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Does Being Hungry Mean You’re Losing Weight? (Science-Based)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: August 12, 2023

I recently came across a fitness influencer’s YouTube video, where they basically argued that it’s good to stay hungry because it puts your body in fat-burning mode.

While there’s some truth to that, it’s important to realize that there’s quite a lot that goes on behind hunger and weight loss.

To delve deeper into the subject, I paired up with a dietician and reviewed a lot of scientific literature to clear up some misconceptions.

Here’s what my research yielded.

Quick Summary

  • Your body doesn't burn fat when you are hungry, but notifies you your body needs nutrient levels to be replenished.
  • Weight loss is an indication you are losing more calories than the ones you are taking.
  • To lose weight without being hungry, get enough sleep, drink a lot of water, eat a filling diet, and reduce your stress levels.

Does Hunger Mean You’re Losing Fat?

Reaching out a single bean on a plate

No, hunger doesn’t necessarily mean you’re losing fat.

Hunger is your body telling you you’re running out of nutrients and that it’s time to replenish.

People tend to believe that their body burns fat stores when hungry.

Due to this misunderstanding, some folks who are desperate to lose weight work out intensely in a fasted state, while it might not be the best option for them.

So, if you’re not necessarily burning fat when you’re hungry, what is your body burning?

To better understand this, let’s take a closer look at how hunger and weight loss work.

How Hunger Works

After you eat a regular meal, your digestive system breaks the food down into smaller components.

Carbohydrates from your food break down into glucose. Protein converts to amino acids. And fats convert into fatty acids.

When all these nutrients get into your bloodstream, insulin from your pancreas signals the cells to absorb them [1].

Once your cells have absorbed most of the nutrients, you begin to feel hungry again.

When you’re hungry, your glucose (or blood sugar) levels are low.

As a response, your body releases glucagon, a hormone that triggers cells to release nutrients into your bloodstream [2]. The first of these nutrients is stored sugar.

So, in other words, your body begins to burn stored sugar when you're hungry.

Blood sugar hunger is a sign that your body is no longer getting energy from the food you have eaten and has moved to extract energy from the glycogen (a form of stored glucose) in your muscles and liver.

When the body runs out of sugar, it starts burning fat. This tends to happen when you’re starving yourself to lose body fat or on a low-carb diet to lose weight. However, we’re not talking about starvation in this article.

“There’s a subtle difference between hunger and appetite. Appetite is a desire to eat, which is often increased by seeing or smelling delicious foods. By contrast, hunger tells your body that it needs food now, from any source that can provide it with energy.”

- Franziska Spritzler, CDE, RD

How Weight Loss Works

An illustration of a woman losing weight

Losing weight in terms of burning fat means that you’re expending more calories than you consume.

So, if you’re trying to burn fat faster, you just have to eat less and exercise more to lose weight.

This “calories in, calories out” approach is very simplistic, and there’s a lot more that goes into the weight-loss equation, such as timing, quality, and type of food you consume.

But on the level of basic thermodynamics, this still actually works, and there’s no way around it.

A pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories. This means you need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.

So, let’s say your daily caloric intake is 2,000 calories, and you’re not losing any weight.

You’ll need to figure out how to go on a daily caloric deficit that’ll help you lose 3,500 over a specific period of time.

How you manage this will depend upon your weight loss goals and current fitness levels.

If you’re a beginner, we highly recommend not losing more than 1–1.5 pounds of fat per week, as this is an upper limit of a healthy rate.

How to Lose Weight Without Being Hungry

Having enough sleep and drinking water

Now that we’ve established that hunger and burning fat aren’t necessarily tied to each other, let’s look at how you can lose weight without succumbing to hunger.

You can achieve this through one or more of the following ways:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat a filling diet
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Reduce stress levels

While doing these won’t directly burn fat, they’ll help your body shed pounds in the long run.

Drink Plenty of Water

If you’re trying to lose weight, drinking more water is non-negotiable [3].

Water can:

  • Boost your metabolism
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Help you manage stress
  • Build muscle tone

What’s also great about water is that it helps you stay full, thereby helping you avoid snacking between meals.

Many test studies have shown that consuming water before a meal can change your subjective sensation of hunger [4].

​​A 2013 study found that drinking two cups of water half an hour before breakfast, lunch, and dinner (without any dietary changes) could lead to a reduction in body mass and index and body composition scores [5].

Eat a Diet That Fills You

Eating a bowl of salad

You have two options here: eat a high-protein diet and eat foods that suppress your appetite.

Protein and healthy fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats) will keep you more satiated compared to carbs [6] [7].

While fiber is part of a healthy diet and can help you feel fuller, it doesn’t have the same benefits as protein in gaining muscle mass.

Many calorie-suppressing foods come with the downside of extra calories, which can be counterproductive to losing weight.

Get Plenty of Sleep

While you don’t burn fat during your slumber, sleeping can help you lose weight by regulating your appetite.

A 2013 study found that sleep deprivation may alter appetite-regulating hormones and increase your rate of caloric intake [8].

Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is a little complicated in that it can lead you to skip meals or overeat.

Stress is notorious for affecting your food choices. When you’re stressed, you're more likely to eat junk food.

That's because physical or emotional distress affects your hunger and hormone levels, causing you to choose “comfort foods” [9].

Under stress, people tend to emotionally overeat high-fat, salt, and sugar, but not vegetables or fruits [10].

On the other hand, stress management could lead you to eat fewer calories or at least healthier calories [11].


Is It Okay to Exercise When Hungry?

No, it might not be okay to exercise when you're hungry, but it depends on the individual and situation.

This is because your body might burn valuable energy sources, resulting in less stamina, lightheadedness, and nausea.

Does Exercising on an Empty Stomach Make You Burn More Fat?

No, exercising on an empty stomach does not make you burn more fat.

Fasted exercise might cause your body to use fat for energy, but research doesn't show that it leads to significantly greater fat loss.

Will Intermittent Fasting Make Me Feel Hungry?

Yes, intermittent fasting might make you feel hungry if you don’t do it right.

There will always be some level of hunger when fasting. However, if you load up on foods high in protein, fat, and fiber, your hunger pangs might not be as severe.

What the Science Says

While extreme hunger may put your body in fat-burning mode, it’s not healthy to take that route.

Supporting exercise with natural fat burners is a better, healthier, and more efficient way to lose weight and regulate your hunger.

These lists contain products that our clients trust the most:

They can help you burn fat stores, control your cravings, boost your metabolism, and speed up your weight loss journey.

Check out the list and find the one that best suits your fitness goal.


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