You may feel hungry on a diet, but you can’t really figure out why. This is a common problem and has as much to do with your mental state as well as physical. While this is a phenomenon that has plagued dieters for years, some of the explanations are quite easy to understand.

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The problem when you change your diet is that you almost have to condition the brain. It tends to think that you are hungry even when you really aren’t. The brain becomes very accustomed to the way that you eat and therefore when you change things up it goes into overdrive.

So what is it that makes you feel hungry the minute you say that you are on a diet? And is there any way to break the cycle? 

The Brain Ensures That You Never Go Into Starvation

The brain is like the epicenter of everything that goes on within the body. This is the control tower, so to speak, for your hormones, for your organs, and for the way in which your body functions. Therefore when you start to feel hungry, the brain starts to go to work. At the end of the day its main role is to ensure that you never go hungry and that you certainly never risk starving.

When you’re on a restrictive diet, your body starts to overcompensate for your new, reduced calorie intake. This is the point at which many diets fail. If you drastically reduce portions and calories, the brain tries to keep up and sends signals to the body that you are starving and amps up the hunger signals, to encourage you to eat more. The body also begins to hold onto every calorie that you consume as it thinks that your body needs it for survival.

So while the brain goes to work to protect you from starvation, it is doing what it should be. However this can backfire, as many people find out, when they struggle to stick to a new diet and end up gaining weight rather than losing it. This is why diet trends and fads that drastically restrict what you can eat — whether in terms of the type of food or the quantity — rarely work long-term, as you should never completely deprive yourself! 

The Brain is Used to Your Old Eating Habits

Whether you realize it or not, you are conditioning yourself each and every day. When you are eating all the wrong foods or eating far too much in one sitting, you are conditioning yourself to those habits. The brain begins to adapt and think that this is the way that you need to eat to survive.

So when you change things up and you go down the path of eating better, the brain isn’t quite sure what to do. This is when the brain begins to think that something is wrong as it is used to and conditioned to the old way of doing things. Through years of bad eating habits, your brain has grown accustomed to this. So you need to retrain it. This is the hardest part of the cycle. You may need to feel a little bit of hunger to get to the point where you should be for healthy, balanced eating. Do keep in mind that this should never come about due to starvation or deprivation, but good sound nutritious and healthy eating.

You May Be Mistaking Hunger for Something Else

The brain is a very important organ within the body and therefore it has a lot of power. If you think that you are hungry it may very well be something else. Are you eating out of an emotional reaction? Are you eating because you are bored? Are you eating because you feel upset, frustrated, anxious, or fearful?

Many people mistake the signals that the brain sends for hunger when really it’s not hunger at all. You may be hungry or you may just be bored and mistake that for hunger. This is common and it takes a while to get used to, but you have to learn to listen to your body. Your brain will follow suit and in no time you will learn to understand when feelings formerly associated with hunger are caused by something entirely different. Work with your brain and not against it and you will have smooth sailing on a new diet plan!

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  1. I just had a turkey burger ; broccoli; spinach, and salad..I feel full I just got back from the doctor and my cholesterol is 235 which is high, and my good chol. is 64; whichis good. I have diabetis 2 and I am really trying to eat right


  2. My husband and I are trying this new plan and we are eating so healthy and enjoying it. I am glad my husband is on board with all of this but we are so hungry LOL! This is our first week so I am glad I found this article to better educate ourselves as we get through the hunger pains while eating more healthy meals and snacks.

  3. Too true!! I really can’t agree with this more! I was on an eating plan which included white bread, white sugar and endless fish and chips and pizzas just like my husband and son love! Changing to the TDC eating plan was an education with an assignment. I now have to research and shop for foods I’d never tried before and getting my head around recipes I’d never dreamed of ever! Now 6 weeks down the line and 10 kilos lighter I feel my brain has been retrained to signal, not hunger, but a reminder that I’m due a small snack of nuts and fruit with a huge cup of Red Bush tea and time to get the next meal ready!

  4. I was successful on another “diet”, but got caught up with job, kids, family and within a year gained 40 pounds of the 60 pounds that I lost. I am an emotional eater and know it; I keep grapes in the fridge all the time, but between 2 and 6, I’m starving and want something sweet, so I eat chocolate and then I’m feeling guilty I ate it and then fix dinner planning on eating lite and before I know it, it’s time to go to bed and I’m so full. I am on a roller coaster and totally out of control. I have to find balance and know what I can eat and at the same time to eat in moderation the food that is not good for you, to eat a small portion and be happy with that. There is hope, I am an optimist and know it can be done.

