Top Reasons Why You Always Feel Hungry, According To Experts

Hunger is a normal part of life and is (or rather supposed to be) self-regulated. It is a signal that it is time to take a filling meal to get the energy you need every day. However, if not controlled right, you could end up being prone to unwanted, unneeded cravings that will leave you open to all sorts of health problems.

Sometimes medications, health conditions and life conditions are behind an unchecked appetite increase. More often, though, it is triggered by other choices you make that you may or may not be intentionally doing. If you want to lessen your hunger issues, a panel of health experts assembled by Good Housekeeping has outlined in detail the following reasons why you always feel hungry:


Thirst can be mistaken for hunger since your body sometimes processes thirst the same way it processes hunger pangs. According to  Stefani Sassos, a registered dietitian of the New York City-based Good Housekeeping Institute, how much water you drink directly influences your feeling of fullness (satiety) during the day. She advised not waiting until you are "thirsty" to grab a glass because chances are you are already dehydrated if you are feeling thirsty or having dry mouth. Sassos also recommended scheduling your water intake throughout the day and making it a priority. In addition, drinking lots of water can aid in weight loss if you are dieting or exercising, as Sassos links it to active daily metabolic rates.

Eating Is Not In Sync With Activities

This means either missing out on a much-needed meal such as breakfast or mindlessly eating as a result of boredom. Though thorough research linking hunger and physical activity is lacking, Sassos pointed out limited research suggesting that exercise can trick your body into keeping appetite in check during workouts, which may have something to do with your body temperature. Not eating wholesome meals before or after prolonged physical activity (such as cycling, swimming or running) may set you up for intense hunger pangs late in the day. Sassos said that you need proper nutrition in order to repair your muscles. 

On the other hand, when you are sedentary (e.g. sitting on the couch or at your desk), you may be engaging in distracted or mindless eating. "If you're sedentary most of the day and not doing much, boredom can certainly entice you to eat more," Sassos told Good Housekeeping. She advised engaging in distracting activities if you just ate and know you should feel full, such as reading a book or getting up and exercising.

Lack Of Fiber-Rich Meals

Julie Benard, a board-certified pediatric obesity medicine specialist and pediatrician at the University of Missouri, explained that fiber makes a meal really filling and not something that does not satisfy you after you are done eating. She then said that a diet low in fiber can cause frequent hunger because fiber itself is slowly broken down by the gastrointestinal tract, leading to more stable blood sugar levels and therefore less feelings of hunger. 

Sassos advised eating at least 25 grams of fiber throughout the day. Counting your fiber intake is not needed initially, just concentrate on highly fibrous meals that incorporate fiber-rich food such as avocados, beans or most nuts. "High-fiber foods may actually take longer to chew, are slower to digest, and promote satiety," Sassos said.

Consuming The Wrong Carbohydrates 

Benard and Sassos pointed out that not all carbs are bad. Loaded with naturally occurring carbohydrates, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are essential parts of any healthy diet. By contrast, refined carbs should be enjoyed occasionally. Items that are high in saturated fats and sugar such as white breads, pasta and pastries can trigger a spike in insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Benard explained that these starchy and sugary treats result in an initial burst of energy and satiety, which is then burned quickly by insulin, leading to subsequent and rapid blood sugar decline that triggers feeling of hunger once again.

Eating Excess Sugar

Sugar, a carbohydrate present in classic desserts, is often the main ingredient in refined carbs. Repeatedly experiencing a "sugar crash," when you experience low blood sugar levels after eating something extremely sweet, causing you to reach for more food later on to get your blood sugar back up, may result in long-term damage. Sassos said that sugar and refined carbs constantly elevate blood sugar, potentially leading to insulin resistance, when your body is unable to use blood glucose for energy -- a form of prediabetes.

She explained that interestingly enough, insulin share similarities with the hormone leptin, which helps regulate appetite and weight control. Leptin and insulin "actually directly regulate each other," adding that in the case of insulin resistance, this will cancel out the effect of "appetite control," potentially leading to a vicious hunger cycle, per Sassos. Sugar is naturally found in fruits and other nutritious whole foods but it is best to cut back on those high in added sugars or processed carbs.

No Protein 

That can apply especially if you are just starting out on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Fortunately, red meat is not the only source of this muscle-building nutrient. Protein is also found in lean fish, poultry and plant-based foods such as tofu or lentils. "A diet low in protein can also lead to frequent feelings of hunger, even though one may be consuming a higher amount of calories," Benard said. 

