How To Stay Full In A Calorie Deficit

Hunger is normal, especially when you are in a calorie deficit. However, you really shouldn’t be hungry all the time.  

So sit down & gear up for a jam-packed article that will teach you how to feel full while in a calorie deficit. 

The first section will explain the difference between hunger and craving. 

The second section will give you some of the best foods to incorporate into your nutrition game plan while losing weight. 

The third section will give you guidelines to experiment with over the next few weeks/months.  

Get ready for a good one, and I promise you will know how to stay full while in a calorie deficit after giving this a read. 

Now, let’s get to it. 

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Before we jump any further, let’s be sure we’re on the same page about calorie deficits. 

When you eat, you are taking in energy. While you go about your daily life, you are burning that energy.  

Energy balance plays a role in your weight management. This concept is referred to it as Calories-In, Calories Out. 

  • You can gain weight if you take in more energy than you use. (Energy Surplus)
  • You can lose weight if you take in less energy than you use. (Energy Deficit) 
  • If you take in the same energy you use, your weight will stay the same. (Energy Balance) 

In other words, someone needs to be in a calorie deficit if their goal is to lose weight. 

You can give my full macro tracking article a read to help determine your calorie deficit.  

Or you can use the following formula: 

(Goal bodyweight) x 12 = Total Calories 

Then add 100 calories and subtract 100 to give yourself a calorie range. 

Ranges work better than trying to hit one number. 

Example: 

(Goal bodyweight 135 lbs) x 12 = 1,620 calories 

1,620 calories + 100 = 1,720 calories 

1,620 calories – 100 = 1,520 calories 

Your daily calorie range would be 1,520 – 1,720 calories. 

Just a word to the wise, this is an estimate. Even the number from an online calorie calculator is an estimate.  

That’s why sticking with your calorie range for at least 30 days or longer, is your best bet, ya little rascal. It gives you time to notice trends and make minor adjustments while working on developing different eating skills and health-promoting behaviors.  

But I know you might be an impatient Imogen, and that’s why you do silly things like…

Cutting your calories and eating less than my two-year-old. 

So, Why Am I Hungry All The Time? 

The most common reason someone is hungry is that their calorie deficit is too big. 

If you are in a calorie deficit, you will experience hunger.

You are eating a little less than usual, and if you have been eating in a calorie surplus, you might be more accustomed to the feeling of being over full.

If you never are hungry or experience a craving, you most likely aren’t in a deficit. 

I know it stinks to hear that; however, here is a solution.

The deficit you are attempting to enter might be too big.

Let’s say you were eating 2,500 calories a day, and the weight loss calculator you used told you to eat 1,200 calories to lose 2-3 lbs per week.

You are cutting your calories almost in half and setting an aggressive weight loss per week, making it harder to adhere to and more likely to be hungry all the time.

Suppose you adjust your calories to 1900-2000 calories per day and work on tracking accurately, eating nutrient-dense meals, taking a daily walk, and laying the foundation for health-promoting behaviors. 

In that case, your weight loss phase becomes more tolerable, and you have skills to fall back on when life happens.

But I Have More Weight To Lose

For certain individuals, maybe their weight loss goal is 50+ pounds, in which case, their goal body weight might create a more significant calorie deficit if they use an online calculator or the nifty equation I gave you earlier. 

(Goal Bodyweight)x 12 = Estimated Daily Calories 

Instead of aiming for 100lbs, let’s aim for the first 20 lbs. 

I know, I know, I can hear you now…

But Chris, that’s not enough; I need to lose MOAR! 

You’re not the first person to feel this way, and I’m not going to sit here and type a motivational sentence telling you not to feel that way.  

Feel your feelings. 

I will say that when you lose weight and look back on all your progress, you’re not going to give two poops about how long it took you.  

You’re going to embrace that you did it and didn’t do another fricken crash diet, followed by a detox and two more crash diets. 

The goal isn’t to be dieting forever.

The goal is to enjoy life.

The goal is to keep up with your family.

The goal is not to spend the entire day thinking about food and how hungry you are.

So, take it slow because you’re the only one in the race, and you’re going to cross the finish line; be patient. 

