As virtually anyone who has undertaken a weight loss program knows, hunger can be an unwanted companion as you strive to drop unwanted pounds. Those hunger pangs can persist after you’ve adjusted to your new weight loss regimen, and even if you’re doing everything in your power to soothe them in a healthy way (like drinking all the water). You might feel like you're always hungry (even after eating!). What gives?
If you always feel hungry — you may feel better knowing that you’re far from alone, and that there are specific reasons you — and many others like you — always feel like your stomach is growling. We’ve rounded up some of the top proven ways you can lessen those hunger pangs and feel satisfied at the same time. Read on for our 10 best tips!
How satiety works
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Before we get into the reasons why you may be feeling hungry all the time, let’s look at how your body (and brain) work together to promote feelings of satiety, or the comfortable fullness that should occur after you eat.
The stomach has tiny receptors that detect when your stomach starts to expand after you’ve eaten food. These receptors then send signals to the brain that your stomach is becoming full, which in turn trigger feelings of satiety and reduced appetite.
It’s important to point out, however, that the effect lasts for a relatively short time, as soon as the receptors quit sending signals to the brain, feelings of satiety begin to diminish. In other words, your sense of fullness can disappear shortly after a meal is eaten and hunger can reappear, researchers say.1
Several hormones are also involved in satiety, two primary ones being leptin and ghrelin. Secreted by fat cells in your body, leptin acts to suppress eating, while ghrelin — the “hunger hormone” — is secreted by the stomach to boost appetite at mealtimes.2 If levels of either of these hormones are off, you may find yourself always feeling hungry.
Why am I always hungry?
Whether it’s your lifestyle, your diet or even your DNA, there are some very good reasons why you may be feeling hungry all the time — but the good news is that there are ways to help address them. Here are 10 reasons why you may be feeling hungry all the time — and tips to help you feel satisfied.
1. Having too much stress
Even though short-term stress (like being stuck in traffic or having an argument with a family member) can dull your appetite temporarily by causing a release of adrenaline, Harvard Health3 reports that long-term, chronic stress (like a high-stress job) can cause an increase in a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is known to increase appetite, and also may increase your motivation to eat.
What may help: To help keep stress in check, commit to regular stress-management activities. Practicing yoga or meditation, getting regular exercise and practicing a hobby you enjoy can help you stay grounded.
2. Not getting enough sleep
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According to the National Sleep Foundation,4 sleep deprivation increases ghrelin and decreases leptin, which can trigger hunger. In addition, getting too little sleep raises the level of a compound in your body called endocannabinoid, which increases your appetite for specific types of foods such as candy, chips and cookies. In fact, the Sleep Foundation reports, when people don’t get enough sleep, they may consume more than 300 extra calories the next day compared with people who sleep for eight hours.
What may help: In addition to getting more sleep, practice some healthy sleep-inducing tips, such as making a nighttime routine, creating a sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and not working out too close to bedtime. Also avoid using electronic devices too close to bedtime, as the blue light emitted from phones, computer screens and the like can disrupt sleep.5
3. Eating too quickly — or too much
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals from your stomach that it’s full,6 so try to take your time when eating to give this process ample time to work. At the same time, it’s important to be mindful of the amount of food you eat: According to experts,7 the bigger the meal you eat, the more your stomach expands and the quicker your body responds to break down the food. On the other hand, smaller meals don’t expand the stomach as much, and depending on what you eat, may keep you feeling fuller, longer.
What may help: You’ve probably heard the expression “stop and smell the roses.” Well, the same goes for food! One study found that people who took 30 minutes to eat a meal felt significantly more full and less hungry than those who rushed and ate their food in five minutes.8 Putting your fork down between bites may also help you slow down.
4. Not eating often enough
Low blood sugar, which can occur if you’re not eating frequently enough, can trigger hunger.9 So, how often should you eat. Eat at regular intervals during the day to help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
What may help: Plan on eating a healthy meal or snack every few hours, or about six times per day (three meals and three snacks).
5. Getting too little protein in your diet
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Not only is protein an essential nutrient that helps your body function properly, but studies have shown that it is more satiating than other macronutrients10 and that it may help suppress ghrelin.11 What’s more, research12 suggests that it can increase dopamine levels in your body, which activates the reward centers of your brain and may cause you to eat less.
