Hunger is the physiological need for calories, water, and salt, and it’s driven by a mix of factors, including your diet, appetite hormones, and emotional factors, such as stress.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you eat, it feels like you are just never full up and you are just constantly thinking about where your next meal might be. When you always feel like a bottomless pit for no obvious reason, then something’s definitely up.
Figuring out why you can’t stop shoveling it down is important, because excess hunger can tip you off to a physical or mental health issue and giving in to that need to feed can send your BMI into dangerously unhealthy territory.
Mild dehydration is often masked as feelings of hunger, when really your body just needs fluids. Sometimes thirst can actually be mistaken for hunger, we feel like we’re craving something and interpret this as hunger, when actually all we need is a glass or two of water. Water is also needed in order for our cells to make use of the nutrients in the food that we eat; and lack of nutrient availability causes our body to crave more food. This is another reason to make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day and not just when this craving strikes. Drinking water between meals also generally us feel fuller and can help to manage appetite. It’s important, however, not to drink lots of water immediately before, during or after a meal: this dilutes the digestive juices and can have a negative impact on our digestion.
You’re a restless sleeper
By the time you wake after a night of poor sleep, two hormones linked to appetite have already begun conspiring against you. Too little sleep can lead to surging levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, as well as decreased levels of leptin, a hormone that causes feelings of fullness. Lack of sleep on a regular basis makes you ravenous for another reason. After poor sleep, you’re more likely to have serious fatigue and brain fog. Your system, desperate for a shot of energy, triggers cravings for sugar carbs, even if you’re not actually hungry.
You are on your period
It’s been found that a woman’s appetite and food intake increase during the second half of their menstrual cycle, i.e. after ovulation and in the lead up to menstruation. To help balance your blood sugar levels and manage these cravings, it’s essential to focus on eating protein-containing foods with each meal (fish, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds), and minimise your intake of processed and refined carbohydrates and sugars. It’s also known that caffeine and alcohol can have a significant effect on hormone balance too, and so these should be kept to a minimum.
You are pregnant
It makes sense that appetite and calorie needs increase during pregnancy – after all, you’re eating to make a baby. You don’t need to fight against it! However, it is more important than ever to make healthy choices at this time. This means eating real, wholesome foods and avoiding processed and refined foods and too many sugary treats. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods and prepare healthy snacks in advance when you can. Eating nutrient-rich whole foods will help to satisfy your body’s (and your growing baby’s) needs and make you less likely to overeat too.
You are eating too many carbohydrates
Eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal the night before can be a reason for feeling hungry the next day, even after eating. When we eat lots of carbohydrates in one sitting, they are absorbed quickly into the body as sugars. This spike of sugars (glucose in particular) in our blood causes a surge of insulin to be released, the hormone that stimulates our cells to take up glucose. As all the sugar is quickly removed from the blood, this triggers hunger and more carbohydrate cravings. You might even wake up with cravings in the night if this happens.
You are stressed out
While stress may shut down appetite in the short term, it pumps out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response and puts eating on hold—if stress persists, it’s a different story. Your adrenal glands then release a different hormone called cortisol, which will not only trigger your hunger hormones, but it will also pull lipids from the bloodstream to store them in our fat cells.
You need to eat more protein
It may sound incredible but studies have also shown that protein has appetite-suppressing effect. Thus, stock-pilling your plate with more protein will reduce your hunger pangs.