Transitional hunger is a common symptom to experience when we changeover to a new diet, be it plant-based or otherwise. It is the type of hunger that randomly appears throughout the day, soon after a meal or pretty much when we least expect it.
When we switch over to a new diet, our body needs time to adjust. Physiological changes occur throughout the body involving our gut microbiome, hormones, circadian rhythm and many more. Our minds also need to familiarise itself to the new types of food and routine. When we combine all of this together along with the usual transitional issues (such as cravings and not knowing what to eat), we inevitably encounter transitional hunger.
For some people, it quickly goes away because they’ve adjusted to the new lifestyle well. For others, the hunger is bothersome and can become demotivating to the plant-based transition itself. Personally, we consider this one of the most difficult experiences during our journey. As much as we love food, we didn’t want to be eating and feeling hungry (and hangry) all of the time!
We want to share with everyone five tips on how to quickly overcome transitional hunger. It is largely dependent on the body’s adaptation to the new diet but these strategies helped us to feel fuller for longer, maintain a healthy relationship with food and motivated us to keep pursuing our goals.
Eat High Fibre Foods
Alongside many of its wonderful benefits, fibre is truly the ultimate hunger quencher. For breakfast, try eating a cup and a half of rolled oats with a tablespoon of flaxseed and you’ll see why. When we switched from a low-fibre breakfast to one that provided us with 90% of our recommended daily intake, we felt full until late lunch. Gone were the days when we became hungry at 10 and 11am!
Generally, a whole-foods plant-based diet would ensure a high fibre intake naturally. However, making food swaps and being conscious of fibre-rich foods is a good place to start. Eating a breakfast like above with fresh fruits, seeds and nuts is an easy way to fibre start your morning. If you like to drink your fruits, we recommend smoothies over juice. Try eating whole-grain bread or pasta over white. For lunch and dinner, lots of vegetables and pulses such as lentils and beans are great to bump up your fibre intake.
Despite the wonderful health benefits of fibre, only 5% of people in the U.S meet the daily target of fibre intake. It’s actually quite unfortunate and surreal when we think about it; 95% of the U.S population aren’t eating enough fibre. What’s even more devastating is that many of fibre’s benefits have been associated with much, much higher levels than the daily recommended intake.
Food On the Go
The worst thing about transitional hunger is how it randomly appears when we least expect it. More often than not, it comes at a time when we’re not at home, not keen on spending money or there are no good plant-based options around. This is why preparing easy snacks and food-on-the-go is so important!
Fruits and nuts are easy to carry in a small bag. If you want something more satisfying, preparing a mason jar with your favourite salad, chia seed pudding or smoothie is a great idea. We also like to make our own muesli bars and vegetable crisps too. Also don’t forget drinks! On colder days, we like to prepare a hot drink (like a matcha latte) in our thermos to leave in the car. From our experience, preparing quick snacks like these is inexpensive and healthier. Double bonus if it’s high in fibre too!
Although this may sound obvious, eating before heading out is a good way to prevent any random hunger pains. Having an early lunch or dinner is better than having a late meal. We prefer this approach because it’s better to anticipate any hunger while you’re out and prevent it by leaving with a full stomach, compared to leaving your meal for later and arriving home very hungry and tired (even worse if you were out longer than expected!)
Eat Ad Libitum with Main Meals
Ad libitum is Latin for “at one’s pleasure” or “as desired”. Eating ad libitum means eating freely until you feel full or simply when you want to stop.
To prevent transitional hunger, we strongly encourage everyone to eat ad libitum for their whole-foods plant-based main meals. While this might sound obvious especially in the context of hunger, we feel like this isn’t the case in reality.
Our world is becoming more and more obesogenic every minute. One contributing factor is portion size which has been shown to consistently increase over the decades. As a result, weight management advice has focussed on limiting the amount of food consumed especially in the form of a low-calorie restrictive diet or reducing portion size. Unfortunately, research has shown both methods to be unsustainable in the long term as it promotes hunger and rebound eating.
Eating ad libitum is so important because you feel full, stay full, can lose weight if you want to and you maintain a healthy relationship with food which we believe is incredibly important to have. However, there is a catch. This freestyle of eating only works with a whole-foods plant-based diet. That is, minimal processed foods. We have covered this concept in another post but basically it comes down to calorie density. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for people to worry about the implications of eating a lot because they’re always hungry whilst on a diet that is known to be high in carbs.
Planning meals in advance is one of the best habits you can form in any nutrition-related journey. We usually plan our meals up to 3 days in advance but you can definitely just do it for the day or even for the entire week.
The reason why it helps with transitional hunger is because you will be prepared. Planning meals doesn’t just mean writing it down and leaving it until the last minute. But it doesn’t mean rigorous meal prep either. For us, it means we know what breakfast/lunch/dinner will be for next few days and we do our big grocery shop for it. Having everything at home will allow you to cook up something in case you start to feel hungry earlier than usual. This prevents any unprecedented expenditure of money on possibly unhealthy foods (such as ordering takeaway).
Meal planning also sets up a routine that helps your body to adjust faster. If you know what you’ll be cooking, you can prepare everything and eat at roughly the same time every day. This means that your hunger cues will also appear at similar times throughout the day too.
It seems like everyone is meal prepping these days and we totally understand why. The reasons are pretty much the same as above. It will help to ease transitional hunger simply because you’re organised and have food ready at hand.
Meal prepping might be more beneficial for those who always feel hungry when out or live a busier lifestyle and don’t want to cook every day. It doesn’t have to be a complete meal prep of breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week or two. You can definitely just meal prep your lunch so you can be more productive during the day.
- Quagliani D, Felt-Gunderson P. Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;11(1):80-85. Published 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.1177/1559827615588079