What may help: Try to include some protein at every meal and snack. According to the experts at Harvard Health, good protein sources include beans, eggs, fish, legumes, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, nuts, poultry and tofu.13 (A small amount of mixed nuts may be a particularly good choice, as research has shown that they may help reduce ghrelin while increasing satiety and helping maintain stable blood glucose and insulin levels.14)
6. Eating too little fiber
According to the Mayo Clinic, foods that are high in fiber not only add bulk, but they take longer to digest, which can help you feel full longer.15 An added benefit: Some types of soluble fiber (the type found in such foods as barley, beans, lentils, oatmeal, nuts, peas and seeds) may help reduce the risk of heart disease.16 Insoluble fiber is also important to consume — it can be found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains.16 Recent animal research suggests that fiber also may act on your brain to suppress appetite.17
What may help: The National Institutes of Health18 recommends getting at least 21-38 grams of fiber each day (the average American only gets 16 grams a day!). Be sure to drink plenty of water — at least eight glasses a day — to help the fiber you eat pass through your digestive system. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important for your health, so be sure to consume each type daily.
7. Drinking alcohol
Alcohol not only seems to stimulate appetite, but it can reduce your inhibitions and resolve, causing you to eat more. Alcohol typically contains a high concentration of empty calories, which can derail your weight loss efforts.19
What may help: Instead of an alcoholic drink, opt for plain water, a calorie-free drink or sparkling water with fresh fruit.
8. Getting too much sugar in your diet
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Added sugar in all forms can hinder your weight loss efforts, but research suggests that one form — high fructose corn syrup — can be particularly detrimental.20 Researchers have found that this type of sugar can increase appetite by raising ghrelin levels while reducing the functioning of your brain’s satiety centers.
What may help: High fructose corn syrup, as well as other types of added sugars, lurks in all sorts of foods, from salad dressings and drinks to crackers and desserts. So get in the habit of reading labels and opt for whole foods (fresh or frozen!) whenever possible. And don’t worry about the natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other healthy foods — they’re usually not the problem.21
9. Cutting too much fat from your diet
Despite the bad rap it’s gotten in the past, fat is actually a necessary part of a healthy diet, as it has a number of benefits: it provides energy, helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals and is necessary for muscle movement.22 It also may slow digestion, helping you to feel full after eating.7
What may help: The Cleveland Clinic recommends getting 20% to 35% of your calories from fat every day.23 For example, you could consume approximately 44-77 grams of fat while following a 2,000-calorie diet. There are four types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fat. Monounsaturated fat (found in olive and peanut oils; nuts and nut butters; olives; and avocado) and polyunsaturated fat (found in walnuts, corn and soybean oil, and fish) are the healthier kinds. Saturated fat (found in animal products such as meat and cheese) should be limited. Trans fat (found in margarine, shortening and powdered coffee creamer) should be avoided as much as possible.
10. Your DNA
You may be genetically predisposed to increased feelings of hunger if your appetite-regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin, do not work as efficiently as they should. Since they are not as effective at signaling feelings of fullness as they should be, you may be less likely to feel satisfied following a meal.24
What may help: While there’s not much you can do to alter your genetic makeup, there are ways to help offset less-than-optimal levels of your hunger hormones.
Follow the tips above, plus these:
- Follow a healthy meal plan. This includes spacing your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady and to avoid food cravings. Jenny Craig’s science-backed meal plans help you stay on track while still enjoying some of your favorite foods (hello, macaroni and cheese!).
- Eat more high-volume, low-calorie foods. Fill up on food that is high in nutrition but low in calories, such as plenty of non-starchy vegetables and a moderate amount of fruit. Filling half your plate with veggies will help you feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
- Avoid sugary beverages. They’re high in calories and less satiating than solid foods.
- Practice mindful eating. Try to turn off the TV or computer, put down your phone and tune into your food instead. Research shows that people who are distracted during a meal or don’t pay attention to what they are eating tend to consume more than if they are eating mindfully. On the other hand, eating mindfully is associated with eating less later on.25 Plus, paying attention to your meals may increase your enjoyment of them.
The next time you wonder, “Why am I always hungry?” we hope you can use a few of these tips to help you feel satisfied!
Ready to start eating healthy with meals delivered straight to your doorstep? Jenny Craig can help! Get started today.
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
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