You may also be curious about what causes hunger in general. Believe it or not, you can train your body to increase feelings of satiety (fullness) using a few simple tips and tricks.
What is Hunger?
Hunger is a feeling of discomfort caused by not eating enough food, paired with a strong desire to eat. Sometimes you experience a desire to eat but your body doesn’t actually need food. It can be difficult to determine if what you’re experiencing is indeed hunger.
Some symptoms of true hunger include:
- Feeling lightheaded
- A growling stomach
- An empty-feeling stomach
- A headache
- Difficulty concentrating
In 2016, 12.3 % of U.S. households were classified as “food insecure,” meaning these families were uncertain about being able to acquire enough food to feed all family members. Food insecurity often results from insufficient funds available to purchase enough food.
True hunger, which happens when your body enters starvation mode, may result from food insecurity or not eating for long time periods for personal reasons.
If you’re not feeling the uncomfortable signs of hunger, your body may not actually be in starvation mode. Use the hunger cues above to determine whether or not you're truly hungry.
Why Am I Always Hungry?
Hunger is usually a sign that your body isn’t getting enough food. If you’re overweight or obese, chances are you’re taking in plenty of calories. Even if you skip a meal here and there your body should have enough energy reserves (stored body fat) to function properly and meet day to day needs.
It’s important to focus in on hunger cues to decide whether or not you're experiencing true hunger. Some reasons you may feel like eating when you’re not really hungry include:
- Seeing or smelling food
- Eating socially with friends
- Feeling lonely, sad, or bored
Hormone fluctuations can also make you feel like eating more food than your body truly needs. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone,” and causes your appetite to increase. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and boosts satiety. Cortisol is another hormone linked with weight gain when present in high amounts in your body.
Situations, where hormone imbalances increase hunger or junk food cravings, include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- A high-sugar diet (especially fructose)
- Leptin resistance caused by obesity
Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic disorder associated with obesity and high ghrelin levels within the body.
Sometimes increases in ghrelin or decreases in leptin can’t be helped, but living a healthy lifestyle drastically improves the chance of keeping appetite hormone levels in check. Balanced hormones make it easier to avoid overeating and maintain a healthy body weight.
Ways to Reduce Hunger
There are several things you can do to keep hunger hormone levels in check to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Many of the following healthy habits that reduce hunger also lower chronic disease risks, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. This should you help in your quest to answer “Why am I always hungry?”
#1 Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that after a period of sleep restriction, study subjects ate more total calories from snacks — especially sweets, other carbohydrates, and junk foods.
To help avoid increases in hunger hormones caused by lack of sleep, aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
- Set a regular sleep schedule
- Avoid staying up late when possible
- Avoid later afternoon or evening naps
- Don’t go to bed hungry or very full
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bed
- Steer clear of caffeine 4 hours before bed
- Sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room
- Get in regular workouts (avoid late-night workouts, however)
- Use a white noise machine to block out loud sounds
The Sleep Health Foundation recommends consuming no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily to improve sleep. A cup of coffee provides 65 to 350 milligrams of caffeine (depending on the brand), and green tea usually contains about 30 to 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
If you’re following all of the above recommendations and still have trouble sleeping at night, check in with your doctor to see if you have sleep apnea or require medications to help you sleep more soundly.
You can’t always avoid a stressful situation whether it’s due to relationship problems, your job, finances, or traumatic life events (such as the loss of a loved one). But because stress can cause hormone fluctuations that boost your appetite, it’s best to de-stress as best you can to avoid unwanted weight gain. Try the following tips and tricks:
- See a therapist or try a support group for stress due to traumatic life events
- Take a vacation from a stressful work environment
- Try yoga or meditation
- Get a massage
- Spend time outdoors
- Go for a walk to clear your head
- Work out regularly
- Eliminate toxic relationships
- Avoid overbooking your schedule with too many activities
- Build relaxation into your daily routine
Remember you can’t always avoid stressful situations, but doing your best to do so benefits your health!
#3 Get Regular Exercise
Exercise can sometimes make you hungry, but that’s because your body is burning extra calories. Believe it or not, regular exercise actually helps increase satiety hormones and reduce resistance to leptin, according to a 2015 issue of Today’s Dietitian.
One study published in 2015 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) enhances insulin sensitivity and helps better regulate appetite in overweight men.
If you’re new to exercising, try Fit Father Project’s free metabolism-boosting workout specifically designed for busy fathers over 40. This exercise plan helps control your appetite and is just 24 minutes in length!
#4 Increase Your Water Intake
Drinking lots of water will help reduce your appetite because water takes up space in your stomach, tricking it into thinking you’re fuller than you are. One 2017 study says that forced water intake helps reduce ghrelin, which is a good way to control your appetite. Researchers also found that drinking lots of water or mineral water reduces cravings for alcoholic drinks.
