Always Hungry, Here's Why
Losing weight is a challenge for anyone. If lowering body weight was truly based on the number of calories we eat, the process might be easier. Instead, losing weight has proven to be difficult for many people. One obstacle to weight loss is a state of being always hungry. But there are reasons for this and once you know them, it may be easier to overcome them.
Mindless or distracted eating is a common problem for most people. This takes place when you feel rushed or distracted during mealtime, and often when eating “on-the-go.” But when you don’t pay attention to what you eat, it is easy to overeat or eat the wrong foods without realizing it. At the same time, satiation, or satisfaction from eating, is just as mental as it is physical. In at least one study, dieters who ate while walking or watching television ate up to five times more later in the day than those who simply enjoyed a meal with a friend without distractions. (1)
Eating too quickly can lead to being hungrier than normal. This is because the feeling of fullness and satiation begins with the release of digestive hormones secreted from the gut. Chewing slowly and thoroughly seems to be one way to trigger the satiation response in the brain, but it takes time to get there; about 20 minutes on average. Because of this most experts recommend taking at least 20 minutes to eat a meal, and if your meal is too small to make it last that long, incorporate “mindful eating” by savoring each and every bite.
Stress increases cortisol, which gives you that feeling of increased energy, focus and attention. But chronic stress increases cortisol levels to unhealthy and unsafe levels, as it never has a chance to return to healthy levels. But why does this make you hungry? Because your brain desires the feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin to counteract the stress. And it just so happens that sugars and processed foods that quickly convert to sugar triggers the release of these same hormones. Try incorporating stress management practices to help curb excess stress in your life.
Dehydration is a common problem for many people. Proper hydration is important for organs like the brain, stomach and kidneys to function fully. It also aids digestion and can add to feelings of fullness or satiation. Often, dehydration can lead to feelings of thirst that are confused with hunger. So before eating, try drinking six to eight ounces of water and wait a few minutes to see if you are truly hungry or simply needed a drink of water.
Diet drinks contain sweeteners that are meant to help a dieter lose weight by cutting out sugar that can easily add carbs and calories. But due to the sweetness, the brain is triggered to expect the sugar rush of dopamine that comes with it. When this doesn’t happen, cravings are triggered that outweigh any positive effects the diet soda may have had, while the dieter either cannot resist temptation or confuses the craving with hunger. The safest approach to change this is to stop drinking diet drinks and opt for fresh water or diluted fruit juice. If you prefer the bubbles of soda, try sodium-free sparking water in small amounts as a substitute.
Simple carbs like pastries, white bread products and even fruit juices all digest too quickly. As the carbs are quickly converted to sugar, one will experience a blood sugar spike, inevitably followed by a crash. This can not only make you feel hungry again, quickly, but also leads to fatigue, making it more difficult to resist any cravings that are sure to follow. The best approach to counter this is to stop or severely limit simple carbs.
Certain medical conditions may cause unnatural hunger. Diabetes, for example, is a result of high blood sugar levels and frequent hunger is a classic symptom of diabetes. Thyroid problems can cause excessive hunger. An overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, is associated with excessive hunger due to creating excessive hormones that promote appetite. If you experience unnatural, excessive hunger, a trip to the doctor may be in order.
A diet that lacks fiber may result in constant hunger. Fiber found in certain foods like whole grains, whole fruits and fresh vegetables have the quality to slow down the absorption of food as it makes you feel full. Many popular diets shun the consumption of these foods, which can lead to excessive or constant hunger as the body gets used to the new way of eating. At the same time, fiber absorbs unhealthy fats and clears waste from the digestive tract, so including it might help with maintaining a healthy body weight as well as aiding in weight loss.
A diet that lacks high-quality protein is another culprit that can lead to a state of being always hungry. Healthy proteins regulate the hormones that are involved with appetite, and seem to promote the production of glucose in the small intestine. When the elevated glucose is sensed by the liver, a message is relayed to the brain that the body is satiated. Overall, increasing protein consumption to 30% of calories consumed seemed to result in a greater weight loss than those who consume 15%. And increased protein helps increase satiety more than increased carbs or fats. (2,3)
A diet that is too low in healthy fats can allow hunger to rule. Healthy fats are necessary for healthy brain function and the release of hormones that trigger fullness. At the same time, fats slow digestion, allowing you to feel fuller for longer. But be sure the fat is good for you, like that found in salmon, nuts and olives, because those are the types of fats that are brain and heart healthy.
If you are always hungry, there is often a scientific reason why. Even if your issue is emotional eating, you can overcome the feeling and help your body feel satisfied with healthy foods and lifestyle choices as described above.
Try tweaking your diet by adding more proteins and healthy fats with less simple carbs. Also try keeping a food journal where you keep track of what you eat and how you feel afterward. You might be surprised to find your eating is not as balanced as you thought or perhaps you emotionally eat. And once you know, it’s easier to get a handle on it and control the feeling of always being hungry.
1 Ogden, J. (2015, August 20). Eating 'on the go' could lead to weight gain, new research finds. Retrieved February 19, 2020, fromhttps://www.surrey.ac.uk/mediacentre/press/2015/eating-‘-go’-leads-weight-gain-new-research-finds
2 Flora, C. (2006, January 23). The Protein-Hunger Connection. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200601/the-protein-hunger-connection
3 Douglas Paddon-Jones, Eric Westman, Richard D Mattes, Robert R Wolfe, Arne Astrup, Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga, Protein, weight management, and satiety, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, May 2008, Pages 1558S–1561S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S