast fat loss.”
- Extra Lean Ground Chicken, Turkey, and Beef
- Pork Tenderloin
- Fish (i.e.Tilapia, Haddock, Tuna, King Mackerel, Swordfish, Shrimp)
- As fish tends to be lower calorie than other high protein options, you can usually eat it in much larger portions. Notably white fish such as Tilapia and Haddock have very low calorie content. Be creative with how you prepare them because plain fish sucks…plus they might make your apartment smell like fish and your roommate will be pissed.
- Greek Yogurt 0%
- Greek Yogurt fills me up immediately. However, I’ve noticed this is highly individual as some people can eat an entire tub and still complain of hunger. All I know is that Greek Yogurt tastes great, high in protein, and easily transformed into a sweet dessert.
- Cottage Cheese 1%
- Similar to Greek Yogurt, the satiating effect of Cottage Cheese is highly individual. I’d note, many people don’t palate Cottage Cheese very well as the texture legitimately makes them want to vomit. Regardless, if you enjoy it (I do) it’s a great option and those who like it swear by it.
- Protein Supplements (Trutein, Casein)
- Supplementing with protein powder is a quick and easy way to meet your protein requirements. As an added bonus, some protein companies have done an incredible job of making their products taste like a little piece of heaven. Trutein’s Cinnabun and Dymatize’s Elite XT Rich Chocolate have both received great reviews. Also, Martin Berkhan’s post on Protein Fluff and Protein Pudding provides an in-depth guide to making some of the most filling and delicious recipes known to man.
- Egg Whites
- Egg white omelets with a bunch of veggies and/or lean meats are a great high-protein, low-calorie, and satiating meal option. As an aside, I’ve found that hardboiled egg whites (and hardboiled eggs in general) tend to be more filling than eggs prepared differently (i.e. scrambled, over easy, etc)
- Egg Beaters
- These things are pretty damn cool. Prepared tactfully they can get very fluffy, dense, and take up a ton of space in your stomach. Toss in a few veggies and you’re in for quite the filling surprise. Quick Tip: make them in the microwave for mega-fluffiness.
Carbohydrate intake while dieting is a major topic of debate. Some people swear by the zero/low-carb approach, others prefer carb cycling, and others simply moderate them based on their calorie and protein requirements.
Personally, I’ve experienced the best results through a combination of carbohydrate cycling and moderation based on my daily calorie and protein requirements.
Regardless of the method you choose, below I’ve provided a list of carbohydrate sources which seem to be the most effective at blunting hunger.
- Quaker Oats Oatmeal
- Quaker Oats Oatmeal is bar-none my favorite starchy carbohydrate. It’s quick, easy, tasty, and holy hell is it filling! They come in numerous flavors such as Original, Low Sugar Maple Brown Sugar, Low Sugar Apples and Cinnamon, and Low Sugar Chocolate Chip. Each packet is roughly 100-120 calories and, made correctly, can triple in size and density. If you want to make it as thick and voluminous as possible, I suggest using 1.5x the recommended amount of water and microwaving it for at least double the recommended time-frame. Stir the oatmeal and continue heating until the oats soak up all the water; you can thank me later.
- Boiled Potatoes (Sweet or White)
- On the satiety index potatoes have consistently been ranked as one of the most filling foods. Personally, potatoes don’t fill me up in the least so, while cutting, I rarely include them in my diet. That being said, many of my clients love them and a host of people across various forums swear by them. As such, if you haven’t tried them it might be worth a shot.
- Low-Calorie Popcorn
- Popcorn is a surprising one. Most people wouldn’t expect it but an entire full-size bag of Smart Pop Popcorn only has 240 calories! Cutting doesn’t sound half bad anymore, now does it?
- Beans (Chick Peas, White Beans, Black Beans, etc)
- Because of their high fiber and protein content beans are surprisingly satiating. Chickpeas are my favorite but that’s just because I love hummus ever-so-much. I’d note, what we sang about beans when we were children still holds true – the more you eat the more you toot.
