Feel hungry after eating

Contents

Why Am I Hungry After a Big Meal?

Q: The day after a big meal, I go to bed feeling stuffed and wake up hungrier than ever. Why is that? Is my stomach actually expanding? — Jessi, 30, New York

A: “I must admit that I get this sensation,” says Dr. W. Timothy Garvey, Chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Chairman of the Obesity Scientific Committee for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Several Healthy Living staffers also related. So the good news is that you aren’t alone.

But there’s bad news too. You stumped our experts. “The truth is, we don’t have a rigorous scientific answer for this,” Dr. Garvey told Healthy Living, echoing a common sentiment among all the researchers with whom we spoke. There were several plausible theories.

But first, more good news: it’s not your stomach expanding. “There’s no truth to that at all,” says Dr. David Greenwald, Associate Director of the Division of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “It’s more likely that the stuff they ate didn’t fill them up properly. People who eat a lot, but don’t eat good things are likely to feel hungry again .”

Big meals are often celebratory, which means they may include foods that are decadent rather than nutritious: starchy vegetables like mashed potatoes, white dinner rolls, cake. Foods that fall high on the glycemic index can make your blood sugar spike, causing a surge of insulin to drag it back down. The quick vacillation in blood sugar can cause a disruption to the normal cycle of leptin — a hormone secreted by the fat cells that signals to the brain when you’ve had enough to eat. Foods that cause this type of response can encourage what is sometimes termed “fullness resistance.”

In other words, that big pasta festival for your birthday? It’ll just make you hungrier. But meals full of veggies, whole grains and lean protein may not create the same effect. Then again, “people who are eating vegetables, leafy salads are probably not overeating,” adds Greenwald.

Still, Garvey wasn’t convinced that leptin and insulin were the culprits here. It takes weeks for leptin production to respond to a dietary change because it’s related to the size of fat cells, rather than the contents of a single meal. Instead, he suspected that ghrelin, a completely different hunger hormone that controls short-term regulation might be responsible.

“Leptin is a long-term regulatory hormone. It increases overall the amount of calories you take in. If your fat cells get bigger, they make more leptin and that suppresses appetite. If fat cells shrink, they make less leptin and that stimulates appetite,” he explains.

“But ghrelin is a hormone that is secreted by the stomach. When you eat something, ghrelin is suppressed, making you not want to eat more. As time progresses after meal, after several hours, ghrelin rises,” he says. “Some people have more rapid and pronounced rises in ghrelin in response to what they eat and that makes them want to eat more.”

So what can a person do to avoid the dreaded after-binge binge? Of course, the most obvious advice is to avoid it in the first place: reasonable portions can be celebratory too. Choose foods that will keep you full longer: things that are high-volume and low-calorie, like leafy greens, and full of protein and fiber, like beans.

Beyond that, all you can do is some damage control: eat a sensible, filling breakfast (oatmeal! egg-veggie scrambles!) and know that the increased hunger will pass.

More from The Huffington Post:

How to Avoid Overeating

6 Ways to Avoid Overeating

Why You’re Still Feeling Hungry After Eating [And How to Stop It]

You ever finish a large meal, but you still feel hungry after eating?

How can that be? Your entire purpose in eating the meal was to not feel hungry.

Not feeling full is a real problem. Especially if you’re trying to eat healthier.

You’re either going to suffer through the hunger (which will ultimately lead you back to old habits). Or you’ll keep eating and end up consuming too much food.

Well, you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy.

Glynn’s Guide: Takeaways That Won’t Fail You

  • For overweight individuals, there is a decrease in leptin sensitivity. This results in an inability to detect being full.
  • High carbohydrate meals increase serotonin output. This sends a message to our brain. This, in turn, increases our appetite for more carbs (or food in general).
  • External cues can increase our appetite, but are perceived as hunger even when we are full.
  • A sleep deficiency can increase hunger and appetite.
  • Our metabolic set point may influence hunger if you’re losing weight. In other words, you may feel sated after a meal but your body wants more calories to reach its “old” goal.

Why You Are Still Hungry After Eating

If you are still hungry after eating it is usually from one of two factors.

First, feeling hungry after eating can be caused by a decreased sensitivity to a hormone called leptin.

Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells and released after you eat. It tells your brain you are no longer hungry after you have eaten. If your brain is partially “blind” to that signal, you lose the ability to feel full.

The other reason to be still hungry after eating is from eating too many carbs which creates elevated serotonin levels.

Eating a lot of carbs raises your serotonin levels. This hormone makes you feel better. Thus, this increased release raises your appetite for more carbs. Even when you should feel full after eating. Many studies have confirmed this.

A Professional Observation…

I constantly reenforce what you eat is more important than your workout to reach your fitness goals.

Over the years many clients have complained to me about feeling hungry after eating. In these cases, I’ve made several observations.

The three observations we’ll review that stand out the most are:

  1. Many people consume carbohydrates as a majority of their calories. They state they are still hungry after eating.
  2. Individuals who are overweight comment they’re sometimes still hungry after eating.
  3. Finally, individuals who eat more quality proteins and fats don’t make such comments.

Is this scientific research? No (but there’s a lot to be said for three decades of observing hundreds of cases).

