“How to reduce appetite”, “how to stop eating so much”, “how to stop feeling hungry”. Have you ever searched for the answers to these questions before? I sure have. I typed these inquiries into Google because I had a very specific body type I was striving for, and it felt like practicing restraint with my diet was the only way to achieve it. Most results suggest using appetite suppression techniques.
Eating fewer calories was my main goal throughout the day, and working out was only a means to drop a few pounds and achieve the ideal aesthetic I was going for. Of course, this meant that I was constantly hungry, and my body begged me for enough energy to sustain itself. But I ignored it the best I could, and I felt proud of myself when I finished the day feeling hungry. “I have so much willpower,” I would think to myself.
How messed up is that? I feel sick now when I think about how proud I was when I neglected my body’s hunger cues. It saddens me to think about all the time I spent convincing myself that I wasn’t actually hungry, or that it’s better to wait until this specific time to eat because then I wouldn’t have to deal with hunger later. It’s disgusting. But I did it because I thought it was the “healthy” or “disciplined” thing to do.
I know I wasn’t alone in these patterns of thinking. Social media influencers, diet gurus, and nutrition experts (that are actually just salespeople) may give tips about how to eat fewer calories and stave off hunger. My best tip for preventing hunger? Eat food. If your body tells you it’s hungry… eat.
Although that’s my philosophy now, it wasn’t for a long time. I used countless strategies to suppress my appetite in order to consumer fewer calories to hopefully lose weight and get my dream body. I know I wasn’t alone in that, and there are still plenty of people who drink gallons of water or chew copious amounts of gum to try to ignore their body’s hunger cues.
This post breaks down several of the ridiculous ways people try to suppress their appetite and go against their body’s wishes for food in order to change how it looks.
One of the most common techniques I have seen people use to try to trick their body into feeling full is by drinking tons and tons of low- or zero-calorie beverages. I began doing this in high school, lugging a water bottle with me wherever I went, drinking huge volumes of water to keep myself full.
I had once read that, “sometimes your body gets confused and when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually just thirsty. Drink water before meals to prevent yourself from eating too much.” I hung on to this like it was the 11th commandment. I also read that drinking several liters of water per day could clear up my skin and make me feel more energized, so I was all in.
Knocking back bottle after bottle of water during and in between classes would sometimes make my stomach feel full, and I’d be able to ignore hunger pangs for a bit longer. My skin never cleared completely or became goddess-like in the way I had envisioned, and I didn’t notice an increase in my energy levels like the article had touted. All I got out of drinking tons of water was more trips to the bathroom.
I kept this pattern up in college too. I bought myself a fruit infusing water bottle to mix things up a little, and I made myself a batch of spa water everyday (cucumber with mint or basil and blackberry). It made me feel fancy, and it gave me a bit of a different flavor. I still enjoy a good glass of infused water every once in a while, and I have hopped on the La Croix train, but I don’t use them to stave off hunger or replace meals and snacks.
Throughout these liquid-gulping years, I never stopped to ask myself why I insisted on drinking such unnatural amounts of water. Even after I stopped trying to cut calories, I drank much more water than necessary. It was simply something I continued to do out of habit. After evaluating my relationship with water, I realized that the reason I drank so much of it stemmed from wanting to lose weight. So I slowed my roll.
Coffee is another liquid sometimes used in an attempt to reduce a person’s calorie consumption.
Frequently, I see posts from fitness influencers or pins on Pinterest that recommend having multiple cups of coffee in the morning because they claim it can help suppress your appetite and and trick your stomach into thinking its full. I suppose this also applies to tea, but I see coffee pushed more often.
I love coffee. Cold brew, lattes, mochas and the plain black stuff are regularly consumed in my household. I want everyone who also loves coffee to be able to enjoy it as much as their body allows them to tolerate. My body, for example, doesn’t handle caffeine so well. I have a one coffee drink per day limit. When I don’t follow this, my hands get shaky and my heart beats a little too fast for comfort.
