Constant hunger can be a real pain—and we're not just talking about hunger pains. Always eating can destroy your diet goals, increase your grocery bills, and be plain inconvenient. If you can figure out what is fueling your hunger, however, you can fight it and feel full. Here, according to nutritionists and research, are 14 reasons you might be hungry right now.
1. Your diet is lacking protein or fat.
Carb-heavy diets may give you energy, but they will often also leave you hungry. Why? We digest carbohydrates quickly, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., and author of The Small Change Diet. But our bodies process proteins and healthy fats—such as nuts or avocados—much more slowly, keeping us full for longer. "For example, a simple bowl of cereal in the morning can leave you hungry," Gans says. "But if you drank all the milk in the bowl, added nuts to the cereal, and had one hardboiled egg on the side, you will be satisfied for longer."
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2. You're eating too much sugar.
A diet that's heavy in refined sugars, such as juice, candy, pastries, and flavored yogurts, and even natural sources of sugar—think: from a bowl of berries—can cause you to have serious hunger pains. Like carbohydrates, "these foods digest fast, which causes your blood sugar to spike and then drop quickly," says Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. And, "this drop in blood sugar, typically an hour or two later, causes you to feel hungry again." Luckily, this is a seemingly easy fix. Lay off the sweets as snacks, and as above, add in protein and healthy fats to meals whenever possible.
3. You drink too much alcohol.
Whether you had a wild weekend or you hit the sauce just a little every night, your alcohol habits could be fueling your hunger. Recent research shows that the brain cells that signal hunger pains are activated by alcohol. (In fact, excess alcohol can actually trick your brain into thinking you're starving—even if you just ate.) So if you want to feel full, stick to water.
4. You're eating too many processed foods.
Pre-packaged and processed foods many be convenient, but they're often lacking in much nutritional value and density, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., and author of Skinny Liver. "When we eat foods that are stripped of fiber and nutrients—like white bread, pasta, or cracker—our blood sugar and insulin respond with a high, followed by a crash," explains Kirkpatrick. "The crash may leave you lower than where you started from, which can be the cause of extreme hunger." Swap premade snacks and meals for whole, fresh foods, and you should start to feel more satiated, stat, Kirkpatrick says.
5. You eat low-fat foods.
Your attempts to eat healthier by switching to low-fat foods could actually be fueling your hunger—and, ironically, causing you to eat more often. One study showed that people who eat low-fat foods are often even more hungry than those who eat a high-carbohydrate diet. Rather than switching to an all low-fat diet, consider working in some healthy fats, such as nuts, which will keep you full for longer and help you fight cravings.
6. You're eating too infrequently.
This may seem obvious: after all, the more you eat, the less hungry you should be. But Gans says people often think they're eating with enough frequency when they're simply not. You should have a nosh every three to five hours, she says. To help you eat on time, "keep some healthy snacks on hand to refuel between meals," suggests Rumsey, and make sure they're a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat to keep your blood sugar from spiking.
7. You're not catching enough Zs.
Sleep and hunger are intimately related. (Who would have thought?) "Studies show that a lack of sleep not only leads to hunger by altering hunger hormones, but it also makes you crave sugary high fat foods, such as doughnuts instead of broccoli," says Kirkpatrick. Try to head to bed earlier, or set your alarm an hour later. The more Z's you get, research shows, the better your body will process the food you do eat—and you'll make better choices, too.
8. You sit around all day.
There's a chance you can blame your desk job for constant hunger. Research has found that people who sit for long periods of time—whether at a desk, or to binge-watch Netflix—are more likely to work up an appetite than those who are more active for the same period of time. So to stave off hunger pangs, leave your desk—or take a TV break—every 30 minutes.
9. You're dehydrated.
You may never have realized it, but, "being even slightly dehydrated can cause you to feel hungry when all you really need is fluid," says Rumsey, who recommends you begin every day with 16 ounces of water when you wake up. "This starts you off on the right foot," she says. Then, "keep a water bottle with you at all times to prompt you to drink." One way to know if you're drinking enough H2O is to check the color of your urine. It should be light yellow—like the color of a lemonade, to make a food analogy. If it's darker, drink more.
10. You're stressed.
Like a lack of sleep, an increase in stress messes with your body and affects your hunger levels. Why? While in the short-term, stress may actually suppress hunger, left unchecked for too long, increased stress also increases the cortisol in your body, Kirkpatrick says. And unlike epinephrine—the hormone that keeps you from eating—high levels of cortisol will only increase your appetite. We know it's not always easy to reduce stress, but if you can find a way to keep calm, you may also be able to move on without hunger pains and pangs.
11. You have a fast metabolism.
If your metabolism works overtime, you're probably the envy of all your friends—but as research shows, you're probably almost always hungry, too. That's because the faster your metabolism is, the more you need to eat to feel full. It may not seem like a super common problem, but about 32 percent of people have high metabolisms. There aren't many healthy ways to slow your metabolism, unfortunately. But, hey, at least you can rest easy knowing your body is burning off those extra calories you're eating.
12. You've got hyperthyroidism.
You likely won't know this one until you visit your doctor. But if you are always hungry and your doctor draws blood only to find you've got hyperthyroidism, that could be to blame. According to Kirkpatrick, hyperthyroidism speeds up metabolism. The quicker you burn, of course, the faster you'll feel hungry again. If you suffer from hyperthyroidism, you'll want to ask your doctor for the best way to treat it—and how you can satiate your hunger, too.
13. You're eating while distracted.
Maybe you have a bad habit of eating in front of the TV. Or you gabbed to your girlfriends the last time you sat down with a bowl of guacamole. Whatever the distraction might be, eating while you're distracted can lead to hunger later on, research shows. That's because when our brains are busy watching TV or talking, they aren't recording the fact that we've eaten—which means we'll forget, and feel like we need to eat sooner rather than later. If you can, try to focus on your food when you eat, and you should be able to reduce hunger.
14. You're giving in to food porn.
Get your mind out of the gutter—we're talking about Instagram, or even advertising here. Research shows that viewing delicious meals on our smartphones or TV screens can make us feel hungry and want to eat. No one's suggesting you unfollow your favorite food sites or turn off the TV every time a food commercial comes on. But perhaps if you're aware that it's images—and not real need—causing these hunger pains, you can push past the feeling.