So, I decided to dive back into this topic and first crack the textbooks. Then I looked over the more recent quality research to back up my observations.

There are some real connections between how our brain regulates hunger/satiety. As well as the behavior and feelings that these “signals” elicit.

There are many layers to understanding why you’re feeling hungry after eating. We will start with the complexity of communication in your central nervous system.

Let’s dig in…

Starting with the very important difference between satiety, hunger, and appetite.

What is satiety?

Satiety is a sensation that stops hunger. It’s the feeling we have when we’ve eaten enough.

You know it as the satisfaction that you’ve consumed enough food to not feel shaky, irritable or “hollow in your gut.”

Thus, if you’re still feeling hungry after eating, you are NOT satiated.

What is hunger?

Hunger is more specific than you think.

Hunger is the feeling we have when we need to eat. It is triggered by the hypothalamus as a means to regulate energy balance.

Okay, so what is appetite?

Appetite a learned response. It’s a desire to eat. We can experience an appetite without hunger and vice-versa. Sometimes appetite is the only contributing factor of feeling hungry after eating. To date, we still have more to learn about the chemical changes that influence appetite.

Appetite is typically a result of external factors and learned behavior, such as:

  • Stress
  • Mood
  • Boredom
  • Availability
  • Social pressure
  • Celebrations (always seem to involve food)

We all know the perfect example when you’ve eaten a large celebration meal. You’re totally satiated and then dessert is presented.

Bam! Now you have an appetite again based on an external factor that caused an emotional desire. No doubt, you have all experienced this feeling. And you know how powerful it is over our behavior.

A brief recap of foods journey through the GI tract

Let’s take a journey from top to bottom through the gastrointestinal tract. It obviously begins in the:

  • Mouth: chewing and initial enzymes for carbohydrate digestion introduced via saliva
  • Esophagus: passage to stomach
  • Stomach: Stomach acid denatures protein (breaks down by unraveling proteins). It also mixes and churns food into a liquid mass
  • Small Intestine: Enzymes are secreted to digest all foods to nutrient particles. Cells in the walls absorb nutrients into the blood and lymph system.
  • Large intestine: This is where water is reabsorbed as well as minerals. Bacteria use some of the nutrients to create nutrients essential to us.
  • Rectum: Stores our waste until we’re ready and able to eliminate.

The following are important to mention:

  • Liver: Produces bile, but has so many more important roles that we could do a whole other article on in the future. I believe it is the most important organ in the body.
  • Gallbladder: stores our bile until it’s needed.
  • Pancreas: Responsible for the production of insulin and enzymes for digestion. Also for the production of bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid.

What hormones deliver the message?

The next few sections are where it gets fun if you dig physiology!

There are four very specific hormones that deliver a message to the hypothalamus. But this is only a glimpse into the complexities of the communications between the brain and the gut. We’re still learning.

Ghrelin is your hunger signal. It is a neuropeptideSome function like local hormones while others function like neurotransmitters and are made up of polypeptides (chains of amino acids). produced in the gastrointestinal tract. When the stomach is empty Ghrelin is released, promoting eating.

Leptin is made by white fat cells and circulates in the bloodstream. It reduces food intake. It binds to receptors that activate the medial hypothalamus (promotes satiety). This inhibits the lateral hypothalamus to suppress hunger. It is thought to be part of a negative feedback loop that helps with our long-term fat store “set point.” When fat increases, more leptin is released, suppressing eating. When fat stores drop, leptin levels drop. Thus reducing that feedback (which may indirectly promote eating).

Cholecystokinin (CCK) – As your gastric compartments fill CCK is released. This circulates in the bloodstream. It also stimulates vagal signals that go to the brainstem. Eating stops.

Insulin reduces food intake by binding to receptors in the medial hypothalamus. It functions similarly to leptin in suppressing eating behavior.

Ironically, in obese individuals, there’s a decrease in leptin sensitivity. This results in a mild inability to detect satiety. This may be one key factor contributing to being hungry after eating. Remember this part.

How is the brain involved?

The hypothalamus is a very important part of the brain (what part isn’t…) that regulates hunger.

In fact, it coordinates several systems into appropriate behaviors. They are the endocrine, autonomicPart of the nervous system that we have no control over, i.e, it autoregulates. and somatic motor systemsPart of the nervous system that we have full control over, e.g., using your muscles to lift something..It’s located near the base of the brain (if you’re interested). And the part of the hypothalamus that we’re concerned with is the middle region.

It is in charge of some of the items listed below:

  • Maintains homeostasis
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Helps regulate sleep
  • Has a great deal of control of the GI tract

Stimulation of this part of the hypothalamus has a cool effect. It will cause increased secretion of gastric juices and peristalsis. Peristalsis is the contraction of the muscles surrounding the GI tract. The bottom line, the middle region regulates our behaviors toward food acquisition. It also regulates the feeling of satiety, which is both perceptions.

The vagus nerve is the information highway between the gut and hypothalamus and sends the information to the medulla. Which in turn relays the information to the hypothalamus. Most importantly, the signals that regulate food intake are also responsible for the regulation of our energy balance.

In many studies, animals are given the freedom to eat whenever they like during experimentation. They still regulate their energy balance very well over a longer duration of time.