She explained that a hormone called ghrelin is responsible for managing hunger at a molecular level and is released once the stomach is empty. Though the stomach is stretched during the eating process, decreasing the levels of ghrelin released, what you eat can determine how long your ghrelin levels stay low. Benard said protein is most effective at keeping ghrelin low for longer periods of time, especially when compared to carbs.

Skipping Breakfast Or Lunch 

Skipping either of these daytime meals can make you prone to eating post-lunch or dinner snacks late in the day. Sassos explained that engaging in low-calorie breakfasts may set you up for failure as the day progresses. 

Though there are recent debates regarding skipping breakfast and some dieters opting to restrict their meals to certain hours of the day (a process often referred to as intermittent fasting), Sassos recommended having a meal full of nourishing items along with plenty of water, irrespective of when you choose to eat your first meal of the day. She is a fan of "bulking up" her breakfast and lunch meal with lean protein, fiber and lots of vegetables that will keep you full for hours. According to her, eating fiber in the morning "helps control afternoon cravings."

Emotional Eating 

David Schlundt, an associate psychology professor at Vanderbilt University and member of the university's Diabetes Research and Training Center, told Good Housekeeping that because you feel like you have "lost control," a feeling of hunger might be a side effect of purposefully not feeding yourself. He explained that though food provides "temporary relief" from negative emotion, hunger rarely causes emotional eating, causing problems for those imposing "unrealistically strict" dietary rules on themselves. 

For example, if you believe that breakfast should be skipped since it will make you gain weight, then you will likely feel more hungry when you skip it, causing you to break other self-imposed dietary rules. Schlundt's example would be believing that doughnuts are bad, but picking up two when there is one present and no one is looking as a result of hunger. He explained that this becomes a problem not because of the calories you took (triggered by your body), but because the perceived rule violation "is a negative experience" leading to guilt, shame and abstinence violation. This, Schlundt said, is the extended "loss of control" that occurs due to your self-defined dietary violation. 

According to Schlundt, emotional eating can cause you to be extremely restrictive in what you eat, when you eat or how much you eat later on -- all of these can influence your appetite.

Not Getting Enough Sleep 

Not getting enough nightly rest can affect how much you eat daily, especially if you frequently get less than seven hours of sleep. According to Benard, the feeling of being sleep-derived can take a toll on your willpower, causing you to make not-so-good nutrition choices such as ready-to-eat food containing refined carbs and sugar. "On a hormonal level, some studies also suggest that a lack of sleep may be associated with lower levels of leptin ... and higher levels of ghrelin ...," she said. 

Sassos pointed out that both leptin and ghrelin may be the center of why sleep deprivation is linked to excessive weight gain over a longer period. In fact, one landmark 16-year study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology recorded the sleeping habits, dietary functions and other lifestyle aspects of over 60,000 women. The study noted that women sleeping fiver hours or less nightly increase obesity risk by 15 percent and were 30 percent more likely to gain 30 pounds in the same timeframe compared to those sleeping seven hours each night.

Letting Your Brain (And Not Your Stomach) Decide When To Eat 

Sassos likes to categorize cravings by whether they are from "above the neck" or below. According to her, those determined by your brain are emotional, "often come on suddenly" and are not satisfied even if you eat a full meal, triggering feelings of shame and guilt and making you feel like having no control over your food choices. 

In contrast, Sassos sees "below the neck" cravings as an actual sign of physical hunger that should not be ignored. "These cravings build gradually, and many food options sound appealing. Once you're sensibly full, the cravings go away," she said, adding that cravings triggered by your stomach are linked not to any feelings of guilt or anger, but to feelings of satisfaction or even relief after eating a particular item or meal.

Mood Disorders 

Stress has a negative effect on much of our lives, including how much you eat. The fight-or-flight response associated with stress can lead to an increase of hunger later on (In fact, the Cleveland Clinic lists hunger as a side effect of stress). More seriously, however, Schlundt said that a severe, sustained appetite change is a main symptom of major depressive disorder, adding that there are two types of people: those who eat more when depressed and those who lose interest in eating when depressed. The latter, in particular, may be more complicated than just increased hunger, according to Schlundt. He said that it is probably some degree of loss of control over behavior.

Diabetes / Overactive Thyroid 

Underlying conditions like diabetes and an extremely active thyroid can cause hunger, but they are least likely to make you feel hungry all the time. 

Benard said that alongside increased thirst or frequent urination, increased hunger can certainly be a sign of diabetes. However, she added that it could also be a sign of hyperthyroidism, which comes in sync with a heart rate increase, feeling jittery or sudden weight loss, and that insatiable hunger is rarely caused by genetic changes.

empty plate Americans may be eating less, but the quality of nutrition in their food may still be low. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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