Some people I know can knock it back all day long and not see any caffeine-related effects. Good for them, honestly. I do think coffee consumption becomes a problem, though, when it is used and abused as a means to eat less and lose weight.
Those who follow planned bouts of anorexia and binging, otherwise known as intermittent fasting, love using coffee and tea as a way to fight their hunger cues while they fast. Intermittent fasting is done in so many different ways, and one common method is to fast for 16 hours and only eat within an 8 hour window. So basically, you eat lunch and dinner, but not breakfast. Intermittent fasters frequently recommend drinking lots of coffee in place of breakfast.
Other intermittent fasters kick it up several notches by not eating for entire days at a time, and then gorging themselves every other day. This madness is all in the name of “revving” one’s metabolism and making your body “more efficient” at burning calories. The hanger, I imagine, is quite real.
Anecdotally, coffee does make me feel less hungry when I have it in the morning. Coffee can also suddenly bring on a nice BM, which dieters enjoy, as it leaves their stomach feeling more empty than before. Plus, many articles on Google or in fitness magazines discuss its alleged impact on PYY, a hunger hormone. More research is needed, but from my vantage point, hunger is a lot more complicated than a single hunger hormone that is possibly affected by coffee.
I see the appeal of downing coffee after coffee in the name of dieting and slimming down, but I see so many problems with it. As someone that has stomach issues in the presence of too much acidity, I sometimes feel that I will vomit my brains out after I drink coffee without anything else in my stomach. The problem here is that the only way to fix it is to eat something, but as you can imagine, food of all kinds sounds horrible.
Pounding back coffee on an empty stomach can also make your body a bit more sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Speaking from experience, my hands and legs shake when I have coffee without eating anything first too. It feels a bit like a panic attack, and it’s overall not a good time.
Additionally, breakfast truly is an important meal in one’s day. Sure, maybe cavemen and Paleolithic people didn’t eat breakfast or regular meals, but their lifestyle was completely different from ours. They didn’t have to go to work and focus on meeting deadlines or corralling a classroom of kids the way many of us do on a daily basis these days. Most of us aren’t as physically active as our ancestors, but our days are more packed than ever, even during a global pandemic. Having a consistent supply of calories and energy is critical to our physical and mental well-being.
Although I don’t want anyone to strive for weight loss, skipping breakfast and letting yourself get overly hungry by lunch may cause you to eat more that you would have if you had eaten two separate meals. Nothing brings on a binge like excessive hunger and waiting too long to eat even if tons of liquids were involved. I speak from experience. Eating regular meals can keep you full and satisfied, preventing you from wanting to eat anything and everything when you go too long without sustenance.
Coffee and water are only two of the beverages people use to fill their stomaches and try to eat less. Other beverages include diet sodas, flavor packets, teas, and more. Maybe, like me, you started drinking lots of these liquids years ago to keep your figure, and you continue doing it because it’s a deeply engrained habit. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
Maybe you have also used other means of suppressing your appetite, and it’s time to let those go too.
Chewing on Gum or Sucking on Hard Candies
Back when I was at my most anxious (college), I would go through a half a pack of gum per day. I had a desire to be moving in some small way at all times, and chewing gum gave me a way to release some energy. I also theorized that the action of chewing would trick my body into thinking it was eating because I had food on the mind 24/7. Dozens, if not hundreds, of articles online discuss how gum can keep you distracted when you are hungry, but it “isn’t time” to eat, or you are trying to lose weight by skipping or reducing meals and snacks.
One particularly disordered article I came across followed a young lady’s seven day journey of chewing gum whenever she felt like snacking. The article is littered with the obsessive thoughts that I used to have about waiting until certain times to eat, and avoiding desserts altogether in favor of a piece of gum. It was an interesting read because it felt like something I might have written myself just a few years ago.
It made me think back to the time when Extra released dessert flavored gum to “help people with cravings”. It felt like a blessing from heaven above. They had mint chocolate chip ice cream, lemon bar, peach pie, and several other sugar-free flavors that were supposed to help eliminate temptation to eat an actual dessert after meals.
