Everyone has a plan until they get hungry.

If you are trying to lose weight or otherwise change your diet, planning meals and snacks is an important tool to help manage what you eat. Given that schedule changes and other unexpected situations can easily occur throughout the day, even the best laid plans can fail.

Figuring out how to handle changes in your plans is an essential part of successful dietary modification and a key to lasting weight control. Missing a meal or snack, eating at a different time, or simply adjusting to a new diet can trigger feelings of hunger which can lead to overeating. Hunger is a powerful physiological and psychological signal, so the drive to eat sometimes feels like it is out of our control. Worse, when you are hungry, the food you can get the most easily isn’t always consistent with what you should be eating.

If this happens to you, know that you are not alone! What to do when you suddenly feel hungry is something you will certainly have to deal with, and how you handle it can determine your long-term success. Here are a few strategies that have worked for people in my individual and group weight loss programs and may work for you, too.

Vending machine candy

What’s in your backpack

Andrea was a full-time student and held a full-time job, so she found herself eating on the go between work and school. This usually meant fast food or convenience food that she could eat quickly or while she was driving. She recognized that this eating pattern was a barrier to weight loss, but finding a way to eat healthier food was a challenge. She ended up packing a second backpack of healthy snacks that she could eat between classes or while she drove. For Andrea, having the healthy food right there with her eliminated the need to stop at a drive-thru when hunger struck.

Are you hungry or just thirsty

Barbara identified her as a “snacker,” and eating between meals was a challenge for her. In an effort to drink more water, she decided to have a big glass of water before she ate a snack. She found that after drinking water she wasn’t hungry anymore and skipped the snack. This helped her meet two goals: eating less to lose weight and drinking more water. In Barbara’s words, “When you think you are hungry, you might just be thirsty!”

Don’t eat, use your feet

Mark realized that he tended to feel hungry when he was really feeling restless or bored at work or home. Getting something to eat served as a break to distract him from those feelings. One day he went for a short five-minute walk around his office instead of getting snack. When he returned to his desk, he felt focused and energized and, importantly, didn’t really miss those extra calories. He tried the same thing home, doing something around the house or taking a short walk outdoors instead of wandering into the kitchen.

Just as Andrea, Barbara, and Mark found ways to avoid overeating when their best laid plans went awry, you can find tricks to help you make smarter choices when hunger strikes. The important point is that even the most careful meal planning can be disrupted for a variety of reasons, including being hungry, bored, or influenced by others. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get hungry! What matters most is what you do next.

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