Step back and reflect on what you’ve done that hasn’t worked; what do you have to lose by dialing things back and taking your time? 

Glad you understand. 

Aim for the first 20 pounds to have a more manageable deficit, and things will improve for you. 

Oh… and you might still be a little hungry sometimes, but you shouldn’t be hungry all the time! 

Hunger vs. Cravings

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, you will be hungry sometimes because you are eating less than before. 

Here’s the best question you can ask yourself when it comes to hunger: 

Am I Hungry? 

Yup. It seems simple, and that’s because it is. 

You are either hungry, or you are experiencing a craving (which is FRICKEN NORMAL). 

To boil things down, you can start to look for hunger with the following cues: 

  1. The feeling starts in your stomach 
  2. The feeling increases over time
  3. You’re hungry for a meal

Number three is quite possibly the most important cue for hunger. 

We will come back to it in a second. 

Cravings usually follow these cues: 

  1. The feel isn’t in the stomach 
  2. The feeling comes and goes in a wave
  3. You want a “treat.” 

Cravings come and go, and if you give yourself 10-15 minutes, it usually passes.   

Oh, and I don’t recommend standing in front of the pantry waiting it out. That never works. 

AREN’T SURE IF IT IS A CRAVING OR HUNGER? 

The best question to ask yourself is, “am I hungry for a meal?” 

Does a piece of fruit sound good right about now? 

Does a plate of tacos with black beans, rice, and some salsa sound good? 

If you answered yes to either of these, you are hungry.   

Now, if the answer is no, chances are you have a craving, and it will pass. I don’t recommend sitting and staring at the cookies while you attempt to let the urge pass by.  

You can read this article to learn what you can do instead.

Okay I’m hungry, what should I eat? 

To keep things simple, we are going to macronutrient by macronutrient.  

I like having all my fat loss clients first master eating a balanced plate. 

A balanced plate makes it easier to see what goes on your plate, specifically if you want to manage or lose weight. 

Portion sizes may be slightly different based on the person, but this is a good starting point: 

  • 25% protein 
  • 25% carbohydrate 
  • 50% Vegetables & Fruit
  • 1-2 thumbs of fat

So without further ado, let’s dive in. 

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Protein

Prioritizing protein during a calorie deficit is important for a few different reasons.  

  1. During a fat loss phase, your goal is to preserve muscle mass. 
  2. During a fat loss phase, your goal is to not be as hungry between meals.  
  3. During a fat loss phase, your goal is to build muscle…maybe.

Protein covers all of the above. 

Let’s take a glance at the thermic effect of food. 

Thermic Effect of Foods: Is the increase in metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories) after eating food.  

T.E.F accounts for 10% of the daily calories burnt.  

You’re more likely to be full between meals if you prioritize protein for that very reason. 

So, how much protein should I have? 

To determine your protein goal, you can use the following equation.  

(Goal Body Weight (LB) ) x 1 = Protein goal in grams.

150 lbs x 1 = 150g protein target for the day. 

Now, wait a minute; I know what you’re thinking.  

That’s a lot of protein! 

You’re right. 

It is. 

That’s why it’s a target. You are working toward it, and after you read this next section, you’ll know what to eat. 🤓

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Low-Calorie High Protein Sources: 

Skin-less chicken breast: I suggest chicken breast vs. chicken thigh because it is a lean cut of meat.  

Leaner cuts of meat have less fat, and because there is less fat, it ends up being a lower-calorie option. Technically plan/bland chicken breast will probably be the most satiating thing you could eat…but it tastes horrible. 

So, please do me a favor and flavor your chicken. There are a ton of spices and rubs that are low-calorie. Such as NADAC OG Chicken..🤤

Or use onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. 

Lean or Extra Lean ground turkey, chicken, or beef: Easy to throw in a pan and cook.  

Or you can make burgers! 

Or you could make a family favorite The Mike Nugget. 

Pork Tenderloin:  For those who are not a big fan of chicken, don’t overlook a good pork tenderloin.  

3oz Chicken Breast 3 oz Port Tenderloin
140 Calories122 Calories
26g Protein 22g Protein
3g Fat3g Fat

Pretty close, right? 

