Have you ever been sitting in a quiet meeting around a big conference table when the monster in your stomach lets out a huge, embarrassing groan for everyone to hear?
While you avoid making eye contact until the meeting’s over (which seems like forever!), you’re secretly battling the uncomfortable feeling of an empty stomach, barely able to pay attention, and daydreaming about tucking into a bowl of anything.
Then you realize that you find yourself in this situation all too often. Why are you always so hungry?
“Hunger is the physiological need for calories, water, and salt, and it’s driven by a mix of factors, including your diet, appetite hormones, and emotional factors, such as stress”, says Maggie Moon, RD, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist.
As long as you’re not purposefully starving yourself (why would you do something silly like that?), you shouldn’t want to eat your weight in junk food on a regular basis.
There must be something else going on. So we’re going to get to the bottom of your insatiable tummy conundrum today.
These 12 reasons why you’re always hungry are easily avoidable and today I’ll show you just how to keep that hunger monster in check.
1. You’re Skipping Meals
When you skip meals you force your body into starvation mode, which means you’re going to be craving everything in sight and storing it as fat instead of using it to feed your body. This makes you hungry all the time and also makes you gain weight.
So you’re going to eat at least three meals a day, right?
Let’s start with breakfast.
It’s easy to skip breakfast for five extra minutes of sleep, but research shows that those who don’t wake up to a nutritious breakfast actually feel hungrier and crave more high fat foods during the day.
Think of this always-hungry sensation as your body trying to make up for lost calories it should have been given in the AM.
You may not feel these effects during your hectic morning commute, but they’ll be lurking come afternoon slump time, trust me.
The fix: Check out these healthy breakfast hacks that save you time so you’ll never miss the most important meal of your day.
If you find yourself battling hunger pains when you’re eating three square meals, you may want to switch to eating six smaller meals a day. This way your metabolism is always working on something and never begging for food.
2. You’re Slacking on Protein
According to the USDA, 10–35% of your calories should come from protein, but that number is dependent on a lot of factors such as your age, gender, and activity level. You can use this handy protein calculator to see how much you really need.
Why is it so important to eat enough protein?
Protein takes longer for your body to digest, so when you eat enough protein throughout the day, you stave off hunger pangs. It also slows down the digestion of carbs so your blood sugar levels remain stable and you don’t feel hungry.
Plus, according to one study, protein-rich foods cause the greatest release of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full and satisfied.
The fix: Stick to these healthy and delicious protein-packed snacks to keep the hunger monster away.
3. You Eat Too Fast
You may have a tendency to shovel food in your mouth when you’re really busy without thinking about how you’re messing up your digestion in a big way.
Sure, you’re gulping down healthy food, but you feel hungry within minutes of eating.
Consider this: it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re full.
Let’s say you rush through a nutritious and well balanced lunch in 10 minutes. Your brain is going to keep thinking you’re hungry and you’re just going to keep on eating even if you’re actually full.
See how easy it is for you to overeat?
Besides giving ample notice to your brain, there are other hormones dependent on your eating patterns that also need time to work.
Researchers from one study discovered higher levels of satiety hormone peptide YY in participants who ate a 30 minute meal instead of a 5 minute meal.
Additionally, studies have proven that when you take longer to chew your food, you not only consume 10% fewer calories, but you also feel fuller when you’re done. Sounds like a win-win to me!
4. You’re Lacking Fat
Most people immediately assume that all fat is bad fat, but this myth couldn’t be further from the truth.
Thanks to the marketing juggernauts responsible for crowding our shelves with low-fat processed foods, we’ve been ignoring the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are actually good for us.
Another study tracked participants after they ate lunches with or without avocado. Researchers discovered that the volunteers who enjoyed avocado with their meals cut their feelings of “hunger by 40%”.
The fix: Add more of these surprisingly healthy fatty foods to your diet.
5. You’re Choosing the Wrong Carbs
If you’re eating simple, processed carbs such as white bread, cookies, and pizza, your body is going to crave food all day long – these carbs are the enemy.
Your body digests simple carbs like these for energy at lightening speed and then craves more of them when your energy levels tank.
The fix: Switch out that bagel for homemade overnight oats, choose whole wheat bread over white bread, and use quinoa or brown rice instead of pasta or white rice.
6. You Need More Fiber
Despite the fact that the average adult only eats 15 g of fiber every day, men need around 38 g of fiber per day and women need about 25 g .
That’s a lot of missed fiber opportunities if you ask me.
Insoluble fiber is what keeps our digestion moving (see ya later constipation!). But soluble fiber actually slows down the process a bit.
Don’t worry; this is a good thing!
Soluble fiber turns into a consistency similar to gel and delays digestion so your body has more time to absorb nutrients and feel satisfied.
The fix: Get to know things like chia seeds, hemp, nuts and other seeds. And include more fiber filled veggies to make your meals last longer.
7. You’re Way Too Stressed
When you’re under constant stress, your hormones get crazy, you can’t fall or stay asleep, and your appetite becomes out of control.
“There is evidence that there are complex hormonal symptoms involved in hunger and fullness and appetite that are influenced by stress and by sleep”, says Martin Binks, PhD, director of behavioral health research at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center.
You see, a stressed body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that make your body think it needs lots of energy to fight off a stressful event like running from a giant, angry bear.
You’re not really hungry, but your body is telling you to be hungry so it can prepare to get you out of Stressville.
Studies have proven direct correlations between high cortisol levels, eating more calories, and cravings for sweet foods.
