Hunger is a physical sensation, just like having to use the bathroom, that is your body’s way of letting you know it needs food for fuel. A growling stomach is the most common sign of hunger, but you might also experience a headache, dizziness or mood swings (hangry, anyone?) when your body is in need of its next meal.
For most people, eating meals and snacks throughout the day is enough to keep hunger at bay for several hours. But some people experience constant hunger pangs even if they’ve just eaten. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
If you feel like you’re always ravenous, here are a few reasons why you may be experiencing excessive hunger and what you can do about it.
- You might need to drink more water. Mild dehydration is often misinterpreted as hunger. Try drinking a glass of water next time your stomach rumbles, then give it 15-20 minutes to see if your body still wants that snack. Keep a record of how much water you’re drinking and aim for a minimum of eight 8-ounce cups each day.
- You’re skipping breakfast. People who skip a morning meal tend to overcompensate with larger portions and intense food cravings later in the day. If you’re not used to eating breakfast, start with a protein-rich snack, like a protein bar or shake.
- You’re “filling up” on refined carbohydrates. These include “white” foods, like pasta, rice, bread and crackers, along with sweets and sugar-sweetened drinks. These foods lack adequate fiber, which helps fill you up, and eating too many of them can cause a continual rise and fall in your blood sugar throughout the day.
A blood sugar spike signals a release of insulin, which sweeps sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells for energy or storage as fat. Once the sugar is out of your blood, your blood sugar falls and your body signals for more food to once again raise it.
Opt for whole grains whenever possible. Try combining protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep you full and stabilize blood sugars. A sample meal could be grilled salmon (protein, fat) with brown rice (fiber) and steamed broccoli (fiber). A sample snack could be apple slices (fiber) paired with peanut butter (protein, fat). Eating a bit of all the macronutrients is what helps us stay satisfied longer.
- You’re not eating enough protein or fiber. Protein and fiber take longer for your body to digest, so they stay in your digestive system longer and promote feelings of fullness. Try to include a source of both protein and fiber at each meal and snack to keep you satisfied longer.
Good sources of protein include lean meats, like chicken and turkey, seafood and Greek yogurt. Fiber is plentiful in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, like oats and brown rice.
- You need more sleep. Rest is crucial for balancing hunger levels. Lack of sleep can throw off levels of ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate hunger, leaving you extra hungry with strong cravings for sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods.
Seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night is the gold standard. Try powering down electronics an hour before bedtime and hitting the hay earlier to improve sleep.
If you’ve tried the above tips and still feel hungry all the time, it could be lifestyle related. Chronic stress and over-exercising can also result in excessive hunger. You may need to simply eat more calories, adding an extra small meal or snack, or restructure the timing of your meals to eat more frequently. Everyone’s metabolism is different and yours could require more energy than the foods you’re eating can provide.
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