Fish (Tuna, Cod, Talapia, Mackeral, Haddock, Sole, Flounder, & Shrimp): 

So, I am allergic to shellfish; therefore, I am jealous of folks who can enjoy shrimp. The fish I have listed above are just a few of the many fish someone can enjoy.  

Fish are jam-packed with nutrients and tend to be lower in calories while high in protein. For that reason, you could eat more fish; however, no one enjoys a fish burp, so use common sense. 😉 

Egg and Egg Whites:   Eggs are a more affordable source of protein and contain other nutrients.   

To get more protein, I recommend using 1-2 whole eggs and mixing them with a few egg whites. This high protein, lower calorie option can be pretty filling, especially if you toss a bunch of vegetables in with your eggs. 

Zero Percent Greek Yogurt:  This is a staple in my kitchen. Greek Yogurt tends to fill me up, and it is an easy protein addition to oatmeal, salads, or dressings.   

As a bonus, you can make a high-protein late-night snack: 

  • 1 serving 0% greek yogurt 
  • 1 scoop of Chocolate Protein 
  • 1/2 cup cut strawberries 

Mix the greek Yogurt with your protein powder and stick it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. 

Take it out and put berries on top.  

Enjoy it, and know that it is protein-packed and pretty darn filling. 

1% Cottage Cheese:  This one is similar to greek Yogurt – high in protein, low in calories, and pretty darn filling. The only downside is the texture. 

But if the texture doesn’t bother you (I am cool with it), then enjoy!   

Protein Powder: A quality protein powder is an easy way to boost your daily protein intake and an excellent choice for a deliberate snack. There are so many protein companies out there, but in my honest opinion, the Cinnamon Cereal Whey Protein from Legion is 🤤.   

A note for my plant-based friends: 

You, really, really need to focus on getting enough protein considering you might not be eating meat or dairy.  

Having a quality protein powder is helpful. 

Tempeh is technically less processed than tofu, but both are options. 

So, a good rule of thumb: 

If the meal contains no meat/protein source, then consider the bean or lentil as your protein.

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Carbohydrates

I know there is a lot of chatter around needing to eliminate carbohydrates to lose weight/ lose weight faster.  

You will lose weight in the first week or so because you eliminate water weight.

Carbo-HYDRATE

It’s pretty silly, and your best bet is to consider what you can sustain. So as much as Keto Karl is best-intentioned, trust me when I say you can enjoy carbohydrates and still lose weight. 

It’s helpful to choose a starchy carbohydrate higher in fiber to help with fullness. 

Most Americans consume less than half of the recommended amount of fiber.  

Adult Men: 36 g/day 

Adult Women: 28g/day 

Carbohydrates higher in fiber tend to be lower in calories too. 

Low-Calorie Carbohydrate Options 

Oatmeal:  Holy heck, is oatmeal filling. This starchy carbohydrate is 150 calories for a half cup, which will double in size once you add water and cook it. Not to mention the 5 grams of fiber per serving! 

For oatmeal, you can easily add greek yogurt or protein powder to make a protein-packed fiber bowl. 

Sweet or White Potato:  Potatoes tend to be incredibly filling, even without all the fixing. 4oz of sweet potato comes in at 100 calories and 3.7g of fiber!  

When you compare that to 1/4 of a cup of brown rice which comes in at 170 calories and 2g of fiber, you will find that you could have two servings of sweet potatoes and be pretty darn satisfied.  

Additionally, brown rice and sweet potatoes are fricken delicious, but from a lower calorie fiber point of view, potatoes work well. 

Barley: Well, barley is pretty tasty, and 1 cup has almost 9g of fiber and 193 calories. You will be pretty full and probably get away with a half cup based on the balanced plate you enjoy. 

Popcorn: If you enjoy plain popcorn on the stovetop, a cup is about 31 calories. Again, there is about 1.2g of fiber per serving too! 

Even plain microwave popcorn can be pretty low in calories and is filling. 

Legumes (Black beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, etc): All of my plant-based friends know how satisfying beans can be! That is due to their combination of protein and fiber. 

These are easy to add to any meal and leave you feeling full. 

