It’s been an hour since your last meal and you’re already raiding the refrigerator. You feel like a bottomless pit every day. What’s going on?
Even if you’re always hungry, it may not be because your body needs more calories. Diet, hormones and emotions drive hunger.
Chrisanne Urban, a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian, explained 10 reasons why you might feel overly hungry. Once you figure out why you’re always hungry, you can make changes to control your appetite.
10 common hunger triggers
The hypothalamus is the part of your brain that regulates hunger and thirst. “Sometimes it gets confused and tells you you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty,” Urban said. Next time you’re hungry and it’s not mealtime or you’ve already eaten, drink a glass of water and see if the feeling goes away.
2. Not eating enough protein.
Eating some protein with each meal will help you feel full longer. Lean meat, dairy and legumes are good protein sources. Adults should aim for 50-60 grams per day. A 3-oz. serving of meat the size of a deck of cards has about 21 grams.
3. Eating too many simple carbs.
Cake, candy, cookies and pastries spike your blood sugar for a short time. When your blood sugar drops, you end up hungry again. Instead, fill up on complex carbs with fiber, like whole grains, veggies and fruits with skins. They’ll keep you full longer and won’t cause a blood sugar crash.
4. Drinking too much alcohol.
Alcohol dehydrates you, which can confuse your hypothalamus and make you feel hungry. Stop the “drunchies” by drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume.
5. Skipping meals.
An empty stomach stimulates production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. “A lot of ghrelin makes you more prone to binge eating,” Urban said. “Once you start eating, you can’t stop.” Instead of eating less by skipping meals, you end up eating more.
6. Eating too fast.
It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’re full. If you eat quickly, you may feel hungry even though you’ve finished your meal.
7. Not sleeping well.
Poor sleep hygiene causes fatigue and brain fog, which can make you crave simple carbs that don’t keep you full very long. Poor sleep also stimulates ghrelin production and decreases production of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full.
Stress makes you produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are involved in the body’s fight or flight response. “You feel hungry and think you need more energy when your body feels like it’s under attack,” Urban said.
9. Food images and aromas.
Seeing pictures of delicious food on cooking shows and social media actually can make you hungry by stimulating ghrelin production. Food aromas do the same thing.
10. Medications are making you hungry.
Certain psychiatric medications and steroids like prednisone stimulate appetite. Talk to your doctor if you think medications are affecting hunger.
If you feel overly hungry, create a healthy eating environment to control your appetite or make an appointment with a dietitian for help.
“Remember that you’re in control of what you eat,” Urban said.