Many of us turn to the keto diet because we’ve heard that the famous low-carb plan kills appetite and turbocharges fat burn. For the most part, it delivers. But sometimes as we eat our keto fare, we find ourselves physically full yet still struggling with a strong urge to eat. We suddenly want a whole pound of bacon, a whole bag of nuts. Or we develop nagging cravings for high-carb chips, pizza, cookies. Either way, it can slow or halt progress. If you’re hungry on keto, what do you do? One top doc says a little intuition and an ordinary burger may be all it takes to block an overactive appetite for good.
Tro Kalayjian, DO, a host of the Low Carb MD podcast, says his strategy works so well, it has even helped food addicts like Amy Eiges, who lost 224 pounds. Amy now works with Dr. Kalayjian — who is known as Dr. Tro — helping others get healthy and feel great. “All the years I suffered, there was a fairly simple strategy that could’ve healed me,” she says. “I don’t like being in the spotlight, but I want to spread the word. I want anyone who can be helped by keto to know it’s out there for them.” Keep reading to see if it can work for you, plus recipes to help you get started.
Help for people who are hungry on keto
Like all keto proponents, Dr. Tro recommends decreasing intake of carbs in favor of foods rich in fat and protein. What does he do differently? He asks dieters to worry less about carb counts and numbers on the scale and instead listen to their bodies. “Each of us has certain foods that just light up our brains, and that includes low-carb foods. For some people it might be processed meat; for other, it might be dairy,” he says. “I personally can’t stop eating almonds once I start, in part because they remind me of the almond cookies I ate growing up. But my wife can eat three almonds and it’s no big deal for her. Everyone is different. This is about finding what’s right for you.” (Click through to our sister publication to see how lowering your cortisol levels in the morning helps quash cravings.)
The idea is to build an arsenal of foods that fill you up without lighting up your brain. If zero-carb sweeteners aren’t an issue for you, you can have them. Dr. Tro himself is a fan of keto ice cream. You don’t even have to give up your trigger foods, he says. Just limit your exposure — maybe just enjoying them at restaurants — so they won’t be constantly stimulate your appetite. “You want to focus on the foods that make you feel full for a long time,” says Dr. Tro.
Once you do, the difference can be astounding. “I found I didn’t have to weigh, measure and meticulously record every morsel I ate have weight loss success,” says Amy. “Dr. Tro’s approach was transformative for me.” (No weighing or measuring is a "lazy" keto strategy that many women swear by. Click through to read more about lazy keto.)
“I was preparing for gastric bypass — then I tried keto”
Back when Amy carried 410 pounds on her 5’7” frame, every day was hard. And every night brought worries that her heart, weary from pumping blood through such a large body, would give out as she slept. Doctors and even loved ones had long pushed for her to have gastric bypass — but it was only after her mom died from diabetes complications that Amy, a prediabetic, relented because nothing else had ever worked. Not fat camp as a kid. Not calorie counting, medically supervised shake plans, pills or endless therapy. She’d joined Weight Watchers 35 times. Yet even as Amy made an appointment with a bariatric surgeon, the New York native’s instincts screamed: It’s not the right choice for you!
As the appointment drew closer, the more her dread grew. In a panic, she began searching for other options. As expected, nothing new came up, certainly nothing that was a match for her nonstop urge to eat pizza, fries and baked goods. Nothing except maybe the keto diet. Experts over the years had told her Dr. Atkins was a kook, so she never tried cutting carbs. But she was desperate. “I started reading more and more and I thought, ‘This is not kooky. This makes sense,’” she recalls.
How basic keto works
Amy learned that cutting carbs meant her sky-high blood sugar would drop and her body would fuel itself with ketones made from fat. The process was slimming and would give sugar-damaged cells a chance to heal, restoring normal function. Plus ketones helped kill appetite. “I decided to try it. I figured I had nothing to lose.” (Click through to learn more about what is keto.)
Starting her weight-loss journey
Amy found a free app (popular options include CarbManager and Cronometer) to help her limit carbs to 20 grams a day. “I’d read I was supposed to focus on fat to best manage my hunger, which I knew would be hard after decades of hearing that eating fat makes you fat. But I was determined to go all in,” she shares. She began having eggs and bacon for breakfast, cold cuts and pickles for lunch, meat and buttered veggies for dinner. “Right away, it felt different than my thousand other weight-loss attempts. I was immediately less hungry,” she recalls. Losing 12 pounds that first week also gave her hope. “I suspected I was a food addict and I knew surgery wouldn’t fix that. And keto seemed to be helping. So I decided to see where it would take me.” She canceled her surgery consultation.
The internet led her to low-carb versions of favorite foods. For the first time, Amy was able to enjoy bagels, pizza and cheesecake without bingeing. (Click through for more about keto comfort foods.) And when she did make a bad choice, online support groups taught her to let go of ‘I’ll start over on Monday’ thinking. “I can bounce back from a bad meal, but maybe not from three days of bad choices,” she says.
Why Amy was hungry on keto
After two years, Amy had shed 100 pounds. She was on top of the world as she began celebrating the holidays that year. But as one little indulgence gave way to more, she found herself regaining. She was struggling to shake her cravings and her fat burning seemed to have stalled. She needed help.