One strategy that’s worked well for weight loss in research studies is drinking at least 2 cups of water before each meal (within 30 minutes of eating). Doing so increases the chance that you’ll feel fuller during meals and eat fewer calories.
If you’re having difficulty meeting daily water intake recommendations (16 cups per day for men), try the following tips and tricks:
- Drink mineral water instead of regular water
- Add ice to your water
- Flavor water with lemons, strawberries, melons, cucumbers, or other fruits
#5 Eat Non-Starchy Vegetables First
After drinking 2 cups (or more) of water before meals, eat non-starchy vegetables as your first course. That’s because these veggies are rich in water and fiber, two satiety-boosters, but are low in calories. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Green beans
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends filling half of each plate with vegetables (plus fruits mixed in) as an overall healthy eating strategy.
#6 Focus on Fiber
Fiber is known to increase the feeling of fullness, but your body doesn’t fully digest or absorb it. That’s why a fiber-rich diet is often effective for weight loss and healthy weight management. Foods high in fiber include:
- Whole Grains
- Nuts and Seeds
Examples of whole grains to include in weight loss or healthy weight maintenance meal plans include quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, and oatmeal.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends men aim for 38 grams of fiber each day but says most American men fall short of meeting this goal.
If you’re having difficulty getting in enough fiber daily to keep you feeling full, ask your doctor about taking fiber supplements. Getting fiber from foods is best, but fiber supplements facilitate weight loss in numerous studies.
#7 Eat Plenty of Protein
Protein is another key nutrient that boosts satiety hormones and reduces hunger. It also helps you maintain lean body mass, increase metabolism, and decrease body fat, according to a 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Researchers who conducted the study suggest eating at least 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal — or consuming 0.55 to 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily — to control appetite, body weight, and chronic disease risk factors.
To keep appetite hormone levels in check, aim to fill at least one-fourth of each plate with healthy protein foods, such as:
- Grilled chicken breast or turkey
- Shrimp or other seafood
- Low-fat Greek yogurt
- Low-fat milk or protein-fortified almond milk
- Protein powder shakes
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Tofu or seitan
- Dried beans, peas, or other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
With so many nutritious, delicious protein-rich foods to choose from you’re sure to find several that you love!
#8 Don’t Forget about Healthy Fats
While dietary fat is higher in calories than fiber-rich carbs and protein, fat takes longer to digest than the other two essential macronutrients — which keeps you full longer. In fact, low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diets are known for reducing appetite during periods of weight loss, according to a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Obesity.
To maximize health and wellness, opt for heart-healthy fats, such as:
- Nuts and seeds
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Other plant-based oils
- Nut butter
Be sure to add a healthy fat to each meal or snack when possible.
#9 Reduce Added Sugar Intake
If you're always asking the question “why am I always hungry,” look at your sugar intake. Added sugar has addictive properties, which is why it’s so difficult for many Americans to cut back on it. Unfortunately, excessive added sugar intake boosts ghrelin, causing you to feel hungry fairly soon after eating it.
Focus on drinking water before meals and eating lots of protein, healthy fats, and fiber to help offset sugar cravings. Replace sugary drinks with water, coffee, or green tea. Eat fruit to curb sweet cravings as an alternative to sweet treats like cookies, candy, chocolate, ice cream, doughnuts, and cake.
#10 Steer Clear of Diet Drinks
While most diet drinks are very low in calories or are calorie-free, believe it or not, these beverages aren’t recommended as alternatives to sugary drinks for weight loss or healthy weight management.
According to a 2017 review published in PLOS Medicine, researchers say artificially-sweetened drinks mimic sensory properties of sugary drinks, as artificial sweeteners taste sweet without the calories. This may stimulate sweet taste receptors in the body that increase your appetite, cravings for sweets, and consumption of sweet-tasting solid foods.
Researchers say while more research is needed in this area, artificially-sweetened beverages are associated with increases in body mass index (BMI) and chronic disease risk factors in children and adults. The review concludes that diet drinks should not be used as part of a healthy diet, or for weight loss.
The Path to Better Appetite Control
When answering the question, “why am I always hungry,” look at your lifestyle to pick out habits that may increase your appetite. Are you sleep deprived, chronically stressed, eating too much sugar or too few vegetables, or not making time for workouts? Find ways to improve or get rid of unhealthy habits to increase satiety and boost your chance of weight loss success.
As a way to boost satiety by eating healthy foods, download the free 1-day meal plan to start peeling away pounds.
Once you’ve reached your goal weight, our programs help you maintain the transition indefinitely by offering ongoing support, additional resources and workouts, and next-level programs to make sure you stay on a healthy life path long term.
Overcoming hunger isn’t as difficult as you might think when using the right structured weight management program to help you along every step of the way!
Writer, The Fit Father Project
A 15-year freelance writing veteran, Erin is a registered dietitian and health educator who is passionate about health, fitness and disease prevention. Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife and mom of two beautiful children.
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info to help answer why am I always hungry.