We are the same way (without outside influences). But the external influences are really strong!

What is the enteric nervous system?

This GI tract has its own “in-house” autonomic nervous system. It’s called the enteric nervous system. All we need to know is that it governs over functions of the GI tract.

One of my professors always called it our “second brain.” I’ve also heard it referred to as the “gut’s brain.”

What neurotransmitters influence our behavior toward food?

We already discussed that leptin, ghrelin, CCK, and insulin. They all play a role in delivering the message to the hypothalamus.

But what hormones affect the hypothalamus to in turn affect our behaviors?

  • Serotonin: It is a neurotransmitter. Serotonin is produced in the brainstem and specific cells in the gut. It has an influence on the enteric nervous system that resides in the GI tract. It causes contraction of the smooth muscle around the stomach. We’ll discuss this one in more detail in a moment.
  • Neuropeptide Y: It has an effect on the initiation of eating
  • Cholecystokinin (CCK): has many roles, but one is to send a signal relaying fullness or satiety to the brain.

And down the rabbit hole, we go…. The are many neurotransmitters, hormones, and interactions involved. They all play an almost endless role in our hunger and satiation behavior. In other words, there’s a lot more.

I know this is getting complicated, so bear with me and we’ll start to tie it all together soon.

Is there a difference between the sexes?

There is certainly a difference with fat-loss between the sexes. You can read more about that in my article Male vs. Female Differences in Weight Loss and Gain .

Parigi evaluated imaging differences in neuroanatomical structures between men and women. There were differences in specific parts of the brain after consuming the same meal. This led to cognitive and emotional differences. In other words, there may be an emotional difference between men and women with hunger and satiation.

Do specific macronutrients have an effect on these neurotransmitters?

You bet they do, but the one I want to focus on is serotonin.

Consuming carbohydrates stimulates the release of serotonin, but protein does not elicit such a response.

As many of you know, serotonin was once touted as our “feel good” neurotransmitter. But that is now widely refuted in the neurophysiology world.

Many studies have shown that this increased release of serotonin from carbohydrate consumption increases one’s appetite for more carbohydrates. If you track your food intake, you know exactly the feeling I’m referring to for this circumstance.

In fact, one could think of carbohydrates like a drug that elicits a desire for more carbs.

Now let’s say there is weight gain from excess food intake. This ultimately leads to a depressed sensitivity to leptin receptorsA cell or group of cells, of which there are thousands of types that receive stimuli..

Remember, leptin is the hormone that signals satiety. This should lead to a minimized feeling of satiety (you’re still feeling hungry)!

When does satiety occur?

Satiety (you feel full) occurs when CCK and leptin send a message. The message is to the hypothalamus that we have consumed enough energy to sustain life.

We’ve pointed out the effect of carbohydrates on serotonin. We also pointed out the desensitization of leptin receptors from carbohydrates. Now we can start to see that the feeling of satiety can more be overpowered by appetite.

What are “gastric juices” and what role do they play?

As we all know, gastric juices are acidic and corrosive. This is to digest protein.

Secretion of gastric juices is increased by many factors. Some relevant factors are listed below:

  • Sight and thought of food
  • Stomach distension
  • Food chemicals like caffeine

Gastric juice secretion is inhibited by some of the following factors:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional upset (fear, anxiety, etc.)
  • Too much stomach acid
  • Distension of the duodenum (first part of the intestine)
  • Presence of partially digested food in the duodenum

So, can you have too much stomach acid under some circumstances? Sure.

Bacteria’s role in feeling hungry

Bacteria’s role in this whole process has real merit.

However, it’s something we’re still learning about for so many physiological applications. There is evidence that bacteria have effective influence over the hypothalamus. This happens by effecting some of our hormones and neurotransmitters in the enteric nervous system.

Carabotti, et al stated

“This interaction between microbiota and GBA appears to be bidirectional, namely through signaling from gut-microbiota to brain and from brain to gut-microbiota by means of neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links.”

This is very cool stuff!

Some CNS and GI tract disorders have been associated with disruption of the gut-brain axis and the microbiota.

But that is an article for another time.

Sleep’s effect on feeling hungry

I have to include this part since during previous literature reviews and this one.

I came across a lot of supporting studies of a scary finding. They correlate restrictions in sleep to an increased output of ghrelin (hunger neuropeptide). And also a reduction in leptin (satiety hormone).

In other words, not getting enough sleep CAN increase hunger and appetite.

7 ways to stop feeling hungry after eating:

  1. Include protein with each meal. This will slow the absorption of the food consumed.
  2. Eat your protein source first to minimize the spike in blood sugar and insulin response.
  3. Minimize or eliminate the sugar in your diet. This minimizes the elevation of serotonin as well as for better health.
  4. Drink a large glass of water with each meal. This will not only aid in the digestion of protein but to maximize feeling full.
  5. Add vegetables to every meal. This will also help to feel full longer because of the additional fiber.
  6. Avoid wolfing down your meal.
  7. Keep the sweets in your kitchen to a minimum or out of site. This will eliminate “reigniting” your appetite.

Conclusion on Why You’re Feeling Hungry After Eating

So, we’ve discussed the signals that give us a feeling of hunger.