Amy had met keto expert Tro Kalayjian, DO, at a keto convention. The doc, who had used keto to lose 150 pounds himself, agreed to see her. Amy went to the appointment armed with all the food logs to show how meticulous she could be even though the scale was doing in the wrong direction. Dr. Tro gave her food logs a quick glance. “Are you hungry?” he asked. She pointed to the logs. “I kept my carbs low.” He nodded. “But are you hungry?”
Amy was confused. If she was sticking to the plan, why did it matter? “What derails most people is hunger and cravings,” he told her. He explained his approach to keto relied heavily on satiety. And when you fix that — when you find ways to feel not just physically full but also psychologically content — you set yourself up for success. To get started, he encouraged Amy to figure out which keto foods kept her content for the longest.
Taking Dr. Tro’s advice, Amy noticed that nuts and bacon made her want to keep eating even when she was physically full. But chicken or a salmon? They make my brain say, ‘You’re good,’ she realized. She began planning meals around the most satisfying options. She still ate nuts and cheese but as flavoring rather than staples.
One big surprise: “If I go more than a day without beef, I feel ‘off,’” Amy reported to Dr. Tro. “Good!” he said. “Keep listening to your body.”
How burgers became Amy’s secret weapon
So instead of avoiding burgers as she once did, they became her secret weapon. She’d make them at home most days. They kept her satisfied for hours, and she felt better overall. On busy days, she’d hit the drive-thru for Quarter Pounders, tossing the buns. Steaks were a favorite too. The more beef she enjoyed, the more her momentum built.
Impressed with Amy’s progress, Dr. Tro suggested she begin eating only when she felt hungry, a key trick for fast results. Amy found she usually didn’t want her first meal until 2 pm. She then had dinner at 7 pm. Despite years of constant cravings, two meals a day was now all she wanted.
“I prioritized foods that made me feel content, and everything fell into place,” Amy says. She still has snacks and treats; she just doesn’t want them that often. Today at age 55, she’s down an astonishing 224 pounds. Her prediabetes, joint pain, severe eczema and high cholesterol are all gone. “I carried hundreds of pounds for decades, and I’d lost all faith,” Amy shares. “If I have a superpower, it’s letting people know that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. No matter your starting point, it is possible!”
Here’s how to try hunger-cure keto for yourself
Inspired by Amy's success? Keep reading for the steps that can help you stop being hungry on keto:
Step 1: Gradually cut carbs to 20 to 40 grams per day, eating keto versions of your favorite foods, suggests Dr. Tro. Your body will start turning fat into your main fuel, and that can help increase metabolism by 900%. At this stage, don’t worry about things like intermittent fasting or eating “clean.”
Step 2: Listen for cues. After six weeks, start to limit consumption of any keto foods that trigger an urge to eat-eat-eat. “Processed meat and nuts are common triggers, but everyone is different. This is about finding what works for you,” notes Dr. Tro.
Step 3: Find your burger. Also pay attention to which foods let you go longest before you’re hungry again. Nothing beats a juicy burger for Amy, but eggs or salmon could be your magic food. Once you find it, enjoy it often — and stop eating when you’re not hungry, extending the time between dinner one day and your first meal the next. “The more you have to lose, the more you’ll benefit,” promises Dr. Tro. “It works much better and faster than counting calories. It even allows about 90% of our patients to avoid weight-loss surgery!”
Step 4: Get support. There are lots of free groups on the internet and Facebook. You can even join Dr. Tro’s community by downloading the Doctor Tro app from your phone’s app store.
Amy’s favorite keto burger
Amy adds chopped bacon to the beef mixture before cooking to make these patties even more irresistible.
1 lb. ground beef
8 slices cooked bacon, cooled and chopped
4 oz. sliced cheese of choice
Your favorite low-carb burger toppings
Season beef with salt and pepper; knead in bacon. Form 4 patties. Cook to desired doneness in hot pan or on grill. Serve on a lettuce or a keto bun (Amy makes hers with dough from RosettesMix.com). Makes 4 servings.
Hungry on keto? 3 comfort food recipes to try
Can’t live without bagels, pizza or ice cream? Dr. Tro suggests looking for low-carb options, experimenting to find versions that make you feel content rather than stimulating your urge to overeat. We've got some delicious below. Also check out this recipe for a low-carb egg roll in a bowl to satisfy your takeout cravings.
1. New York Bagels
Mix 1 box Rosette’s dough mix (RosettesMix.com), 4 cups mozzarella and 2 eggs. Roll and shape into 12 bagels. Bake at 350ºF for 12 minutes
2. Easy Keto Pizza
Mix 2 cups mozzarella and 4 eggs. Spread on lined sheet; bake 15 minutes at 400ºF. Cool. Add pizza toppings; bake at 450ºF until golden.
3. Shortcut Keto Ice Cream
In jar, shake 1 cup heavy cream, 1 Tbs. zero-carb sweetener and dash vanilla for 5 minutes. Freeze. Let soften 15 minutes. Enjoy!
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.