Dieting. The word itself is enough to send shivers down your spine as memories of dry chicken breasts and tasteless rice haunt your taste buds. As a bodybuilder, you know how to structure an effective, protein-rich diet that will shed the lard in a slow but steady manner.
But then there's that one thing that can derail even the most dedicated muscle-head: hunger.
When serious hunger strikes, it takes discipline of steel not to pull off at Mickey D's on the way home from the gym. And Lord help you if you have one of those sudden "OmiGodIgottaeat!" moments when you're grocery shopping.
Here are some tricks for helping you through the diet without cheating or having a complete mental meltdown.
It's In Your Head
First off, recognize that some of the hunger isn't physical. For example, if you used to snack in front of the TV, you'll likely find yourself having serious munchies even though you're watching people gobble down worms on Fear Factory.
Does this mean you suddenly started burning extra calories and you therefore need more nutrition? Hardly. It's your mind playing tricks on you, letting habit amplify your cravings.
The first few weeks of a tough diet are the worst. Not only are you adjusting to eating less calories, you're also battling your own brain. This is where it is helpful to know the difference between actual and psychological needs.
It doesn't make the cravings go away, but at least you can think about them rationally.
But the best way to resist temptation is to not get so darn hungry in the first place. This actually isn't that hard to accomplish once you know the tricks. Better yet, by avoiding hunger and low blood sugar in the first place you limit the inevitable loss of muscle mass that always accompanies a weight loss program.
Here Is An Unbeatable Staple Combo For Dieters
Staying hydrated is important for everything from brain function to proper energy metabolization, but the big bonus is that it fills you up. This effect is only temporary, however, unless you combine it with:
Soluble or unsoluble, fiber swells up with water and takes a long time for your body to pass through the digestive system. In addition, you get the nice side effects of lower cholesterol, even blood sugar levels, better intestinal health, etc. But don't go overboard. Serious overdosing (80+ grams) will probably get you bloated and may interfere with the absorption of some nutrients.
Aim to take in 5-15 grams of fiber and 2 large glasses of water with each meal. It will prolong the fullness you experience and keep your blood sugar from crashing an hour later.
- Soluble Fibers: are easily digested and are typically found in 3 major types of sources: pectins, gums and mucilages. In plain English, that means stuff like root veggies, cabbage, apples, beans, oatmeal, dried beans and various legumes.
- Unsoluble Fibers: include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignan—none of which you have to worry about since most the foods mentioned under soluble fibers come with a fair serving of unsolubles as well. The exception is lignan, which is actually a phytochemical and is found in abundance in flax seeds. Bran, whole-wheat flour and peas also provide a lot unsoluble fiber per serving.
The weight-loss industry is packed to the brim with the most preposterous products and insane claims. Pop a pill a day and lose weight eating pizza and ice cream? Yeah, in Oprah Winfrey's dreams.
Having said that, some appetite suppressants aimed at bodybuilders actually seem to have some merit. That's not to say they're as good as the marketing would have you believe nor that they will work for everybody.
I'm basing this on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, so take it with a grain of salt. If you've got the money to spend for a hit-or-miss trial, products like Appress and Source Naturals Hoodia Complex may be worth looking into. You can also try supplementing with just plain St. John Wort.
Chromium picolinate is another tried-and-true supplement, but it's a long term benefit rather than immediate appetite relief.
Keep An Emergency Stash
If you're about to succumb to the temptation of a double bacon whopper, it's good to have a low-calorie emergency snack handy. Eat the snack and re-evaluate if you really, really need to blow a week's worth of dieting efforts in a single strike.
Odds are you will have calmed the worst hunger and can't pull yourself away from the brink. Think of the snack as a decoy for your appetite to prevent you from making a huge mistake.
But here's the challenge: how do you keep from eating your emergency snack unless it's absolutely necessary? If your snack is, say a Snickers bar, you'll have an "emergency" at least once a day.
Pick something you don't like that isn't perishable and can survive a few weeks in the dash without spoiling. I have a local health food store that sells the most horrible, unsweetened granola bars. They're dry, bland and as chewy as a brick.
Obviously, I'll have to be pretty darn desperate to eat something like that. In other words, there's no risk I'd make up an excuse for the joy of munching the equivalent of compressed sawdust.
- Stay Busy. It's when you're sitting around being bored that your cravings are allowed to grow into full-blown hunger pangs. Keep your hands and brain occupied.
- Eat At Regular Times. We're all creatures of habit, and keeping a set schedule can help keep the hunger under control. It's also easier to resist cheating when you know exactly how long it will be until your next meal.
- Sweet Stuff Can Make You Hungrier, But It's Hardly A Universal Rule. Sometimes a strategic diet soda, artificially sweetened oatmeal etc. can do wonders in satisfying the cravings.
- Exercise Not Only Burns Calories, It Actually Suppresses Appetite Too. Consider adding extra 20-30 min moderate cardio sessions to reap dual benefits.
- Keep The Protein Intake Up. That's a big "Duh!" for a bodybuilder, but it also helps tell your brain that you're not starving. Calculate your protein needs here.