By Lou Schuler
Hunger Game Strategy 1: Establish Your Rules of Engagement
A successful diet starts with rules.
To play the hunger game, calculate your daily calorie intake using this formula from The Lean Muscle Diet:
Target body weight × [10 + number of weekly exercise hours] = calorie intake
For example, if you want to weigh 200 pounds and you exercise three hours a week, you’ll need to take in 2,600 calories a day (200 × 13 = 2,600).
Use an app like MyFitnessPal to count calories, and eat 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of your target body weight. (If your target is 200 pounds, eat 140 to 200 grams of protein daily.)
Another strategy is to set healthy rules. For instance, start each meal with a salad. You may eat less overall and feel fuller than you would have if you’d begun the meal with garlic bread or a glass of water.
In a British study, the salad was seen as “diet congruent”; it matched dieters’ idea of a healthy starter. For nondieters, however, the salad was less effective.
Hunger Game Strategy 2: Establish a Defensive Perimeter
Here’s a test to help you figure out whether your hunger is real or an optical illusion: If you hide the food, do you still want it?
Cornell researchers found that men who kept candy on their kitchen counters weighed about 17 pounds more, on average, than men who didn’t. Expand the policy: Stash all packaged foods in cabinets and keep fruit in an obvious spot at home and at work.
Hunger Game Strategy 3: Divide and Conquer Your Opponents
Hiding food from your lying eyes is a good start. But if it’s in your house, you’ll still be tempted to eat it, especially if it’s a food you can’t stop eating once you take the first bite. If that’s an issue for you, limiting variety can help you eat less overall.
Narrowing the range of choices may be the secret sauce of those popular diets that eliminate entire categories of food.
Consider the vegan diet (no animal foods), Atkins (very few carbs), and Paleo (no grains, dairy, or legumes). They all minimize the number of options and in turn limit your opportunities to eat. “The average person eats a lot of junk and processed foods,” says Dr. Nadolsky.
Eliminating foods that fall into this category—ones you can do without—may make weight loss easier. Crappy foods don’t satiate you as well as healthy foods do.
Hunger Game Strategy 4: Beef Up Your Offense
Not psyched by the idea of ruthlessly cutting variety from your diet? Try subtraction by addition. “Eating more protein reduces feelings of hunger and increases feelings of fullness,” says Heather
Leidy, Ph.D., who studies weight loss at the University of Missouri.
Leidy, who has used brain scans to study protein’s effects, says eating protein lowers activity in brain regions that stimulate food cravings and food reward. Protein also stimulates peptide YY, a powerful satiety hormone, and inhibits ghrelin, which triggers appetite.
“All of these responses lead to reductions in food intake, particularly from high-fat and high-sugar snack foods.”
Shoot for at least 30 grams of quality protein (from eggs, dairy, red meat, poultry, or fish) at every meal, and at least 20 grams for most snacks.
This strategy works better for losing fat and building or maintaining muscle than eating more protein at fewer meals, or eating less protein at more meals.
For weight loss, a protein-rich breakfast is your most important meal, says Leidy. It fights hunger and cravings throughout the day, helping you eat less total food.
Hunger Game Strategy 5: Make an Empty Stomach Your Ally
At first glance, alternate-day fasting—eating just 500 calories one day and then having whatever you want the next—seems like a perverse way to tame hunger.
“Hunger is really high in those first five fasting days,” says Krista Varady, Ph.D., who studies fasting at the University of Illinois.
When newcomers to fasting in her studies plot the intensity of their hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, they usually pick an 8. “If people drop out, it’s almost always within the first two weeks,” she says. “We’ll tell them, ‘If you just stick it out for another week, the hunger becomes more tolerable.’ “
In fact, it drops to a 3 on the 10-point scale, says Varady. That’s in the normal range for hunger. Logically, hunger should increase to ravenous levels, since you’re starving yourself every other day.
Instead, Varady’s participants feel fuller eating a quarter of the food they need for weight maintenance on fast days (usually a single protein-rich meal, such as a chicken breast with a baked potato and 2 cups of vegetables), and they don’t binge on their “feed” days, when they can eat anything.
Overall, she says, they cut calories by 25 to 35 percent and maintain their weight loss better than people who drop pounds by eating less daily. Somehow their bodies adjust to the new normal of fasting.
And if you can survive those hellish opening weeks, here’s a fear you can put to rest: Many lifters avoid fasting diets, thinking they’ll lose muscle. But a recent Australian review found that intermittent fasting may be just as effective as continual weight-loss diets in preserving fat-free mass.
Hunger Game Strategy 6: Do a Gut Check
A lot of research lately has focused on the gut microbiome—the bacteria that help regulate appetite (among a billion other things). You can feed that bacteria with fermentable dietary fiber, like the kind in lentils. (It’s “fermentable” because it can’t be processed in your upper digestive tract and ferments in your colon.)
Preliminary research suggests that taking supplements made with at least 12 grams of a certain type of GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides) may reduce appetite and overall food intake. Try Galactomune—another type of GOS—but dose up gradually.
Hunger Game Strategy 7: Deploy Your Medical Team
The FDA has approved four long-term-use weight-loss drugs that help take the edge off hunger. Dr. Nadolsky says he first encourages lifestyle changes with his patients.
“But if somebody is trying to lose weight and is miserable, I give them a prescription.”
The meds work in different ways. Qsymia suppresses appetite by combining a mild stimulant with an anticonvulsant. Saxenda slows digestion. Contrave helps you resist hedonic overeating. Belviq increases satiety.
Some patients achieve dramatic weight loss, says Dr. Nadolsky, but there’s a catch: Stop using the drugs and your hunger—and the pounds—usually come back.
So our man Ted has done it right. Yet he wonders: Is it enough? Will the boys turn out okay?
Hunger Games Strategy 8: Recognize the Enemy Within
After years maintaining his weight loss, Denzel wondered why hunger was still such a challenge. “I thought, ‘If I’m eating enough to maintain my weight, there’s no physiological reason why I should be hungry,’” he says.
“That’s when I realized I had an addiction to being overfull.” Knowing that the hunger was in his head helped him get it out.
If put on the spot, Denzel will describe his current diet as Paleo because it relies on whole foods prepared at home, with lots of vegetables and high-quality protein.
His goal, he says, is to maximize nutritional quality while eating as little junk as possible. It helps, he thinks, to focus more on fresh, whole foods—both animal and vegetable—to “retrain the brain-body-stomach connection.”
He also works in some intermittent fasting. “I should be able to get through the day without starving or having a blood sugar crash,” he says.
He’s learned to prioritize quality sleep and also to give himself a break: The weight won’t suddenly come back if he enjoys a beer or slice of birthday cake.
But if the hunger-provoking enemy was within him all along, so was his best defense against it. That’s the power of the mind.
“You have to believe what you’re doing is the right thing,” he says. What you believe is right can change—it certainly has for Denzel over the past decade. But once you commit to a diet or workout plan, you have to believe it’s the best plan for you.
You have to adhere to rules that may seem odd to someone else but make perfect sense for you.
Because when you’re on a mission, a little hunger is a small price to pay.