- Even though carrots are higher in calories than most other vegetables, they make up for it in being extremely crunchy, hard to chew, and filling. Maybe it’s just me but if I eat an entire bag of baby carrots (only about 175 calories) I’ll be stuffed for a long time coming.
My favorite fruits while dieting are strawberries, watermelon, and oranges. I usually end up freezing and making them into some type of dessert along with Greek Yogurt and a protein powder. I also find that eating them while frozen not only makes them taste better (almost like an ice cream treat), but it takes longer to eat and is usually more satiating than unfrozen fruit.
Below is a list of the fruits I consider to be the most satiating calorie for calorie:
- Strawberries – 1lb is ~140 calories
- Cantaloupe – 1 large cantaloupe is ~230 calories
- Watermelon – 1.5lbs is ~230 calories
- Oranges – 1 orange is ~80 calories
- Grapefruit – 1 grapefruit is ~100 calories
- Apples – 1 medium apple is ~80 calories
- Starfruit – 1 large starfruit is ~40 calories
- Papaya – 1 medium papaya is ~120 calories
- Grapes (definitely freeze these) - .5lb of grapes is ~160 calories
This should be a no-brainer: If you’re trying to get lean then vegetables should make up a major portion of your diet. However, while some people say “vegetable calories don’t count,” that’s really not the case. Yes, they tend to be less energy dense than other foods, and some portion of their calories may not be digestible, but they still have calories and, yes, they still count.
That being said, some vegetables are considerably more satiating than others, especially on a calorie for calorie basis. Below I’ve provided what I consider to be the most satiating – and best tasting – vegetables.
- Broccoli and Cauliflower
- This may sound gross but raw broccoli and cauliflower are extremely filling. If you’re having trouble getting and staying full, raw broccoli and cauliflower are definitely worth a shot.
- Cabbage and Lettuce
- Cabbage and lettuce are g-d sends. From different salads and coleslaw’s to boiled cabbage in a stew, both of them are low in calories, extremely filling, and can be incorporated into a variety of tasty meals.
- This stuff is freakin’ delicious. It’s wicked low cal, has numerous health benefits, and did I mention how good it tastes? Buy it at your local Asian grocery or in the International Foods refrigerated section in your standard market.
- Bok Choy
- Bok Choy is a type of cabbage and is particularly great in various stews and soups
- Bamboo Shoots
- I’ve found bamboo shoots to be relatively tasteless but provide a good bit of texture to your meals. Again, highly recommended for various soups and stews
- Red & Green Peppers
- On numerous forums many people have said they eat raw mushrooms to blunt hunger while dieting. While I don’t personally find this enjoyable or filling, many people swear by its effectiveness so I figured it would be worth mentioning here.
- Onions are a gift of the g-d’s. They make good food taste great and bad food taste good. When trying to fill up on minimal calories you may want to add them raw to various salads and dishes as the potent flavor and smell does a pretty good job of blunting hunger.
- Summer Squash
- Always a great snack. Generally only 5 calories per spear they are inexpensive, tasty, and filling. Pickle Anyone?
If hunger is an issue high fat foods likely aren’t going to make up a major portion of your diet. While fat provides myriad health benefits, and some people actually experience greater satiety with high(er) fat diets, I’ve found very few high fat foods result in nearly as much satiety as the protein and carbohydrate sources listed above.
As such, my list of filling high-fat foods is very short. If you disagree or have found satiating high fat options please post them in the comments section.
Regardless, you still better be taking your fish oil!!!!
- High(er) fat meats (i.e. beef)
- High(er) fat Greek Yogurt/Cottage Cheese
- Hard Boiled Whole Eggs
Often times hunger is easily remedied by filling yourself up with fluid – crazy right!?
Various zero/low-calorie beverages, soups, and stews are all great options to consider when you’re hungry with only a few calories left to spare.