So instead of chewing pencils at your desk, try chewing on healthy, crunchy treats such as celery and carrots with hummus to relieve “tension in the jaw, a place where we often build up stress”.
Your may feel hungry, but you don’t want to stress eat calories your body won’t even use.
8. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water
When we’re dehydrated, our hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls our hunger and thirst, starts to panic. It makes your body think you’re hungry when you’re really just thirsty. Your hypothalamus is craving liquid and it isn’t picky about the source.
But you may not know you’re dehydrated until it’s too late. By the time you’re in the full blown dry mouth/fatigue stage, you’re already playing catch-up.
Keep drinking water throughout the day because you’ll enjoy tons of incredible health benefits.
If you’re feeling hungry, drink a large glass of water and wait 20 minutes for the signals to get to your brain that you’re ‘full’. If you feel ok, you were probably just thirsty.
If you’re hungry because you’re trying to lose weight and decrease your caloric intake, water’s going to be your best friend.
During one study, researchers noticed that obese children and adolescents used to eating bigger meals needed more volume in their tummies to feel full. Downing a calorie free glass of water is just the trick to simultaneously keep those ‘full’ feelings going and dehydration away.
The fix: Keep your fluid levels up by choosing fresh lemon water and ultra hydrating coconut water, and eat water-dense foods such as watermelon and cucumbers to rule out dehydration masquerading around as hunger.
9. You’re Drinking Too Much Booze
Drinking alcohol stimulates your hypothalamus and makes you feel hungry. So if you’re having cocktails before your meal, you may be tucking into more than you bargained for.
Plus, since our body halts blood sugar control while we’re drinking in order to process the alcohol in our system, our blood sugar levels sink and we start feeling hungry and in the mood for greasy carbs (did someone say pizza?).
To top it all off, alcohol decreases our inhibition levels so we don’t feel guilty about craving and (unfortunately) eating these fatty munchies.
Dr. Howard Shapiro, a weight loss expert in New York, calls this phenomenon “E-U-I for eating under the influence”.
And guess what? Alcohol also dehydrates us, which we already know will exacerbate hunger pangs.
The fix: There are lots of big reasons why you should totally avoid alcohol, but if you can’t stay away, eat a healthy meal before you imbibe and drink a glass of water between libations.
10. You’re Not Getting Enough Quality Sleep
Sleep is amazing. Your body uses the time you’re asleep to reduce stress-induced cortisol levels and keep your hunger hormones in check.
If that doesn’t sound important enough, listen to this:
This is definitely not the ideal situation for your body, unless you want it begging for energy from carbs, fats, and caffeine. Hello hunger cravings!
According to one study, when women slept less than four hours, they consumed 300 additional calories and 21 more grams of fat the following day! All because they were probably feeling the effects of imbalanced hormone levels and strong cravings.
Men aren’t exempt from these feelings; a study conducted on men showed that participants who only slept four hours ate more calories and actually felt hungrier the next morning.
The fix: Learn how to overcome insomnia through diet so you can fall and stay asleep fast, and keep hunger at bay the next day.
11. You’re Surrounded By Food
Food seems to be everywhere right now, and we can’t get away from it.
We’re bombarded with food on TV and all over social media; food porn hashtags on Instagram, your friends’ snapshots of their paleo Asian food on Facebook, and mouth-watering recipes with drool worthy pictures on Pinterest.
Is this helping or hurting us?
One study says that when healthy participants viewed images of delicious food, their ghrelin levels increased. Since we know that ghrelin stimulates appetites, you can bet those volunteers started to get hungry.
“Our brain thereby processes these visual stimuli, and the physical processes that control our perception of appetite are triggered involuntarily”.
This is the same sensation you get when you smell the delicious aroma of food cooking.
The fix: Stop torturing yourself and lay off the food porn, especially before a meal when you might accidentally overeat because of your stimulated appetite.
12. You’re Not Eating By Volume
If you really want to banish hunger pangs and keep yourself feeling full, you actually have to fill your stomach.
Wait a minute, I can eat to my heart’s content? How many calories is that going to cost me?
Although I’m not a fan of using calorie counters, I do keep a general idea of how many calories I’m consuming during the day. The trick to eating as much as you want?
Choosing foods that pack more volume than calories.
For example, 100 g of raw kale is 33 calories. However, 100 g of french fries from McDonald’s is 323 calories. You can enjoy a myriad of kale recipes and still need to eat 10x the kale to match the calories in that same serving of horrible-for-you fast food.
Here’s the thing: you’ll get full on kale, but you’ll be hungry after those french fries.
Choose foods that contain lots of fiber and water to literally fill you up and give your digestion something to do:
- Leafy greens
Just like a bored child, occupy your digestion and you won’t hear it whine.
The fix: Eat as many low-calorie fruits and veggies from this list of 31 delicious superfoods as you want!
Now that you know you have to sleep more, balance your diet, stay hydrated, and avoid alcohol, the days of your hunger pangs embarrassing you should be long gone.
We talked about diet and lifestyle factors being reasons for your constant hunger today, but keep in mind that issues like hormonal imbalances, certain medications, and extra hard workouts may all be reasons your tummy’s grumbling a little more than usual.
If you can’t fight off your hunger using these tips, speak to your doctor in case something’s up.
There’s no reason for you to be hangry around the ones you live or work with, it’s just not a good look for you.
Which of these reasons best describes why you’re always hungry? I have to say I read too much about healthy food and get lost in #healthyfoodporn. I’d love to hear yours in the comments!