Most people can go at least 3 hours after a meal or snack without feeling hungry – some even much longer. However, for some people, going even half an hour without feeling compelled to eat or a rumble in their stomach is difficult! So, why is this? And more importantly, what can you do about it?
Read on to learn 9 surprising reasons why you are hungry all the time – they may not be what you expect!
9 Shocking Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry
1) You’re not eating enough
What…? Not eating enough? It’s rare anyone will tell you that you’re not eating enough (besides maybe your friends and your mom when you’re on a diet), but it’s true! Hunger comes from not eating enough, but more specifically, you need to make sure that you are getting enough protein and fiber in your diet.
It’s important to know that protein and fiber take much longer to digest than other macronutrients, so they help you feel full and satisfied for longer. Protein increases the amount of hormones in your body that indicate satiety and reduces the hormones that incite hunger.
It is easy to add more protein into your diet with animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy, but if you are on a plant-based diet, simply adding more nuts and seeds, legumes, soy (like tofu), and whole grains into your diet will enable you to get more protein and fiber to stay full right up to the next meal.
2) There’s too much sugar in your diet
Sugar is a delicious little monster that essentially asks your body to keep feeding it – if there’s too much sugar in your diet your body will be subject to an insulin spike followed by a sugar crash, which makes your body feel like it needs more energy to function.
We need some “sugar” to maintain appropriate insulin levels in our bodies but make sure that you are consuming small amounts of sugar (ideally from natural sources) spread out throughout the day to avoid this spike and therefore keep better control over your appetite.
3) You are exercising too much
We all know that exercise is a key element of keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that over-exercise will actually increase your appetite?
Certain types of exercise, typically intense cardio, will lead to an increase in ghrelin, the hormone which makes you feel hunger, and a subsequent decrease in leptin, the hormone which makes you feel full. This is due to the more extreme burning of calories.
Simply make sure that you are fuelling your workouts with healthy fats, protein, and fiber to counteract this, and avoid starvation and crash diets – you’ll only be able to keep it up for a short time and you’ll feel terrible while you do it!
4) It could just be in your genetics
Okay, yes, this one sucks, but it’s possible. If you find that your hunger levels don’t change no matter what you do, it is likely to come down to your genetics, and therefore it is something you will just have to live with.
Over the last decade or so, more than 50 genes have been identified within the human body that could stimulate hunger and/or make it more difficult to lose weight as they are unable to suppress ghrelin well enough to allow you to feel full.
If this is the case, focus on increasing your fiber intake when you do eat and try to drink water or a zero-sugar carbonated beverage to help you feel full. Fiber passes through the body, so it won’t contribute to weight gain.
5) You might have a hormone imbalance
A hormone imbalance, caused by a thyroid condition or menopause, will lead to changes in appetite.
Hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid is overactive, causes a surplus of hormones to be released by the thyroid, some of which stimulate appetite and therefore make you feel hungry.
Similarly, menopause causes a change in the levels of hormones released leading to increased appetite. Fortunately, testing for both of these is easy, and menopause symptoms generally subside over time. Thyroid tests are affordable, so if you believe you may have other thyroid symptoms, it’s well worth getting a test for peace of mind.
6) It may be a side effect of weight loss
You may feel hungry all the time if you are trying to lose weight, which makes things even more difficult!
During weight loss, the body tries to fight the change and will attempt to counteract the weight loss by increasing the levels of ghrelin that is released, causing you to feel hungry. If you are working to lose weight, ensure that you avoid sugar and stick to foods that are high in protein and fiber so that you can work around this.
7) You’re restricting your calories too much
The human body is very sophisticated. If you aren’t eating enough or go so far as to starve yourself with calorie restriction diets, your body will increase its hunger hormones, ghrelin, as a means of survival. This is why it is important to make sure you are ingesting sufficient calorie levels for your body, but ensuring that you are doing this with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Again, make sure you’re eating more than your BMR and it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your micronutrient intake. Your body may tell you you’re hungry, even if you’re eating enough, if it’s not high-quality, nutritious food.
8) You aren’t getting enough quality sleep
A lack of deep sleep will also lead to a constant feeling of hunger. Studies have shown that depriving yourself of sleep will lead to an increase in ghrelin and make you feel hungry as your body tries to have enough energy to keep you awake and functional.
Getting the right amount of sleep (preferably 7 to 8 hours per night) will ensure that ghrelin and leptin hormones are regulated properly and cause you to be hungry less frequently.
9) You need to drink more water!
Thirst is so often misinterpreted as hunger. If you feel hungry between mealtimes, it may simply mean that you are dehydrated.
Before you reach for a snack, try drinking a glass of water. You may just find that that feeling of hunger goes away, and you won’t feel hungry again until your mealtime. Make sure you always have a drink to hand and sip it regularly throughout the day. Once you’re in a habit of always drinking fluids, you’ll find you’re much less likely to reach for food.
Surprised by these reasons? Being hungry isn’t always linked to unhealthy food cravings, sometimes, you really are hungry, but it takes eating and drinking the right things to know when to trust these feelings and when not to. If you believe they are cravings and not real hunger, try reaching for something like an apple instead. If you don’t want healthy food, the chances are you’re not really hungry!
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.