Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A few snacks. Still hungry? Why does it always seem like your stomach is growling, not matter what you put into it? Hunger is more than a few rumblings from the belly, and there are solid reasons why you feel like the bottomless pit when it comes to food.
Satiety—the point where you are satisfied after eating—is your appetite control system. That you eat enough food is driven by a biological need to ensure your body has enough energy to keep running. Food deprivation or eating foods that are less “sating” can cause the constant, gnawing hunger that leads to binging every food in sight (and most often simple carbs like pizza, cookies, and chips). Here are a few reasons why you may not be feeling satiety after meals, and what you can do about it.
Lack of protein
Most everyone knows that proteins are the building blocks of our bodies. If you don’t supply your body with enough protein, it lets you know via hunger pangs. Consuming more protein, such as chicken, fish, eggs, and a vegetarian combination of rice and beans or tofu, can help you feel fuller throughout the day, as well as calm the constant thoughts about food. The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein in 0.8 g/kg. This amount is for the bare minimum of protein you need each day, with many healthcare practitioners suggesting that the number be higher at 1.0 g/kg.
Not enough sleep
A lack of zzzs can lead to increased hunger. Sleep is important for appetite control because it regulates ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone. Not enough sleeps pushes ghrelin levels higher, which may be why you feel hungrier after a less-than-stellar night of sleep. When you do get enough shuteye, your body’s levels of leptin—the hormone that helps you feel full—increase. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night to quell hunger.
Too many refined carbs
Pizza, cake, and cookies taste delicious, but they often lack filling fiber and are digested quickly by your body. Eating a lot of refined carbs doesn’t promote the satiety you need to stay fulfilled. Also, refined carbs can cause blood sugar to spike, leading to increased levels of insulin—the hormone in charge of transporting sugar to your cells. Too much insulin at once in response to high blood sugar can lead to sudden drops in blood sugar levels (known as hypoglycemia). Instead of refined carbs, try whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread, as well as vegetables, fruits, and legumes to provide carbohydrates rich with fiber to keep hunger under control.
Not enough fat
Fat is our friend when it comes to feeling full. This is because it slows how quickly food moves through your gastrointestinal system, including the stomach, so you feel fuller, longer. Eating fat may also help release more fullness-promoting leptin. This is why many low-fat diets leave you feeling hungry all the time for carbs and sugary foods. Following a low-carb way of eating that encourages higher intake of fats such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce appetite and keep you feeling satisfied.
You need more fiber
As noted above, fiber can help you feel fuller for a longer period of time by slowing the time it takes for food to move through you. This, along with the way high fiber helps the body release appetite reducing hormones and increase production of short-chain fatty acids, can help promote feelings of fullness. There is more than one kind of fiber—soluble fiber (that can dissolve in water) has been found to be more filling than insoluble fiber. You can find soluble fiber in foods such as sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and oatmeal. A bonus is that high fiber also helps reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, blood glucose disorders, and obesity.
Frequent hunger can be caused by a lack of protein, fat, and fiber—each promotes a feeling of fullness and reduces appetite. Perhaps you need more sleep, or there may be another cause of your hunger such as from a medication or illness. All causes should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner to enable to you make the right choices for your unique needs.