The flavor didn’t last long, and they never actually made me feel satisfied, but I bought into the idea that choosing dessert gum instead of dessert was good for me. I now realize it probably would have been better for my physical and mental health to just eat the dang dessert instead, but we made it there eventually.
Aside from gum, I would chain eat those Wint O Green Lifesavers, one after the other. At one of my college jobs, my boss always had a bag of them at our shared desk, and I would end some days with an embarrassing pile of wrappers by my side. I seemed to reach for them most often when a coworker would bring in cookies or donuts to share, and I didn’t want to “give in” and have one.
Interestingly, now that my anxiety is under control (for the most part), and I eat intuitively most of the time, I almost never reach for gum. I don’t need a distraction or an outlet for stress, so I don’t chew it so compulsively. It wasn’t a conscious choice, I just stopped craving it all the time. That might not seem like a big deal to others, but it’s a big deal to me. It means I’m no longer using artificial means to ignore my body’s cues. And that is huge.
Sniffing Foods Instead of Eating Them
I vividly remember standing around talking with some friends at a graduation party, when a mom came up to us and asked to sniff the brownie on her son’s plate. I thought that was pretty bizarre, but I speculated that she wanted to see if it was worth eating. No, he explained after she left, that she is trying to lose weight. Instead of consuming calories and eating desserts, she sniffs them instead.
At this point, I was already in the throes of trying to stay skinny and watch my own figure, so I didn’t judge. I had watched people around me do a bunch of weird things in the name of weight loss and slimming down for my entire life. I was nursing my own feelings of guilt about all that I had eaten that day, so I mentally commended the lady for sticking to her aspirations of weight loss so diligently.
Now I look back at this memory with pure empathy and sadness. This woman was so worried about her body that she couldn’t even relax and enjoy a brownie at a graduation party while she chatted with other parents and friends. It was supposed to be a day of celebration and cheer, but she, and I, and probably several of the other patrons were stuck focusing on how our bodies would look if we ate “too much”.
If you ever catch yourself smelling foods in an attempt to get “enjoyment” out of foods without consuming the energy within them, please just eat the damn food.
Visualizing Yourself Eating Foods You Crave
Along the same lines as sniffing foods, this one has diet culture written all over it. An article I came across online told readers to visualize themselves eating the foods they are craving. Their example was m&ms, so instead of eating a handful, picture yourself doing it instead.
I cringed when I read that. I cringed because I know I would have tried this one a few short years ago when I tried my hardest to eat less. Your body is telling you that it’s hungry, so it sends you signals that you’re craving a food heavy in calories and quick energy. Instead of reading those cues and giving your body what it’s asking for, you’re supposed to try using mind tricks to avoid giving your body what it needs.
Let me ask you something: when you have to pee, do you close eyes and visualize yourself going to a bathroom or using a urinal in place of actually going to the bathroom? I hope not- that probably wouldn’t be an effective strategy to get rid of the urge to visit the restroom. I hope, instead, that you notice those cues, find an appropriate place to do your business, and go ahead relieve yourself. And I hope you don’t feel guilty or like a failure when you “give in” to those “impulses” of needing to use the bathroom.
If you can trust your body’s signals when it tells you it needs to hit the John, why can’t you trust its signals when it tells you it needs calories? Why do some of us resort to techniques to dull the sensation of hunger when it’s simply an assertion that our body needs something?
Of all the “life hacks” and “handy tips” I came across in my appetite suppression technique research, this is one of the most disturbing. Visualization exercises have a time and a place. Athletes use them all the time to picture the shot they will take or the strategy they will use. But using visualization techniques as a way to be successfully anorexic is definitely not great.