A word to the wise, soak your beans overnight before cooking. It is a tiny tip that can help with the toot factor. 

Carrots: For 1 cup of chopped carrots, there are 52 calories and 3.6g of fiber. 

You can enjoy tiny baby carrots in a bag if that is more your jazz. The reason why these are satisfying is the crunch and texture. Needing to chew more helps with fullness. 

Fruits: Good lord, fruit is delicious, and the sugar isn’t bad for you, so knock it off. 

Honestly, they are filling, packed with fiber, and low in calories. Here are some of the MANY tasty options you can try.  

  •  Raspberries: 1 cup has 8g of fiber and 64 calories 
  •  Strawberries: 1lb is only 140 calories, and a cup has 4g of fiber
  •  Blackberries: 1 cup is 7.6g of fiber and 62 calories
  •  Watermelon: 1 lb is 138 calories and has 2g of fiber. 
  •  Orange: 1 orange is 74 calories and has 4.4g of fiber
  •  Apple: 1 medium size apple is 93 calories and has 4.3g of fiber
  •  Papaya: 1 medium size papaya is 118 calories and has 5.5g of fiber. 
  • Cantaloupe: 1 large cantaloupe is 150 calories and has 4g of fiber. 

Oh, and to save a few bucks, you can buy frozen fruit.  

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Vegetables:  

Now, no matter what fad has popped across your social media feed this week, I am going to shout this from the mountain tops: EAT YOUR FRICKEN VEGETABLES.   

Beyond the health-promoting benefits, such as reduced all-cause mortality, they are very filling, packed with fiber, and lower in calories.  

Because you are in a deficit, you will want to take advantage of feeling full. 😉 

The goal is to work up to 50% of your plate being vegetables.  

Oh, and the calories from vegetables still count; they aren’t magical; however, no one ever said, gosh, I eat too many vegetables, I need to cut back.  

If you don’t know where to begin, try having 1 Big Ass Salad daily. Fill it with as many different vegetables as possible, and you will find that you can curb hunger. 

I prefer spinach as my base, and you can enjoy 2 cups for about 15 calories.

Oh, and please don’t skim on your protein too. 

You’re an adult, and eating the veggies is a good idea; if you need help getting started, here are a few good ideas. 

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Fat

Okay, fat is an integral part of a well-balanced diet for all my keto fans. 

It also happens to be the macronutrient with the most significant amount of calories per gram at 9. 

Does that make it bad? 

Nope. 

So long as you eat a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, protein, & carbohydrates, you’re in the clear. 

You can adjust your macros to match your calorie intake if you enjoy more fat than carbohydrates. Your top priority is hitting your daily protein target and coming within your daily calorie range. Protein does tend to be more filling too. 🤓

Here are a few filling options, but I wouldn’t consider them lower calorie options. 

Higher Fat Cuts of Meat. 

Higher fat content Greek Yogurt & Cottage Cheese. 

Avocados (So much fiber!!!) 

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Beverages

Okay, this is pretty important to mention.  

Please stop filling up on liquid calories. 

Alright, I hear you; it’s not that easy. So here are some alternatives that work well. 

Diet & Zero Calorie Soda: They are a good option to help with a sweet craving. Not to mention there are zero calories and folks who switch from regular soda to diet soda tend to lose weight; go figure. 😉

Coffee & Tea: Both are beautiful gifts from the caffeine gods. Just be aware of how much of your favorite creamer you’re adding, and no, butter isn’t a creamer. 

Water:   If I started recommending water first, I think you would have rolled your eyes.  

Look, thirst is often confused with hunger, and water will quench your thirst better than most other beverages. 

A good rule of thumb is to try and drink half your body weight in ounces of water.  

If that sounds like too much, try to have a glass of water with every meal. 

If that doesn’t sound very tasty, think about adding fruit or lemon to your water. 

If you don’t like that, knock it off and drink a glass of water. 

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Spices

I wanted to throw this one in here because it will be a game-changer.  

Adding flavor to your food will help you stay full. 

Spices like cayenne pepper help dull some hunger pangs and can take a dish up a notch.  

But beyond that, you can look at adding salt, pepper, turmeric, and other spices to your dishes. The flavor profile will increase, you’ll chew the food more, and you will be full longer. 