- Coffee, Tea , & Diet Soda
- Zero-Calorie, taste great, and often have a decent amount of caffeine which may blunt hunger in and of itself. #letsgetshredded
- I think these flavored K-Cups are ridiculously good and provide negligible calories per cup
- Zero/Low Calorie Drink Mixes
- Almond Milk
- Stews and Soups
- Miso and Wonton soup broths are very low calorie (~30 calories per serving) and sold in most grocery stores’ International Foods section. If you can’t find it, there is certainly an Asian grocer near you who sells them. Also, try adding some of the veggies and/or meats listed above to these soups and stews. Warning: You will have a food baby
Zero and Low Calorie Condiments
Small portions of various condiments such as bbq sauce, ketchup, and mayo can add a surprising amount of calories without the benefit of filling you up. As such, I’ve provided the following list of low(er) calorie condiments which may help you add some flavor to your foods without worrying about going overboard on calories.
- Zero Calorie Salad Dressings
- Walden Farms has a ton of zero-calorie products but I’ve only tried their salad dressings. While some of them are good (my favorites are Sesame Ginger, Cole Slaw, and Thousand Island) others are pretty bad (read: repulsive). Regardless, they’re all zero calories so might as well give ‘em a shot.
- Yellow Mustard
- French’s yellow mustard provides 0 calories and adds a good deal of flavor. It’s not gourmet but it gets the job done.
- Lemon Juice
- All Spices
- Cayenne Pepper is wicked spicy and does wonders for blunting hunger pangs. If you have trouble getting full, add this to various foods, soups, stews, etc.
- Salt, Pepper, Turmeric, and all other spices are great additions for little to no calories.
- Not only is this stuff very low calorie but, because of the overpowering taste and smell, it will probably murder your appetite. Fair warning: take small portions or you’ll be breathing fire out of your nose!
- Fat Free Ranch Veggie Dip
- Low-Fat/Fat Free Cream Cheese
- Hot Sauce
- Low-Calorie Buffalo Wing Sauce
- Most salsa’s are low in calories to begin with but double-check the label and serving size to be sure. Or just make your own – it’s very simple and probably tastes better.
- Soy Sauce
- Any soy sauce will do as they all tend to be between 10-15 calories per serving.
- Low Calorie Ketchup
- Sugar Free Maple Syrup
- Zero Calorie Sweeteners (Stevia, Splenda, Equal, etc)
Below are a bunch of random low-calorie foods which many people aren’t even aware exist. Adding these to your dieting repertoire might be exactly what you need to help you stay sane while cutting those last few pounds.
- Shirataki Noodles
- These are crazy! An entire package of these noodles is roughly 25 calories and holy hell are they filling. They’re great for stir fries or big bowls of stew. The only drawback is that they taste pretty damn horrible. They’re a little bit too chewy for my liking and are something akin to what I would imagine eating worms would feel like. That being said, they are extremely filling for minimal calories and with a little imagination could probably taste better than I described.
- Sugar-Free Jell-o
- Who doesn’t love Jell-O? Exactly. And this sugar free stuff actually tastes amazing. An entire package is only 40 calories and it’s absurdly satiating. My favorite is the Strawberry flavor. Oh, pay attention and make sure to buy the sugar-free type since they’re grouped with the regular versions and look exactly the same.
- Sugar-Free Fat-Free Pudding
- Some of these flavors taste so good it’s shocking. Seriously. How do they do it!? When perusing the site I just found the Cheesecake flavor is available…CHEESECAKE!!! I will be buying it immediately. Be sure to order the sugar-free fat-free version as they’re grouped with the regular ones as well.
- No Sugar Added Fudgesicle pops
- 40 calories per Popsicle and exceptionally tasty. Plus you can combine it with frozen fruits or Greek Yogurt to make an even more filling/tasty treat.
- Arctic Zero Ice Cream
- This stuff is ridiculous. It’s only 150 calories per PINT of ice cream! Umm what? Yea. I’ve never tried but some of my friends & client’s have and the overwhelming consensus is that it’s pretty damn good.
- No Sugar Added Pie Filling
- I’ve never tried this stuff but it looks great and has gotten some pretty good reviews. On my next shopping trip I’ll see if I can find it and let you all know what I think.
- Low Calorie Peanut Butter (PB2)
- I haven’t tried this either but I’ve only heard good things. Compared to 190 calories per serving (2tbsp) of traditional peanut butter, PB2 comes out to only 45 calories per 2 tbsp. Seems like a great way to get your fix of peanut butter for far fewer calories.