As well as satiation and their influence on our behaviors.

We’ve concluded that hunger and appetite are two different things. They can both influence feelings and behaviors.

So, if you are consuming a high carbohydrate meal and/or are mildly overweight. There will most likely be a perception or a “feeling” of being hungry after eating.

There’s also our metabolic set point. It is the contrast between short-term and long-term metabolic needs. If you’re losing weight you may feel sated after a meal but your body wants more calories to reach its “old” goal. This plays a larger role than we once thought.

Also, external stimuli may also be giving you the feeling that you’re still hungry after eating. But this is appetite, not hunger.

Consuming fewer carbs and more protein will lead to a stronger feeling of satiety. Minimizing the behavioral response to hunger and appetite.

To sum it up…

If you’re overweight, feeling hungry after eating is often from a decreased sensitivity to leptin. Suppressing your ability to feel full.

If you’re eating a high carb diet then your serotonin level goes up. Creating an increased appetite for more carbs, rather than feeling full.

Other contributors include external cues increasing your appetite, sleep deficiency, and your metabolic set point. Reflect on your own lifestyle to identify which may be causing your issues.

FAQs

What does it mean when you feel hungry after eating?

There are several potential factors. It could be due to a decreased sensitivity to leptin. Also, if the last meal was predominantly carbohydrates, the spike and then the drop in serotonin elicits cravings for more carbohydrates. This can be perceived as hunger.

What causes feeling hungry after eating?

A decreased sensitivity to leptin contributes. Too many carbohydrates stimulate the desire for more carbohydrates. A sleep deficiency decreases glucose tolerance. And external cues (commercials with tasty food for example) can give you the perception of hunger. Even if you’re full.

How do I stop feeling hungry after eating?

Make sure you’re balancing your meals with enough protein and fat. Carbohydrate heavy meals contribute to feeling hungry after eating. Also, if you’re carrying some extra weight, fat loss will help increase your sensitivity to leptin.

Why do diabetics feel hungry after eating?

Despite an elevation of blood sugar, insulin’s inability to transport the sugar into cells can create a feedback signal that promotes hunger.

How long after a meal should you feel hungry?

If your meals are properly balanced with adequate calories, the normal time should be three to five hours.

Research and Resources on Feeling Hungry After Eating

Blundell, J.E.Hill, A.J., Serotoninergic modulation of the pattern of eating and the profile of hunger-satiety in humans, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, 1987.

Brodel, Per, The Central Nervous System, Structure and Function, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Caballero, B., Brain serotonin and carbohydrate craving in obesity, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, 1987.

David E. Cummings and Joost Overduin, Gastrointestinal regulation of food intake, The Journal of Clinical Investigation, January 2007. Pg 13-23

Karine Spiegel, PhD; Esra Tasali, MD; Plamen Penev, MD, PhD; Eve Van Cauter, PhD, Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite, Annals of Internal Medicine, December 2004.

Marieb, Elaine, Human Anatomy and Physiology 3rd edition, Redwood City, CA; The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc, 1995

Marilia Carabotti,a Annunziata Scirocco,a Maria Antonietta Maselli,b and Carola Severia, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Annals of Gastroenterology, 2015 Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203–209.

Paintal, A., A study of gastric stretch receptors. Their role in the peripheral mechanism of satiation of hunger and thirst, The Journal of Physiology, November 1954. Pg 255-270.

Angelo Del Parigi, Kewei Chen, Jean-François Gautier, Arline D Salbe, Richard E Pratley, Eric Ravussin, Eric M Reiman, P Antonio Tataranni, Sex differences in the human brain’s response to hunger and satiation, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 75, Issue 6, June 2002, Pages 1017–1022.

Feeling hungry isn’t a bad thing. It’s your body’s way of telling you it needs fuel to function. But if you feel famished all the time – even after finishing a meal – easily remedied mistakes may be to blame, some which may surprise you.

Hunger is a biological drive to eat that’s associated with a grumbling stomach, weakness and/or headache, symptoms that can undermine your concentration and prompt you to make less-than-stellar food choices. Appetite, on the other hand, is the desire to seek out a specific food, whether you feel hungry or not.

When your stomach is empty, it secretes ghrelin, a hunger hormone that signals your brain it’s time to eat. Your brain, in turn, increases hunger and stimulates the release of stomach acid to prepare your body for food intake. When you’ve had enough to eat and your stomach is stretched, it stops churning out ghrelin.

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How often you should feel hungry depends largely on what – and when – you last ate. In general, though, it’s normal to feel hungry, or a little peckish, three to four hours after eating a meal.

If you find yourself hungry more often than this – or ravenous before meals – consider whether one (or more) of the following culprits is the reason.

You eat too little protein (or fat)

Including a source of protein – e.g., chicken, fish, lean meat, eggs, tofu, beans and lentils, yogurt, milk – at meals and snacks can delay hunger and fend off cravings. Protein stays in the stomach longer than other nutrients, so it promotes a feeling of fullness.

Fat also helps you feel satiated after eating. Include a source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat from oils, avocado, nuts, seeds or nut butter in each meal.