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What next? 

If you eat balanced meals with healthy portions of protein and still experience frequent hunger, it might be an emotion, boredom, or exhaustion. 

During a recent coaching call, a client told me, “I believe overeating is the crux of my problems. It doesn’t help that I am constantly rationalizing things in the moment “It’s just too good.” 

There are a few ways to start exploring the comfort of being overly full. One thing that can help is giving yourself the chance to slow down. 

It takes time to recognize you are full, especially when eating quickly.

Here are a few guidelines that you can experiment with:

During meals: Put your fork down between bites.

Putting your fork or hand-based food (sandwich)down between bites allows you to slow down and enjoy the food.

The next time you pick up your fork would be after chewing and swallowing your food. Other options are to take a sip of water between bites or talk with a friend/family member. 

During meals: Pay attention to the food you are enjoying. 

Try picking one thing to notice about your next meal. 

  • Taste.
  • Smell.
  • Texture.
  • Sight.
  • Sound even works, especially if you’re having rice crispy cereal. 

Mindfulness helps you distinguish between being in love with the taste vs. being full. Research has shown that you are more likely to snack or eat more at the next meal if you don’t take the time to be aware of what you are eating.

During Meals:  No Screens at meals. 

Before you skip over this one, just take a moment to read what I have to say! 

Distracted eating affects your body’s ability to recognize that it’s full. Think about the last time you enjoyed a few snacks while watching television…

Try picking one meal and putting your phone away. See how it changes your ability to notice hunger and fullness. 

The biggest thing to remember is that you will need to practice; it implies you will make mistakes which is a good thing. You will learn what works and what doesn’t work.

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Random Thoughts For Deficits

Exercise

Since you are in a calorie deficit to lose weight, maybe you have started exercising too. 

If you have, that’s RAD! 

Something to consider is on days when you train; you will be hungrier. 

This is normal and should be expected.  

However, if you are overdoing it with training to burn more calories, you will only make your deficit bigger, making you more hungry.

So for those eager beavers out there, dial things back.  

It’s a long game; if you think you can sustain that training, you have another thing coming. 

You don’t need to train every day & get over 30,000 steps. 

Aim for resistance training 3-4 days per week and hitting at least 7,000-10,000 steps.  

Oh, and it’s okay if things don’t always go according to plan.

Planning Meals 

Time for a hard truth. If you intentionally or unintentionally skip meals, it doesn’t always mean you will lose weight. 

Skipping meals means you will snack. 

Skipping meals means you won’t accurately track things. 

Skipping meals makes it harder for you to adhere to your nutrition plan.  

So, I suggest nailing down 2-3 options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A greatest hits menu, if you will.  

They don’t need to be fancy meals.  

It will help you plan your grocery shopping list and have some consistency.  

If you need some help, I have a whole article on meal prep.

Sleep 

If you’re tired/exhausted, go to bed. Chances are you aren’t truly hungry, and you need some sleep.

It’s easy to think you’re hungry when you’re tired. Your body is trying to stay awake.

But if you haven’t eaten a lot during the day or skimmed on your protein, here are a few options.

👉 Greek Yogurt with a scoop of protein and fresh fruit.

👉 Low-fat cottage cheese with fresh fruit.

👉A protein shake.

👉 Just go to bed. 😉

All of these options are low-calorie and nutrient-dense. They will keep you full and satisfied, decreasing your chances of returning for more than you need.

Oh, and eating after 8 pm isn’t bad..

Just be aware of why you’re eating, what you’re eating, and how much you’re having.

Or

You can just brush your teeth and go to bed because aiming for 8 hours of sleep means cravings won’t be as intense the next day.  

TL;DR

A lot goes into weight loss & while on paper; it seems simple; it will take making mistakes, learning, and trying again. I hope that some of the tips from this article will make things a little easier while you’re in a calorie deficit. 

Remember, the goal isn’t to diet forever & the more patient you are, the faster you’ll get where you want to go. 

If you want more helpful nutrition & fat loss tips join my value-driven email list. Just click here, plug in your details, and you’ll get a welcome gift in your inbox.  

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