Updated: May 8, 2021
Do You Know What Your Body is Telling You?
Hunger is the body’s signal indicating the biological need for food, but most people feel hungry and often eat for reasons that reflect other forms of hunger. Many things, beyond a physical need for fuel, can present as an urge to eat. Understanding the complex nature of hunger and cravings can help you differentiate between when you’re truly hungry and when your hunger signals may reflect other needs.
Reasons You Feel Hungry
Here are some of the most common reasons why you always feel hungry and strategies to help you learn how to practice eating mindfully.
Recently Altered Your Workout Program
Changes in your exercise routine may lead to fluctuations in your appetite. Exercise seems to affect people differently, stimulating appetite in some and decreasing it in others. When you increase your exercise routine, you may need to monitor your calorie intake for several weeks to identify any unintentional changes in your eating patterns.
Too Many Refined Carbs
Refined carbs have been processed and stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, which is found in many grain-based foods like bread, pasta, and cereals. Foods like soda, candy, and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbs. Since refined carbs lack fiber, your body digests them very quickly. This is a major reason why you may be feeling hungry frequently if you eat a lot of refined carbs, as they do not promote significant feelings of fullness.
Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for your health. Sleep is essential for the proper functioning of your brain and immune system and getting enough of it is associated with a lower risk of several chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. Additionally, sleeping enough is a factor in appetite control, as it helps regulate ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone. Lack of sleep leads to increased ghrelin levels, which might explain why you feel hungrier when you are sleep deprived Getting enough sleep also helps ensure adequate levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes feelings of fullness.
You Are Not Eating Enough Protein
Protein has hunger-reducing properties that may help you automatically consume fewer calories during the day. It works by increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger. Due to these effects, you may feel hungry more frequently if you’re not eating an appropriate amount of protein each day.
Are you actually hungry, or are you just bored? Many people can’t really tell the difference. Are you hungry for an apple and some Greek yogurt? No? Then perhaps you’re not really hungry, but just looking for something to keep you busy. You may also think you are hungry because of feeling loneliness, anger, anxiousness, frustration, sadness, or stress. By eating in response to your “emotional appetite,” these emotional eating patterns may affect your true sense of hunger.
You Are Not Eating Enough Fat
Eating fat does not actually make you fat, eating too many calories does. Therefore, you may feel hungry if you don’t eat enough fat because it plays a role in slowing digestion and increasing the production of fullness-promoting hormones. Certain types of fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and omega-3 fatty acids, have been studied the most for their ability to decrease appetite. The richest food source of MCT is coconut oil, while omega-3 fatty acids are mostly found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. However, you can also get omega-3s from plant-based foods, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
You Mistake Thirst for Hunger
You may always feel hungry if you’re not drinking enough water. Water has appetite-reducing properties and you may be mistaking feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger. Make sure to drink plenty of water and when you start to feel hungry, try to drink some water first before eating.
You Don’t Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating can be described as slowing down while eating, noticing hunger and fullness cues, and eating until feeling satisfied. When you practice mindful eating, it can help you gain control over your eating habits by being more aware of your overall eating experience, hunger, satiety, triggers, senses and gratitude for food. It may not only prevent weight gain, but it may also address problematic eating behaviors such as binge and emotional eating, as well as eating as a response to external cues.
Excessive stress is known to increase your appetite. This is mostly due to its effects on increasing levels of cortisol, a hormone that has been shown to promote hunger and food cravings. Cortisol can make you crave sugary, salty and fatty foods, because your brain thinks it needs fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress. For this reason, you might find that you are always hungry if you experience frequent stress.
You Are Not Eating Enough Fiber
Since fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, that feeling of fullness will stay with you much longer, helping you to consume less food. Additionally, a high fiber intake influences the release of appetite-reducing hormones and the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have fullness-promoting effects. It’s important to note that there are different types of fiber, and some are better than others at keeping you full and preventing hunger. Several studies have found soluble fiber (found in barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears), or fiber that dissolves in water, is more filling than insoluble fiber (found in whole grains, wheat cereals, carrots, celery, and tomatoes).