You’re stuck on white bread

Highly processed carbohydrates in white bread, white rice, refined breakfast cereals, cookies, pastries and candy are digested quickly, causing your blood sugar (glucose) to rise rapidly. In response to high-glycemic carbohydrates, your insulin level soars, causing your blood glucose to drop and your brain to signal hunger.

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Fibre-rich whole grains and some starchy vegetables, on the other hand, help to stabilize blood glucose. Replace refined grains with low-glycemic foods such as 100-per-cent whole-grain breads and breakfast cereals, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, quinoa, sweet potatoes and beans and lentils. Their fibre also adds bulk to meals which helps keep you feeling full longer.

You skimp on breakfast

Skipping the morning meal can trigger cravings, hunger and overeating later in the day by increasing ghrelin levels.

Missing breakfast or forgoing carbohydrates at the meal also causes serotonin to drop, which, in turn, can rev up your appetite, especially for sweets. (Serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain and the gut, helps regulate appetite, digestion and mood.)

You’re dehydrated

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Research suggests people often confuse thirst with hunger, perhaps because both sensations are regulated by brain’s hypothalamus. Not drinking enough water can also make you feel tired and, as a result, turn to food to boost energy.

If you feel hungry soon after eating, drink a large glass of water and wait 20 minutes. If your hunger pangs persist, eat a healthy snack, perhaps one that provides water, too. Hydrating fruits include strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, raspberries, apricots and blueberries. Cucumber, celery, carrots, zucchini and spinach also have a high water content.

The hunger-suppressing effect of water may even help you slim down. Studies have found that dieters who drank two cups of water before meals were less hungry and consumed fewer calories at the meal.

Women require 9 cups (2.2 litres) of water each day; men need 12 cups (3 litres). All beverages, with the exception of alcohol, count towards daily water requirements.

You don’t snack

If your meals are longer than four to five hours apart, include a small snack to prevent large dips in blood glucose – and to avoid feeling ravenous at meal time. Between-meal snacks should include protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates.

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Good choices include fruit and nuts, yogurt and berries, whole-grain crackers and tuna or a homemade smoothie made with milk or soy milk and fruit. To control calories, keep snacks to 150 to 250 calories.

You’re a fast eater

When you eat quickly, you don’t give your brain enough time to register you’ve had enough to eat, even if your stomach is full. Eating slowly allows appetite-related hormones to kick in and tell your brain it’s time to stop eating.

To slow your eating pace, pause between bites; put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly. Ban distractions that prevent you from paying attention to the fact you’re eating. Step away from the TV, computer or newspaper when eating.

You’re stressed out

Continued stress increases adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones that trigger a prolonged release of ghrelin. Plus, stress reduces serotonin, which can also make you feel hungry.

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If you typically reach for sugar when feeling stressed, your blood glucose will peak and then crash, adding to your need for food. If you can’t control your stress, control what you feed it.

You’re short on sleep

Not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can drive hunger and sugar cravings during the day. Like chronic stress, too little sleep increases cortisol and raises ghrelin.

Feeling tired after a poor night’s sleep can also send you in search of food for a boost of energy, even if you don’t feel hungry.

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Hunger scale

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Your appetite, not hunger, may be driving your desire to eat. Use the following scale to rate your hunger level before, during and after meals. You’ve had enough to eat when you feel satisfied, not full.

1. You feel starving. You can’t concentrate and need food now.

2. You feel hungry, but you could wait a few minutes before eating.

3. You feel slightly hungry. You could eat something, but not a large meal.

4. Your hunger has almost disappeared. You could eat another bite, though.

5. You’re no longer hungry. You feel satisfied, not full.

6. You feel slightly full.

7. You feel overly full and uncomfortable. Your waistband is noticeably tighter.

8. You feel stuffed, bloated, even a little nauseous (e.g. “Thanksgiving Day” full).

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.

It is true that your stomach changes in size when hungry or full. The stomach contracts as a meal is digested to help move food towards the intestines. It rumbles as air and food move around as food is pushed down, a phenomenon called borborygmus, which is often our first cue that we might be hungry because it is audible and physical. After rumbling, the stomach then expands again in preparation for eating – this is initiated by hormones.

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But it is not really true that eating stretches the stomach. The stomach is very elastic, so will return to its resting capacity (about 1-2 litres) after a big meal. In fact, most people’s stomachs are pretty similar in capacity – neither height nor weight have an effect.

What we might not be conscious of is the release of our hunger hormones: NPY and AgRP from the hypothalamus, and ghrelin from the stomach. Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty and stimulates the production of NPY and AgRP in our brain. These two hormones are responsible for creating the feeling of hunger and overriding the hormones that give us the sense of being satisfied.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, ghrelin levels tend to be higher in lean individuals and lower in people with obesity. You might expect that a hormone that stimulates hunger would be more present in people who eat more – but this contradiction probably reflects how complicated our endocrine system is.

While only three hormones are largely responsible for generating feelings of hunger, a dozen or so are required to make us feel sated. A couple of them, GIP and GLP-1, are responsible for stimulating the production of insulin to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates. Several more hormones are involved in slowing down the movement of food through our stomach, to give our bodies time to digest the food. For those people with obesity who have low levels of ghrelin, it might be that high levels of insulin, needed to metabolise a high-carbohydrate diet, are inhibiting production of ghrelin.