- Egg White/Egg Beater Omlette w/ Veggies
- Israeli Salad (Cucumber, Tomato, Salt, Pepper) with Chicken/Fish
- Oatmeal and Eggs/Egg Whites/Egg Beaters
- Tuna/Egg/Chicken Salad: Substitute the Greek Yogurt for mayo. Add celery and spices to taste. It’s low cal, high protein, and tastes great. Makes for a fantastic meal
- Turkey/Chicken Meat Loaf
- Cayenne Chicken/Fish Stew with veggies
- Protein Strawberries: Frozen Strawberries, Protein Powder, Little bit of water, Sweetener, Cinnamon. Mix together and enjoy
- Cottage Cheese or Greek Yogurt and No Sugar Added Pie Filing
- Cottage Cheese or Greek Yogurt and Frozen Fruit w/ Cinnamon
- No Sugar Added Jell-O and Low-Fat Cream Cheese: Wait what? Yea, it’s awesome
Strategies for the Mind
I recently read a fantastic book entitled Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength: Willpower in which the authors discuss various strategies to incorporate within your daily activities in order to strengthen your Willpower and help you achieve your goals.
In addition to reiterating some of their strategies below, I also include several tactics of my own. Again, if there’s anything you find particularly helpful which I didn’t mention please leave it in the comments section at the end.
- Find a Meal Frequency that Works for You
- If you have trouble getting full eating small and frequent meals you may want to try Intermittent Fasting (IF) which allows for significantly larger portions, albeit less frequently, throughout the day
- If you become uncomfortably full after eating large meals you may want to focus on eating smaller meals every couple of hours.
- Be Flexible with Your Diet
- As I discussed in the above linked article, flexible dieters tend to be more successful than those who are extremely rigid. Take your diet one step at a time and allow yourself some leeway. Mistakes are rarely the problem; rather how you deal with your mistakes can make or break your success.
- Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
- No, I’m not referring to anything sexual. I know this sound’s funky but start trying to use your non-dominant hand during various daily activities such as eating and brushing your teeth. The authors discuss how forcing yourself out of normal habitual patterns activates certain parts of the brain which may contribute to improving willpower.
- Establish “Bright Lines”
- “Bright Lines” simply refers to making clear-cut and decisive ground rules. For example, rather than “I’m going to drink less beer,” say “I will only drink beer on Friday and Saturday nights and will limit myself to a maximum of 2 beers per evening.” Bright lines such as these make it significantly easier to hold yourself accountable.
- Say “I’ll Have it Later”
- The authors spoke of an interesting study in which they found participants saying “I’ll have it later” fared much better when compared to individuals who said “I’m not going to have it at all.” For example, rather than saying you will completely abstain from food at a party, just say you’ll have it later on during the evening. Interestingly, saying “I’ll have it later” not only used less mental energy but also resulted in less food consumed later on.
- Tell a Friend and/or Make it Public
- Make your goals public and allow other people to hold you accountable. This added motivation may be exactly what you need to help you stick to your “Bright Lines”
- Brush Your Teeth and Floss
- Brushing your teeth and flossing is usually associated with being finished eating. If you find yourself craving some food try brushing and flossing to “trick” yourself into losing your appetite. It may or may not work but it’s definitely worth a shot…plus you get the added benefit of improving oral health.
- Find a Hobby/Stay Occupied
- Don’t sit around and brood over food. Get out and get busy! Take your mind off of your diet and go have some fun. Not only will this be good for your body composition but life is too short not to enjoy it! Your diet shouldn’t hold you back from taking pleasure in everything the world has to offer.
In spite of the apparent simplicity of dieting, it is never going to be easy. We will inevitably go through ups and downs, positives and negatives, good times and bad; it’s just part of the process. However, through using a combination of strategic and flexible dieting we can make the process a more enjoyable experience.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the information provided in this article and that you will be able to use it to help you achieve and maintain your ultimate body composition goals.
If you have any favorite foods, tips, tricks, or strategies which I neglected to mention please leave them in the comments section below.
Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.