If you’ve ever finished a meal and felt like you’re still hungry, or find yourself looking in the fridge an hour after dinner, then you’re probably fully aware of this annoying barrier to weight loss. Many barriers to achieving a healthy weight can exist and feeling like you’re always hungry is one of them. Sticking to a healthy eating regime is difficult enough without constantly fighting against a hunger that never seems to goes away, which is why if you want to succeed, you need to find out the reason you’re having this feeling and learn to address it. There are a number of reasons you might constantly feel hungry and very few of them are actually related to the need to eat more food.
Should You be Concerned if You’re Always Hungry?
Being hungry all the time may seem as though it’s a fairly harmless and annoying symptom. You may blame it for your weight gain but consider it an unavoidable and unfortunate side effect of dieting or trying to eat well. But this actually isn’t the case. In fact, if you’re eating well and if your system is healthy, you shouldn’t be experiencing this confusing and frustrating constant hunger. It’s also a more serious problem than most people would like to admit and can be responsible for weight gain and failure to maintain a healthy eating regime. Considering how important maintaining a healthy weight can be for your overall health and avoiding a variety of dangerous and frightening diseases, it’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. So if you’re always hungry, ask yourself whether it may be due to one or many of the following reasons.
Hunger Pangs or Something Else?
Do you actually know what hunger pangs feel like? Without hesitation, you might say yes, but in reality, the issue is a little more complicated. The human brain has a circuit which controls your appetite and triggers cravings. Although this circuit is not yet fully understood, it’s overall function is to ensure you get the food you need to survive. However, the human brain isn’t just focused on survival, it also seeks pleasure, which may also affect your experience of hunger. If your brain experiences pleasure from a certain type of food, cravings for that food may be driven not by a biological need, but a desire for more pleasure. This can make you feel as if you’re always hungry when, in reality, your brain is seeking something quite different.
How you register hunger can also be affected by your dieting history. If you’ve gone through cycles of fasting and binging, and have gotten into the habit of ignoring your body’s hunger signals or constantly graze, this may silence your hunger signals. As a result, you could mistake other emotions or impulses for physical hunger, which may cause you to eat more. However, eating to satisfy needs other than hunger doesn’t work and can result in a never ending cycle of hunger. If you think this may be the cause of your hunger pangs, you’ll need to start doing some emotional work so you can recognize the signals your body is sending.
Cravings can also be a symptom of more serious disorders such as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Prolonged periods of stress can cause your adrenal glands to become fatigued and prevent them from working at full efficiency, eventually leading to AFS. The adrenal glands are an important part of your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response, which responds to stress by making changes in your body to help you handle stress. One of these responses is to activate the adrenal glands, which control the release of cortisol, a hormone that regulates your blood sugar and metabolism. However, if your adrenal glands become fatigued, your body may start exhibiting a range of symptoms including cravings, general tiredness, and weight gain. So if you’re always hungry despite eating well, it may be worth taking some time to examine any other symptoms you may have and to consider whether AFS may be the overarching cause.
You Don’t Eat Enough Protein
Protein is an essential part of every diet. Apart from being the building blocks of every system and cell in your body, it also helps fill you up. So if you aren’t eating enough protein in your meals, you’ll probably feel hungry a few hours later. This doesn’t mean you should overdose on protein because you’ll miss out on the vital nutrients that come from eating a range of different foods. Instead, if you’re always hungry, make sure you’re getting some protein with every meal and snack to see if it makes a difference. Proteins provide longer lasting energy than carbohydrates.
Some high protein foods to include in your new eating regime are:
- Meat and Seafood
Your Meals are Too Far Apart
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding how much you should eat and how often. Some sources claim you should eat three evenly-spaced meals a day, whereas others suggest eating six smaller meals closer together is much healthier. What this advice ignores is the fact that everyone is different—everything from your metabolism, daily schedule, and energy needs are unique—and although this advice works well for some people, it may not work for you. So if you’re always hungry, take a look at your diet and the timing of your meals. No matter what eating regime you follow, it should give you a steady flow of energy throughout the day. If you’re not getting this and you’re feeling mid-afternoon dips in energy that usually lead to a chocolate binge, you may need to rethink the timing of your meals.