Using Protein or Other Appetite Suppressing Supplements
Have you, or anyone you know, ever bought tons of protein powders, shakes, or bars to use as meal replacements? Protein is touted as a magical nutrient, one that can keep you full, build muscles, and make all of your dreams come true. The fact that the vast majority of Americans naturally get enough protein in a day is beside the point for protein supplement manufacturers and meal replacement shake companies.
I also wasn’t immune to these claims, as I used to put this nasty-tasting chocolate whey protein powder in my oatmeal. Then I would eat it cold. Microwaved whey protein powder was even less tasty than cold whey protein powder. It was disgusting and far from satisfying, but it kept me full until dinner time. Once again, I would feel pride in my ability to abstain from eating proper meals for the rest of the day. What can I say? I was worried about the getting the freshman 15, like many had warned me about when I entered school.
Protein powders and drinks might be helpful for some patients in hospitals, but eating a flavorless, chalky whey protein bar or drinking a thick, lumpy protein shake instead of eating a meal to suppress your appetite is a mistake. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and choking down a protein supplement instead of allowing yourself to enjoy a delicious meal is doing yourself, and your body, a disservice.
Speaking of disservices, one of the nuttiest things I ever tried to get rid of my hunger pangs and attempt to reduce my appetite was drinking apple cider vinegar. If you’ve never tried it before, it is one of the most foul-tasting things you can consume. Even when a tiny amount is diluted in tons of water, the stuff is terrible. Take my word for it, please.
The internet is full of declarations of the magical potion apple cider vinegar is. It can, allegedly, “rev” your metabolism, suppress your appetite, aid your digestion, “detox” your body, and make everyone rich and famous. All of these promises led me to toughen up and knock it back, but I would dread the time of day where I “had” to drink it. I tried adding tons of honey to it for sweetener, adding it to tea, and plugging my nose while I drank it. None of these worked to reduce the horror that is apple cider vinegar as it crosses one’s tastebuds.
I guess one could say that it worked to suppress my appetite because it was so dang nasty, and I wouldn’t feel like eating for a long time after drinking it, but it wasn’t worth the torture. Apple cider vinegar is just one of thousands of natural remedies or supplements that health gurus push online to suppress one’s appetite.
Once again, the best way to reduce the amount of hunger pains you’re receiving from your body is to eat. If you need a little help getting started, check out What is Intuitive Eating and How to Eat Intuitively.
If you currently use any of these appetite suppression techniques in an attempt to reduce your intake, stop. Stop drinking tons of water, chewing outlandish amounts of gum, or doing anything else that you think will help you lose weight or eat less. It’s not healthy for you, physically or mentally, and it’s truly disturbing that any of us would stoop to these levels for even a slim chance that we could trick our bodies into not needing as many calories to sustain itself.
I don’t write about these matters to give people ideas about how to make their stomach feel full and suppress their appetite. I write about these matters because several people have told me they used some of these tactics to try to avoid eating, and that’s scary. These aren’t uncommon strategies or approaches- people all around you are using them because they don’t think their current body is good enough.
I write about these matters because lots of people have been doing these things for years without even realizing it. Maybe it continues to be a conscious decision, a continued attempt to eat less and weigh less. But often, it’s no longer a conscious choice. It’s a way of life now. I want people to stop and reflect on their own habits, and dig deep to discover why they do some of the things that they do, especially if it involves trying to consume less food.
If your body is crying out for food, please eat. If you think you need to see a professional, please get help. No more of this appetite suppression nonsense.
As Always, a Book Recommendation
I loved The F*ck It Diet because it delivers real truths about diet culture, disordered eating, and many of the stupid stuff we do to change our bodies. This book is written with heart and humor, and it made me feel understood by another human being. It showed me how common it is for people to fall into diet culture’s clutches and struggle to get out for years. There is nothing quite like feeling understood.
Caroline Dooner discusses the lengths she went to try to eat a certain way, and how it ended up becoming too much to handle. Her jokes and Harry Potter references make this book fun and engaging, and I think it’s well worth a read for those who are fully immersed in intuitive eating and those who are still wary of dipping their toes into that pond.
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