  5. I was always a chubby kid. My mom prepared the best desserts and her mashed potatoes and gravy were superb. Then in my early 20’s after I had my children I slimmed down to 118lbs (I am 5ft tall) and I felt and looked good – could actually wear a string bikini. But as I got older (I am now 68) and had a few bouts of illness the weight crept on and here I am – I don’t even like to see myself in a mirror. I have dieted many times and a few times successfully but I always put the weight back on. I am looking forward to retirement in a year or so and don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘fat’. Normally I walk on my treadmill for 20-30 minutes every morning (I get up at 5:30). Then at work, I take my lunch hour to go to the gym (I work for a post-secondary institution with a state of the art sport centre) and I do circuit training, i.e. power walk a lap on the indoor track, do 2-3 sets of resistance training on a machine, do another lap, etc. So that gives me a little more than an hour a day, without adding on all the walking I do around campus. Despite having a resting heart rate of 54 and blood pressure at 115/68 I am getting desperate and I want to lose about 40 pounds – this won’t take me down to my bikini weight but it will definitely make me much healthier. I do try to eat healthfully but I find that I keep thinking, oh no, I have to give up this or that and next thing I know I have sabbotaged my whole strategy. Because I work full time and have an online business on the side, I don’t have a lot of time to spend planning and cooking healthy meals. My husband is very encouraging but he is a simple eater (meat and potatoes) and it doesn’t seem fair to deprive him of his favorites. He tells me to go ahead and if he doesn’t like something I cook he will make himself a sandwich. He is the type who can eat almost anything and never get fat (he’s only 15 lbs heavier than his mid-20s weight and he is 70 years old and still very active and it makes me so jealous). I definitely know what the word “diet” does to my brain; even calling it a “healthy eating lifestyle” still makes me feel deprived. I’m hoping that ‘confessing’ my foodie desires will help me stay on track. Congrats to all of you who are successful and I hope I can follow suit.

  6. Just getting started …day one today . I definitely eat my emotions, nothing says “congratulations” or “good job ” like a chocolate chip cookie! The hard part is going to be at work tomorrow. I read a lot of your comments and they all offer something worthy , just hope I am up to the task !!!!

  7. I’ve been keeping healthy snacks at my desk, such as Dry Roasted Edamame, cocoa almonds, roasted unsalted sunflower kernels, fruits and occasional wheat thins (limit 15 or less). Plus keeping 2 bottles of water and drinking green tea with jasmine daily. I’m feeling really great. Even when I give in to something sweet, I find that just one bite is fine for me. I have better control and don’t find the chocolate as tempting as it used to be. Just trying to work exercising into my morning! I prefer exercising at night, but read that morning exercise before eating breakfast burns more calories! 🙂

  8. You know you’re an emotional eater when you stop in a store just to buy a small bag of M%Ms….and this was on the way home from getting a new molar crown at the dentist. It’s that little voice that says “you were very good at the dentist (didn’t bite him) so you deserve a treat. Still working on getting the eating/craving signals straight in my brain.

  9. I have always been an emotional eater and was a smoker for over 15 years. Quitting smoking led me to go into snack overdrive! When I get fidgety and want to smoke or eat uncontrollably, I try eating crushed ice, drinking water with lemon, eating cucumbers and carrots with lime juice and a little salt, or busying myself with a crossword puzzle. I even taught myself to knit so that I have to use both hands simultaneously, which helps a lot. I’m obviously here because I want to get on track and lose some weight, so I know my suggestions may not always work, but it doesn’t hurt to try 🙂

  10. Hi to you snacking on grapes & carrots. I just popped a few red grapes myself while waiting on dinner & am hoping this not only tides me over, yet keeps my blood sugar level in place. I have eaten while bored as well like how about the times I’ve miked some popcorn, & ate the whole bag while watching a show…Those days are gone for me, as that popcorn had a lot of butter in it without me adding any. So I too have begun reaching for foods such as grapes & carrots. I’ve just bought some broccoli the other day that is right inside the frig to grab along with a few cucumber slices. I sure hope I can lose some weight, & figure just with eliminating the bread, that could help me out right there. I can’t find the bread this club recommends but I did find some thinwhich bread that when divided & only using a half of a serving, is only 55 calories. Not that I’m a calorie counter per say, yet it simply gave me something to put the mushrooms & non fat mozzarella with a lil tomato, & a 1/4 of avocado on. I miked it, & thought bingo, that’s not bad for a low cal snack. Sure beats all my peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I won’t punish myself over it, yet change had to occur for me:)

  11. Change my behavior…
    Go for a walk..
    Read a book..
    Sit in a different chair…
    Eat only at the table not while watching TV..
    Or reading or at the computer…
    When the hunger thought flys into my head…
    I get busy with something to distract myself..
    Listen to music…
    Dance around the room…
    It works when I override the thought and feeling of hunger with these distractions…

  12. I have a new job and I have not been trained on many of the jobs. While I am waiting for people to tell me what to do, I get very bored. Therefore, I begin to snack. I am trying to control what I snack on but that gets boring also. Right now I am snacking on carrots and grapes. Even though I had lunch just an hour ago. I am really getting desperate. What should I do?????

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