Two are key to reducing the feeling of hunger: CKK and PYY. In patients who have a gastric band fitted, which reduces the size of the stomach, PYY is particularly high. This contributes to a loss of appetite.

14 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry

Hunger is your body’s natural cue that it needs more food.

When you’re hungry, your stomach may “growl” and feel empty, or you may get a headache, feel irritable, or be unable to concentrate.

Most people can go several hours between meals before feeling hungry again, though this isn’t the case for everyone.

There are several possible explanations for this, including a diet that lacks protein, fat, or fiber, as well as excessive stress or dehydration.

This article discusses 14 reasons for excessive hunger.

1. You’re not eating enough protein

Consuming enough protein is important for appetite control.

Protein has hunger-reducing properties that may help you automatically consume fewer calories during the day. It works by increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger (1, 2, 3, 4).

Due to these effects, you may feel hungry frequently if you’re not eating enough protein.

In one study, 14 men with excess weight who consumed 25% of their calories from protein for 12 weeks experienced a 50% reduction in their desire for late-night snacking, compared with a group that consumed less protein (5).

Additionally, those with a higher protein intake reported greater fullness throughout the day and fewer obsessive thoughts about food (5).

Many different foods are high in protein, so it’s not difficult to get enough of it through your diet. Including a source of protein in every meal can help prevent excessive hunger.

Animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, contain high amounts of protein.

This nutrient is also found in some dairy products, including milk and yogurt, as well as a few plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Summary Protein plays an important role in appetite control by regulating your hunger hormones. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if you don’t eat enough of it.

2. You’re not sleeping enough

Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for your health.

Sleep is required for the proper functioning of your brain and immune system, and getting enough of it is associated with a lower risk of several chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer (6).

Additionally, sleeping enough is a factor in appetite control, as it helps regulate ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone. Lack of sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels, which is why you may feel hungrier when you are sleep deprived (7, 8).

In one study, 15 people who were sleep deprived for only 1 night reported being significantly more hungry and chose 14% larger portion sizes, compared with a group that slept for 8 hours (9).

Getting enough sleep also helps ensure adequate levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes feelings of fullness (7, 8).

To keep your hunger levels under control, it’s generally recommended to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Summary Sleep deprivation is known to cause fluctuations in your hunger hormone levels and may leave you feeling hungry more frequently.

3. You’re eating too many refined carbs

Refined carbs have been processed and stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, which is found in many grain-based foods like bread and pasta. Foods like soda, candy, and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbs.

Since refined carbs lack filling fiber, your body digests them very quickly. This is a major reason why you may be hungry frequently if you eat a lot of refined carbs, as they do not promote significant feelings of fullness (10).

Furthermore, eating refined carbs may lead to rapid spikes in your blood sugar. This leads to increased levels of insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting sugar into your cells (10, 11).

When a lot of insulin is released at once in response to high blood sugar, it quickly removes sugar from your blood, which may lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia (10, 11).

Low blood sugar levels signal your body that it needs more food, which is another reason why you may feel hungry often if refined carbs are a regular part of your diet (10).

To reduce your refined carb intake, simply replace them with healthier, whole foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are still high in carbs, but they are rich in fiber, which helps keep hunger under control (12).

Summary Refined carbs lack fiber and cause blood sugar fluctuations, which are the primary reasons why eating too many of them may leave you feeling hungry.

4. Your diet is low in fat

Fat plays a key role in keeping you full.

This is partly due to its slow gastrointestinal transit time, meaning that it takes longer for you to digest and remains in your stomach for a long period. Additionally, eating fat may lead to the release of various fullness-promoting hormones (13, 14, 15).

For these reasons, you may feel frequent hunger if your diet is low in fat.

One study including 270 adults with obesity found that those who followed a low-fat diet had significant increases in cravings for carbs and preferences for high-sugar foods, compared with a group that consumed a low-carb diet (16).

Furthermore, those in the low-fat group reported more feelings of hunger than the group that followed a low-carb eating pattern (16).

There are many healthy, high-fat foods that you can include in your diet to increase your fat intake. Certain types of fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and omega-3 fatty acids, have been studied the most for their ability to reduce appetite (17, 18, 19, 20).

The richest food source of MCT is coconut oil, while omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. You can also get omega-3s from plant-based foods, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.

Other sources of healthy, high-fat foods include avocados, olive oil, eggs, and full-fat yogurt.

Summary You may feel hungry often if you don’t eat enough fat. That’s because fat plays a role in slowing digestion and increasing the production of fullness-promoting hormones.

5. You’re not drinking enough water

Proper hydration is incredibly important for your overall health.

Drinking enough water has several health benefits, including promoting brain and heart health and optimizing exercise performance. Additionally, water keeps your skin and digestive system healthy (21).

Water is also quite filling and has the potential to reduce appetite when consumed before meals (22, 23).

In one study, 14 people who drank 2 cups of water before a meal ate almost 600 fewer calories than those who didn’t drink any water (24).

Due to water’s role in keeping you full, you may find that you feel hungry frequently if you’re not drinking enough of it.

Feelings of thirst can be mistaken for feelings of hunger. If you’re always hungry, it may help to drink a glass or two of water to find out if you are just thirsty (23).

