Is this you? You've eaten your meal and an hour later you feel this hunger that drives you back for more. Do you feel like you never feel full? Do you struggle with always having the urge to snack? Do you wonder why you keep having this urge to snack, despite having already eaten and knowing you shouldn't be hungry?
In theory, eating should be quite simple. You get hungry, you eat, you move on with your day without the need to think about food until the next meal. Unfortunately, the dieting society that we live in has taught us not to listen to our own bodies. Instead we need to control our food intake and ignore hunger. That we need to look to external sources (like the clock, apps, portion sizes, labels, calories, food groups, meal plans, points systems) to tell us when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.
These external sources can teach us to go to our head to make decisions around food, as opposed to connecting with our body and listening to what it really needs. And whilst of course we do need to use our mind to make decisions, there is a difference between a a diet driven mindset, and a self-care mindset. Listening to the diet mindset can create body distrust, and disconnected eating. We are made to feel guilty, for simply nourishing our bodies. We are often not taught how to have a self care mindset which involves listening to what our bodies need and responding accordingly.
So to help you on this journey, here are some reasons why you might be feeling constant hunger and how to work through this.
1. Are you eating enough?
Simple question, yet so many people I see actually aren't eating enough, plain and simple. Given our culture's dieting mindset, many are driven to reduce calorie intake, with the intention of weight loss and in doing so, you can end up never feeling satisfied (which generally will end up in a binge and resigning yourself to starting your calorie reduced diet next week...but that's a whole another blog). Under cutting your calorie intake also can trigger a stress response which will release your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline which signal the body to store fat, reduce calorie burning and nutrient assimilation until such time as it is getting "fed" again. Combine that with decreased energy levels and you will feel lousy overall and hungry.
It is also important to note that there are two key hormones that help regulate hunger – ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, which increases in response to food deprivation, ie calorie restriction. The more you try to ignore or over rule your hunger, the more ghrelin gets produced which is cleverly designed to make you eat. It normally switches off when you eat enough food. It’s not a matter of willpower when you cave in, and fall off the diet. Your body is clever and is trying to make you eat and ultimately survive.
Unfortunately, people who have lost weight through dieting, often have a higher level of ghrelin circulating around their blood, which can be elevated for up to a year after dieting. It’s no wonder weight loss maintenance is near impossible, when the body is naturally working so hard to bring your weight back up.
The only way to reduce your ghrelin production, is to eat enough. This signals to another hormone - leptin that you are full and can stop eating.
So instead of focusing on cutting calories, focus on increasing the quality of your food, focus on increasing your veggie intake, lean proteins, healthy fats and starches. Add in nourishing food, rather than restricting. This will mean you are getting the calories your body needs to function well and ultimately you will eat less as you won't be constantly hungry.
2. Are you trying to fill up on low calorie/high bulk foods - eg: rice crackers, cucumber, popcorn or celery?
Foods with a lot of bulk will make you feel full. However, if they are low in calories, they may not be filling for very long. It’s the reason why, for example, you could eat a meal consisting of a big vegetable salad, and feel full, but end up hungry again shortly after or feel as if something is missing.
The same goes for rice cakes, low calorie products, sugar free drinks, low carb or artificially sweetened foods: These foods tend to replace carbohydrates with sugar alcohols and indigestible fibres. These replacements can make you feel temporarily full but hungry long term.
So what to do? Make sure you include a good balance of veggies with lean proteins, healthy fats and starch. When you get this balance right, you won't have the same levels of hunger that you would without them.
3. Do you enjoy your food?
This is a simple question but can be difficult for some to answer. The reality is, if you are eating food you get no pleasure from, if you get no satisfaction from your meals, then you are more likely to be left feeling hungry. An important part of the metabolic process is pleasurable eating. If this isn't present, you are far more likely to feel hungry.
So focus on finding enjoyment in your food, eating a balance of proteins, fats, starches and veggies that you enjoy. Focus on food satisfaction .
4. Are you actually hungry or emotionally hungry?
Sometimes we feel hunger which we think is a physical hunger but in reality is an emotional response to something else going on in our lives. It is worth understanding the differences between physical and emotional hunger so you can identify which type of hunger you are dealing with. These are as follows:
Physical hunger is felt in the stomach, emotional hunger is in the head
Physical hunger creeps on gradually, emotional hunger is an instant hunger
Physical hunger means you will eat any kinds of foods, emotional hunger generally results in craving a specific kind of food, think processed carbs and sugar.
Physical hunger results in fullness, emotional hunger is hard to satisfy and hard to stop eating (anyone eaten a tub of ice-cream without stopping?).
Once you can identify if it is an emotional hunger, it is then important to work through why you feel the need to fill yourself up with food. What emotion are you trying to avoid? Are there ways you can fill yourself up that don't involve food?
5. Are you eating too fast?
If you are a speed eater, this will not give your head brain time to talk to your gut brain to register fullness. Instead at the end of a meal your body will still scream hungry. Think about it, have you ever sped through a meal, finished it and thought you could eat the whole thing again? Slow eating is a very important part of the digestive process. Without it, you won't be able to read your hunger and fullness cues effectively.
6. Be aware of medications
There are certain medications such as anti depressants that can have side effects that may increase appetite. If you think that this may be the case for you, please speak with your health professional on this.
So where to from here?
As outlined above, there are many reasons why you may be hungry. This could be due to not eating enough nourishing food, missing out important food groups like proteins and healthy fats, cutting calories for fear of weight gain, not eating slowly enough, not giving your body what it really needs. Feeding your body good food regularly is important. When you can learn to listen to your body, respect it, connect to it, you will come to learn what your body needs. Approaching your health and wellness journey with kindness, and compassion, and building a positive relationship with food is part of this process.
If you would like to learn more about this, please reach out to me by booking a free 15 minute consult. I would love to talk to you.