You Eat While Being Distracted
If you have a busy lifestyle, you may frequently eat when you are distracted. Although it may add minutes back into your day, distracted eating can be detrimental to your health. It’s associated with greater appetite, increased calorie intake, and weight gain. This happens because distracted eating reduces your awareness of how much you’re consuming and prevents you from recognizing your body’s fullness signals as efficiently as when you’re not distracted.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol
What do most people do when they leave the bar at 2am? They are likely asking their Uber to go through a fast food drive-thru or ordering a pizza to scarf down when they get home. Drinking too much alcohol may cause you to feel hungry frequently due to its role in decreasing the production of hormones that promote fullness. Alcohol may not only make you hungrier but also impair the part of your brain that controls judgment and self-control. This may lead you to eat more, regardless of how hungry you truly are.
Drink Your Calories
A protein smoothie always hits the spot on a hot summer day. However, it likely only takes you 5 minutes to drink it and then you feel hungry shortly after having it. This happens because liquid and solid foods affect your appetite in different ways. If you consume a lot of liquid foods, such as smoothies, protein shakes, and soups, you may be hungrier more often than you would be if you ate more solid foods. One major reason for this is that liquids pass through your stomach more quickly than solid foods do. Eating liquid foods also tends to take less time than eating solid foods. This may lead you to want to eat more, only because your brain hasn’t had enough time to process fullness signals.
You are on Medication
Many drugs or medications can lead to weight gain due to an increased appetite. The most common appetite-inducing medications include antipsychotics, such as clozapine and olanzapine, as well as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, corticosteroids, and anti-seizure drugs. If you suspect that medications are the cause of your frequent hunger, it may help to talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options. There may be alternative medications that don’t make you feel hungry.
You Eat Too Fast
Several studies have shown that fast eaters have greater appetites and a tendency to overeat, compared to slow eaters. These effects are partly due to the lack of chewing and reduced awareness that occur when you eat too fast, both of which are necessary to alleviate feelings of hunger. Additionally, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly gives your body and brain more time to release anti-hunger hormones and convey fullness signals.
Learn How to Control Your Hunger
If you do not have any underlying medical conditions, there are ways for you to control your hunger.
Don’t Let Emotions Get in the Way
As mentioned above, many people learn to use food as a way to cope, find comfort, escape from life problems or to reward successes, which can be a problem for people who want to lose weight. If you struggle with emotional eating, here are a few tips to help you:
Recognize emotional eating and the trigger emotion.
Express the emotion to a friend, a pet or yourself in writing, starting with “I feel …”
Acknowledge and accept the emotion.
Love yourself. Supporting yourself puts your mind at ease and takes away the desire to eat.
Pay Attention to All of Your Hunger Cues
If you’re waiting for your stomach to growl, you may be setting yourself up to overeat, because we don’t all experience the same hunger cues. Sometimes it shows up as a headache or a bad mood that comes on suddenly. Understanding how hunger can show up in your body is key to recognizing it before it’s too late and you’re starving. Other potential hunger signals include:
Suddenly irritable (“hangry”)
Below are additional suggestions to help you become more mindful while you eat and control your feeling of hungry.
Stop eating when you feel 80% full.
Put the fork/spoon down in between bites.
Turn off screens while eating all meals and snacks
Eat meals and snacks at the table without distractions as much as possible.
Begin each meal with a glass of water to avoid feeling overly hungry and eating too quickly.
There could be several reasons why you always feel hungry and it can be quite overwhelming to try and figure out which one pertains to you. Additionally, it is extremely difficult to navigate this process alone in learning how to successfully control your hunger to avoid overeating. Instead of going through this alone, opt to work with a certified Nutrition Coach who can help you to stop the vicious cycle of overeating once and for all.
A Nutrition Coach will focus on supporting you to build a healthier relationship with food by discovering what works best for you. Although creating healthy sustainable habits requires time and patience, working with a certified coach will guide you through each step of the way towards reaching your goal.