To ensure you’re properly hydrated, simply drink water when you feel thirsty. Eating lots of water-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, will also contribute to your hydration needs (25).

Summary You may always be hungry if you’re not drinking enough water. That’s because it has appetite-reducing properties. Additionally, you may be mistaking feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger.

6. Your diet lacks fiber

If your diet lacks fiber, you may feel hungry frequently.

Consuming lots of high-fiber foods helps keep hunger under control. High-fiber foods slow your stomach’s emptying rate and take longer to digest than low-fiber foods (12, 26).

Additionally, a high fiber intake influences the release of appetite-reducing hormones and the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have fullness-promoting effects (12).

It’s important to note that there are different types of fiber, and some are better than others at keeping you full and preventing hunger. Several studies have found soluble fiber, or fiber that dissolves in water, is more filling than insoluble fiber (27, 28, 29).

Many different foods, such as oatmeal, flax seeds, sweet potatoes, oranges, and Brussels sprouts, are excellent sources of soluble fiber.

Not only does a high-fiber diet help reduce hunger, but it’s also associated with several other health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (30).

To ensure you’re getting enough fiber, opt for a diet that’s rich in whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.

Summary If your diet lacks fiber, you may find that you are always hungry. This is because fiber plays a role in reducing your appetite and keeping you full.

7. You eat while you’re distracted

If you live a busy lifestyle, you may often eat while you are distracted.

Although it may save you time, distracted eating can be detrimental to your health. It’s associated with greater appetite, increased calorie intake, and weight gain (31).

The primary reason for this is because distracted eating reduces your awareness of how much you’re consuming. It prevents you from recognizing your body’s fullness signals as efficiently as when you’re not distracted (31).

Several studies have shown that those who engage in distracted eating are hungrier than those who avoid distractions during mealtimes (31).

In one study, 88 women were instructed to eat either while distracted or sitting in silence. Those who were distracted were less full and had a significantly greater desire to eat more throughout the day, compared with the non-distracted eaters (32).

Another study found that people who distracted themselves with a computer game during lunch were less full than those who did not play the game. Additionally, the distracted eaters consumed 48% more food in a test that occurred later that day (33).

To avoid distracted eating, you can try practicing mindfulness, minimizing screen time, and silencing your electronic devices. This will allow you to sit down and taste your food, helping you better recognize your body’s fullness signals.

Summary Distracted eating may be a reason why you are always hungry, as it makes it difficult for you to recognize feelings of fullness.

8. You exercise a lot

Individuals who exercise frequently burn a lot of calories.

This is especially true if you regularly participate in high-intensity exercise or engage in physical activity for long durations, such as in marathon training.

Research has shown that those who exercise vigorously on a regular basis tend to have a faster metabolism, which means that they burn more calories at rest than those who exercise moderately or live sedentary lifestyles (34, 35, 36).

In one study, 10 men who engaged in a vigorous 45-minute workout increased their overall metabolic rate by 37% for the day, compared with another day when they did not exercise (37).

Another study found that women who exercised at a high intensity every day for 16 days burned 33% more calories throughout the day than a group that did not exercise and 15% more calories than moderate exercisers. The results were similar for men (38).

Although several studies have shown exercise to be beneficial for suppressing appetite, there is some evidence that vigorous, long-term exercisers tend to have greater appetites than those who do not exercise (39, 40, 41, 42).

You can prevent excessive hunger from exercise simply by eating more to fuel your workouts. It is most helpful to increase your intake of filling foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Another solution is to cut back on the time you spend exercising or reduce the intensity of your workouts.

It’s important to note that this mostly applies to those who are avid athletes and work out frequently at a high intensity or for long periods. If you exercise moderately, you probably don’t need to increase your calorie intake.

Summary Individuals who regularly exercise at a high intensity or for long durations tend to have greater appetites and faster metabolisms. Thus, they may experience frequent hunger.

9. You’re drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol is well known for its appetite-stimulating effects (43).

Studies have shown that alcohol may inhibit hormones that reduce appetite, such as leptin, especially when it is consumed before or with meals. For this reason, you may feel hungry often if you drink too much alcohol (43, 44, 45).

In one study, 12 men who drank 1.5 ounces (40 ml) of alcohol before lunch ended up consuming 300 more calories at the meal than a group that drank only 0.3 ounces (10 ml) (46).

Additionally, those who drank more alcohol ate 10% more calories throughout the entire day, compared with the group that drank less. They were also more likely to consume high amounts of high-fat and salty foods (46).

Another study found that 26 people who drank one ounce (30 ml) of alcohol with a meal consumed 30% more calories, compared with a group that avoided alcohol (47).

Alcohol may not only make you hungrier but also impair the part of your brain that controls judgment and self-control. This may lead you to eat more, regardless of how hungry you are (44).

To reduce the hunger-inducing effects of alcohol, it’s best to consume it moderately or avoid it completely (48).

Summary Drinking too much alcohol may cause you to feel hungry frequently due to its role in decreasing the production of hormones that promote fullness.

10. You drink your calories

Liquid and solid foods affect your appetite in different ways.