Eating more evenly-spaced meals may also help with your AFS symptoms. People who suffer from AFS often experience a mid-afternoon lag—a period during which their already low energy levels severely dip—causing problems for their work and home life. Although eating more frequently probably won’t completely alleviate this problem if you do have AFS, it can give you some extra energy to get you through the day. It may also help with your weight loss efforts. People with AFS often find the disorder affects their metabolism causing them to gain weight which they struggle to lose later. So if your metabolism requires smaller meals that are closer together to function at its best, eating this way may alleviate hunger pangs and aid weight loss.
You Don’t Sleep Enough
The amount of sleep you get, and quality of that sleep, has a vital influence on your weight and appetite. Two hormones affect your appetite, ghrelin and leptin. The first stimulates your appetite when it’s time to eat, and the second suppresses it so you can sleep without being disturbed by hunger pangs. However, if your sleep schedule is irregular or you don’t get a sufficient amount, your hormones can be pushed out of balance. This can result in high ghrelin levels, which increases your appetite, or low leptin levels, and therefore, less control over your appetite. So if you’re always hungry, examining your sleep schedule may help you determine whether sleep is to blame for the problem.
If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re also more likely to crave foods that are high in calories. Who hasn’t reached for a chocolate bar because you’re tired and need an energy boost? Doing this once in a while shouldn’t harm your weight loss efforts too much, however, continue to do this regularly and over time, this could result in substantial weight gain.
Poor sleeping patterns can be caused by stress, poor eating habits, and certain diseases and are also one of the most common symptoms of AFS. People with this disorder often find themselves feeling tired early in the night, but reluctant to go to bed. This creates a restricted sleeping schedule and may cause hormonal imbalances, which can supercharge your appetite.
Your Gut Microbiota Are Out of Balance
Your brain isn’t the only organ that controls what you eat. If you’re always hungry, another culprit may be your gut microbiota—the array of microorganisms living in the digestive tract of all living creatures. That may sound a bit frightening but without these microorganisms you wouldn’t be able to survive. These tiny creatures ensure your digestive system is functioning properly, and also play a role in your immune system and overall health.
Your gut microbiota can affect your appetite in a variety of ways. They produce the hormones that create cravings and during a meal, signal when you’re full. A restricted diet for a long period of time or eating too much of a certain type of food can affect the variety of microbiota in your gut. Eating a diet rich in sugar can be particularly bad since certain gut microbiota will flourish and crowd out others. By creating the cravings that allow them to grow, they inhibit growth of their competitors. Or they may just go the simple route of giving you hunger pangs knowing you’ll eventually give them what they need. The only way around this is to change your diet. You need to eat a wide variety of healthy foods that contain fiber and probiotics, which replenish and strengthen your gut microbiota and restore the normal balance.
Intestinal Troubles and AFS
When the microbiota of your stomach are out of balance, this can result in a number of gastrointestinal disorders including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and general inflammation. Inflammation is one of the six NEM stress responses. On its own, inflammation can be positive and is one of the ways your body fights infection and disease. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can spread to other systems of the body and result in a wide range of debilitating or life threatening problems. If this situation occurs, every system of your body is put under a great deal of stress, which may lead to Adrenal Fatigue. So if you think your gut microbiota are out of balance, visit a medical professional as soon as possible about restoring your natural intestinal balance and reducing the stress on your adrenal glands.
Conversely, AFS may cause problems with your gut microbiota and the disorder is strongly connected to intestinal troubles such as indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, and stomach upset. All of these symptoms can cause your gut microbiota to become unbalanced and may lead to a hormonal imbalances and an increase in appetite. If you have intestinal problems as a result of AFS, it’s worth treating them to see if you can alleviate your constant hunger.
Almost everyone battles with their weight these days, which is why it’s so important to address any issues standing in the way of your healthy eating routine. If you feel like you’re always hungry no matter how much you’ve eaten, you can address this in a number of different ways to make your weight loss efforts easier. Taking the time to understand the cause, rather than just trying to repress your hunger, may alleviate stress on both your mind and body leading to better health overall. It may also help to alleviate the symptoms of stress-related disorders such as AFS and reduce stress levels to avoid developing Adrenal Fatigue altogether.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Why am I always hungry?
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s harder to do if you’re always hungry. The hunger sensation can be caused by a number of problems unrelated to how much you’re actually eating, so it’s important to address any potential causes if you want to succeed in your weight loss efforts.