Is Hunger Always Really Hunger?
You just ate an hour ago and you’re still feeling hungry... ever wonder why? Dinner just ended and minutes later you’re looking around for something to eat. Does this sound familiar? Or perhaps out of habit or boredom, you automatically walk to your pantry or fridge each night looking for something absent-mindedly.
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to weight management is overcoming hunger pangs (or hunger feigns), especially at night. Many feel they have to constantly being eating something, endlessly snacking to keep their stomachs’ happy (while others are struggling, thinking they need to starve themselves to lose weight). Let’s explore the common nutritional, medical, and lifestyle-based reasons why you could be feeling hungry so often, and some tips that will help get your appetite under control, and get you back on track with your weight management goals too.
Nutritional Reasons for Frequent Hunger
Not Enough Protein
There are three macronutrients in our diet: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Studies show that high-protein diets are more satiating than carbohydrate-focused diets, partly because protein helps regulate hormones that reduce hunger in your favor. Eating a protein-rich meal such as a chicken breast with quinoa can satisfy for hours. On the flip side, a low-protein diet is directly associated with increased hunger and binge eating.
Too Many of the Wrong Carbs
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white potatoes and candy, for example, digest rapidly, and when they enter the bloodstream they spike blood glucose levels resulting in an energy crash to follow. Since they digest quickly, simple carbs leave you feeling hungry. Complex carbohydrates, however, such as brown rice, quinoa, beans, and sweet potatoes are slower to digest and promote a steady stream of energy. Focus your diet on complex carbs, and eliminate the simple carbs as much as possible.
Not Enough Fat
Not all fat is bad for you. There are great sources of healthy dietary fat, such as salmon, coconut oil, nuts, and chia, flax, and hemps seeds, all of which are very satiating. What’s more, studies show that dietary fat can help to regulate your appetite through the release of hunger hormones.
Not Eating Your Veggies
Your mom was on to something when she told you to eat your broccoli. Vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, but they also contain fiber, which is essential for digestion and feeling satiated after eating. When you are not eating enough vegetables, your body doesn't have the quantity “bulk” and fiber it needs to feel as full for long periods of time. Choose dark leafy greens like kale, chard, mustard greens, cucumber, romain, spinach, broccoli and asparagus. Incorporate them at every meal, especially breakfast.
Drinking Your Calories
While juicing is great for energy and health and smoothies are a good way to get lots of healthy nutrients, our bodies are accustomed to solid foods. Drink your green juice, but don’t replace too many solid meals with liquids. Instead, incorporate some liquid-based meals, but be sure most of the meals in your day are solid foods. A liquid diet can leave you hungry, often in less than an hour and sometimes needing to find the restroom shortly after consuming.
Medical Reasons for Frequent Hunger
Whether it’s a condition you’ve developed or a medication you’re taking, there could be a medical reason that you’re always hungry.
While this is more speculative and based on anecdotal evidence, some believe that most hunger pangs are often mild dehydration in disguise. In other words, despite what your stomach says, you might not really be hungry, but dehydrated. If you feel hungry, drink a glass of water and wait 10 to 15 minutes. If you still feel hungry after that, then your stomach wasn’t fibbing.
If you constantly feel hungry, one place to look for answers is your medicine cabinet. Have you recently started a new medication? Check the label. Some medications have the side effect of increased hunger; most notably, antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, and certain types of antihistamines.
Did you know that hormones control your appetite? Ghrelin is a hormone that is released to increase your appetite. Leptin is a hormone that tells your body when it’s had enough and isn’t hungry anymore. Hormonal changes can occur for a number of reasons including age, disease, or an age-related condition such as menopause. When these changes occur, they can impact our appetites. Check with your doctor to get blood work done and find out your levels.
Our daily habits have a huge impact on our appetites and most of us have habits we didn’t even know were unhealthy. If you’re unknowingly cultivating bad lifestyle habits, you could be increasing your daily appetite as well.
Even if your goal is weight loss, your body still needs a certain number of calories to function and perform everyday processes. While it may seem counterintuitive if you want to lose weight, the more you exercise, the more calories you need. Use an online calorie calculator to determine the number of calories you should be eating based on your goals and current activity level.
Skimping on Sleep
Studies show that getting poor quality or not enough sleep releases more ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite, and triggers poor dietary habits such as binge eating. Strive to get no less than seven hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try powering down all electronics an hour before bed, take a hot shower, and sleep in a cool room. You can also try taking natural sleep-based supplements.
Think about the last meal you had. Where was your attention? Was it on your phone, checking social media? Studies show that most of us don’t pay attention when we eat. You can quickly finish a meal feeling like you haven’t eaten much, when in fact you did, or find yourself overeating by accident. For at least one meal per day, give your complete attention to the entire eating process. Then build up to two and three. You’ll be surprised at how satiated you feel after you finish.
Higher levels of stress are correlated with emotional eating. While you might not be able to change your job or environment, you can work to change your reaction to it. Breathing exercises have been shown to dramatically reduce stress and anxiety. Taking a walk following a stressful event can also help. If stress has become uncontrollable, consider visiting a therapist to help you learn some coping mechanisms.
If you’re constantly feeling hungry even if you recently had a meal, there could be a number of factors to consider. Start by trying a few of the suggestions if this article and see if they help. If you go through the entire list and nothing is helping, consider scheduling a visit with a nutritionist, weight loss specialist, or your doctor as blood work may be needed to see if there’s something going on behind the scenes.