If you consume a lot of liquid foods, such as smoothies, meal replacement shakes, and soups, you may be hungrier more often than you would be if you ate more solid foods.

One major reason for this is that liquids pass through your stomach more quickly than solid foods do (49, 50, 51).

Furthermore, some studies suggest that liquid foods do not have as great of an impact on the suppression of hunger-promoting hormones, compared with solid foods (49, 52).

Eating liquid foods also tends to take less time than eating solid foods. This may lead you to want to eat more, only because your brain hasn’t had enough time to process fullness signals (53).

In one study, people who consumed a liquid snack reported less fullness and more feelings of hunger than those who consumed a solid snack. They also consumed 400 more calories throughout the day than the solid-snack group (52).

To prevent frequent hunger, it may help to focus on incorporating more solid, whole foods into your diet.

Summary Liquid foods do not have the same effects on keeping you full and satisfied as solid foods do. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if liquids are a major part of your diet.

11. You’re overly stressed

Excess stress is known to increase appetite.

This is mostly due to its effects on increasing levels of cortisol, a hormone that has been shown to promote hunger and food cravings. For this reason, you might find that you are always hungry if you experience frequent stress (54, 55, 56, 57).

In one study, 59 women who were exposed to stress consumed more calories throughout the day and ate significantly sweeter foods than women who were not stressed (57).

Another study compared the eating habits of 350 young girls. Those with higher stress levels were more likely to overeat than those with lower levels of stress. The stressed girls also reported higher intakes of unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies (58).

Many strategies can help you reduce your stress levels. Some options include exercise and deep breathing (59, 60).

Summary Excessive stress is a reason why you may be hungry frequently, given its ability to increase cortisol levels in the body.

12. You’re taking certain medications

Several medications may increase your appetite as a side effect.

The most common appetite-inducing medications include antipsychotics, such as clozapine and olanzapine, as well as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, corticosteroids, and anti-seizure drugs (61, 62, 63, 64).

Additionally, some diabetes medications, such as insulin, insulin secretagogues, and thiazolidinediones, are known to increase your hunger and appetite (65).

There is also some anecdotal evidence that birth control pills have appetite-stimulating properties, but this is not supported by strong scientific research.

If you suspect that medications are the cause of your frequent hunger, it may help to talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options. There may be alternative medications that don’t make you hungry.

Summary Certain medications cause increased appetite as a side effect. In turn, they may cause you to experience frequent hunger.

13. You eat too fast

The rate at which you eat may play a role in how hungry you are.

Several studies have shown that fast eaters have greater appetites and a tendency to overeat at meals, compared with slow eaters. They are also more likely to have obesity or excess weight (66, 67, 68, 69).

In one study in 30 women, fast eaters consumed 10% more calories at a meal and reported significantly less fullness, compared with slow eaters (70).

Another study compared the effects of eating rates in those with diabetes. Those who ate a meal slowly became full more quickly and reported less hunger 30 minutes after the meal, compared with fast eaters (71).

These effects are partly due to the lack of chewing and reduced awareness that occur when you eat too fast, both of which are necessary to alleviate feelings of hunger (72, 73, 74).

Additionally, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly gives your body and brain more time to release anti-hunger hormones and convey fullness signals (72, 75).

These techniques are a part of mindful eating.

If you are hungry frequently, it may help to eat more slowly. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths before meals, putting your fork down between bites, and increasing the extent to which you chew your food.

Summary Eating too quickly doesn’t allow your body enough time to recognize fullness, which may promote excessive hunger.

14. You have a medical condition

Frequent hunger may be a symptom of disease.

First, frequent hunger is a classic sign of diabetes. It occurs as a result of extremely high blood sugar levels and is typically accompanied by other symptoms, including excessive thirst, weight loss, and fatigue (76).

Hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by an overactive thyroid, is also associated with increased hunger. This is because it causes excess production of thyroid hormones, which are known to promote appetite (77, 78).

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, may also increase your hunger levels. Your blood sugar levels may fall if you haven’t eaten for a while, an effect that may be exacerbated by a diet high in refined carbs and sugar (79).

However, hypoglycemia is also associated with medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney failure, among others (80, 81, 82).

Additionally, excessive hunger is often a symptom of a few other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and premenstrual syndrome (56, 83).

If you suspect that you may have one of these conditions, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis and discuss treatment options.

Summary Excessive hunger is a symptom of a few specific medical conditions, which should be ruled out if you are frequently hungry.

The bottom line

Excessive hunger is a sign that your body needs more food.

It’s often a result of imbalanced hunger hormones, which may occur for a variety of reasons, including inadequate diet and certain lifestyle habits.

You may feel hungry frequently if your diet lacks protein, fiber, or fat, all of which promote fullness and reduce appetite. Extreme hunger is also a sign of inadequate sleep and chronic stress.

Additionally, certain medications and illnesses are known to cause frequent hunger.

If you feel hungry often, it may be beneficial to assess your diet and lifestyle to determine if there are changes you can make to help you feel more full.

Your hunger could also be a sign that you are not eating enough, which can be solved by simply increasing your food intake.

In case you’re eating too quickly or distracted at mealtimes, you can also practice mindful eating, which aims to minimize distractions, increase your focus, and slow your chewing to help you realize when you’re full.

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