If you’re like manyyyy people out there, while some people may double check to make sure they shut the stove off…you have to make sure you have a snack on hand so the “hanger” doesn’t creep in. No one wants to see you when you’re hangry.
You might think you’re eating enough, you might think you’re getting all of the right macro-nutrients, yet no matter what you put in your body, you always seem to be hungry. You might also blame the constant hunger and eating on why you have a hard time losing weight, or that you conveniently become famished whenever you’re stressed, sad, or bored.
So what’s going on?
Food isn’t just something we need to survive, it’s one of our biggest joys in life, and for some, one of our biggest downfalls when it comes to reaching our health goals. Between planning, grocery shopping, cooking, going out to dinner, snacking, celebrating birthdays or big wins, it’s safe to say we think about food often!
But sometimes our hunger has nothing to do with actually being hungry.
If you find yourself to be a bottomless pit, and no amount of snacking can help you to feel gratified, then it’s important to become aware of some reasons why this might be happening:
You’re not eating enough.
Maybe you’re looking to lose weight, so you think “ok if I eat less calories than I burn, I’ll lose weight! So I’ll eat less and skip some meals and that’ll help me drop pounds!”
Oh no. Please don’t! It’s more than just the fact that you aren’t feeding your body, you’re missing out on giving your body nutrients it needs to stay healthy for you, but by not eating enough or skipping meals you’ll actually feel hungrier (obviously, right?). Sometimes you can be fine all day, but when night time comes around you’re like a ravenous wild animal! This also slows your metabolism down as well making you burn even less fat. Womp womp.
Try this: Focus on eating protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs at all of your meals. And yes, eat 3 meals a day! If you’re hungry for a snack, eat a snack. Aim for that snack to be filled with nutrients instead of processed “empty calories.”
You’re not sleeping enough.
You know that feeling you have all day after a bad night’s sleep the night before? You’re groggy, moody and can’t concentrate among other things, but it can also trick your body into feeling hungry too. Many studies have linked the levels of hormones associated with regulating appetite to sleep deprivation. You may have heard of leptin, it’s a hormone that decreases your appetite. It has actually been found to have a decreased plasma concentration as a result of too little sleep, causing the body to feel hungry the next day even when it’s not. The hormone ghrelin, which increases your appetite, has been discovered to elevate as a result of sleep restriction.
Try this: So how much sleep do you need? It’s dependent on the person, but most healthy adults should clock in 7 1/2 to 9 hours a night.
You’re actually thirsty.
When hunger hits, first take into consideration whether or not you’ve drank enough water over the course of the day. Thirst, just like hunger, is signaled by the hypothalamus located in the brain. When you’re dehydrated, wires get mixed up in this part of the brain, which can cause you to seek out a snack when you should really be gulping down a glass of water.
In fact, a study in the journal Physiology & Behavior suggests people inappropriately respond to thirst over 60% of the time by eating instead of drinking! A study published in Obesity found that drinking two cups of water before eating led people to consume 75 to 90 fewer calories over the course of a meal. Not drinking enough water can also slow your metabolism, click here for tips to help boost your burn!
Try this: Next time you’re digging through your drawer looking for a snack, instead first drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat something.
You’re stressed out.
Stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol elevate in your system to kick your body into fight or flight mode. When this happens, your body is protecting itself from losing valuable energy, and therefore sending the signal to your brain that you need food for fuel and triggering your hunger hormones. Cortisol in particular triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods — foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure.
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You’re eating too much sugar or refined carbs
When you eat sugar or refined/simple carbs (white bread, white rice, white pasta for example), your blood sugar levels become a roller coaster. First, they quickly rise, releasing a lot of insulin, and then they drop drastically, leaving you feeling tired and sending hunger signals to the brain. Insulin actually PUSHES sugar inside our cells. When there is a lot of insulin circulating in your system, sometimes too much sugar gets pushed in, and your blood sugar drops too low, and that is enough to make you feel hungry again but not actually be hungry. Instead, opt for complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes.
Related Post: 6 Warning Signs You’re Addicted to Sugar
You’re eating too quickly.
When you’re starving and your meal tastes delicious, sometimes you can’t help but scarf it down in minutes. We need to receive sensory cues to help our mind to understand when we are full and feel satisfied. Seeing all the food on the plate, smelling it, chewing it, and tasting it are all ways to satisfy this psychological hunger. If we miss these cues then our brain still thinks we are hungry, and we keep eating.
Have you ever eaten a large meal and then had cravings for more food, despite feeling full in your belly? It’s like your brain didn’t get the memo that you ate a whole bunch of food, so it’s telling you to go back for more! It takes around 20 minutes from the time you begin eating for your brain to receive the message that it’s time to stop, so practice eating slowly, savoring each bite and let the signal kick in.
You’re bored or sad or procrastinating.
Feeling hungry really can be caused by something as simple as boredom, sadness, or procrastination. When you’re bored you actually lose your ability to make smart food choices – you become an “emotional eater.” That drives people to make poor, emotion-based food choices, and you reach for things that will give you emotional pleasure (hence comfort foods). In fact, “Because I’m bored” (as opposed to “I’m hungry”) is one of the top reasons people give when they’re asked about their emotions before they eat.
Try this: You feel bored, sad, or don’t want to start on that project you’ve been putting off…something to do that is purposeful and challenging. Or at the very least find something to distract your mind.
You’re not eating enough healthy fats and/or protein.
Another factor to consider if you’re always hungry is the types of food you’re eating, what your calories are made up of. If you’re loaded up on chips and cookies, it’s no surprise that your body is not going to feel satisfied. As you bite into food with healthy fats, your tongue sends your brain a signal that something filling is on the way down to your stomach. If you’re not getting enough, you miss that signal and want to eat even more. Also, be sure to avoid low-fat or fat-free packaged foods, they compensate for less fat by adding sugar!
Eating protein at each meal can help keep hunger pangs away too. Protein takes a longer time to digest, which means it stays in your stomach and promotes feelings of fullness. It’s also been shown to have an appetite-suppressing effect too.
Try this: Eat healthy fats and protein mealtimes and you’re much less likely to want to reach for a snack an hour later.