Feeling constantly hungry can have various causes, and it’s important to consider multiple factors that could contribute to your increased appetite. Here are some possible reasons why you may be feeling hungry all the time:
Inadequate calorie intake:
Consistently consuming fewer calories than your body needs can increase hunger as your body signals for more fuel. This includes constant dieting or fasting and not refuelling adequately. The increased hunger is caused by dysregulation of the satiety and hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin.
LEPTIN is released by the adipose tissue (body fat) and is a long-term regulator of energy balance. It stimulates metabolic rate and regulates hunger by providing the sensation of satiety (feeling full). Leptin begins to decline gradually after 12 hours of fasting, reaching the lowest point by 36 hours. That’s why the second day of fasting is the hardest. Leptin can drop as much as 50-60% in 3-4 days in response to severe caloric restriction.
GHRELIN, the so-called ‘hunger hormone’, is secreted by the stomach, acts as an appetite-stimulating signal, and increases food intake and body weight. Ghrelin levels increase by 25-40% during 3-6 months of caloric restriction. Lack of sleep also raises ghrelin levels, increasing hunger and weight gain.
When your leptin is chronically low and ghrelin high, you are hungry, your metabolic rate slows, and you are likely to overeat and gain fat. That’s why drastic diets don’t work long-term.
Lack of nutrient-dense foods:
Consuming meals that are low in essential nutrients, such as fibre, protein, and healthy fats, can leave you feeling unsatisfied and craving more food. This can lead to the so-called hidden hunger: the presence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies (especially iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A), which can occur without a deficit in energy intake due to consuming an energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods such as ultra-processed foods. It is estimated that it affects more than two billion people worldwide due to reliance on low-cost food staples, poor dietary diversity, and high consumption of ultra-processed foods. When eating this way, you consume too many calories but not enough nutrients, leaving you overweight, undernourished, and unhealthy. If you are unsure how to recognise ultra-processed foods, read the Chief Nutrition blog on the topic.
Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Ensure you are adequately hydrated throughout the day, as dehydration can trigger feelings of hunger. The best practice is to keep sipping water throughout the day. Consuming too much water in one go and then not drinking for hours can also leave you dehydrated and hungry. The amount of water you need daily depends on your gender, size, activity level and climate, to name a few crucial factors. We generally recommend drinking at least 2 litres of filtered water throughout the day and avoiding having large amounts of liquids before or with meals to prevent digestive issues, reduced nutrient absorption, gastric issues, discomfort, and bloating.
A diet that lacks balance and includes excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, leading to increased hunger.
When you consume foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, such as white bread, pasta, pastries, sugary drinks, and sweets, they are quickly broken down into glucose and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to a surge of energy. However, the body responds by releasing insulin to reduce blood sugar levels. The rapid rise and subsequent fall in blood sugar levels can result in a “crash” or a sudden drop in energy levels. This crash triggers hunger and cravings for more sugary or high-carbohydrate foods as the body seeks to replenish its energy source. This cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes can create a continuous loop of increased hunger and overeating, contributing to weight gain and difficulty maintaining a healthy diet.
Moreover, excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods can also lead to insulin resistance over time. Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin, resulting in higher insulin levels in the blood. This can further disrupt blood sugar regulation and increase hunger and weight gain.
Lack of sleep:
Sleep deprivation can also disrupt leptin and ghrelin, which may increase hunger and lead to a situation where you feel hungrier and have a stronger desire to eat, especially foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates.
Lack of sleep also impacts your decision-making, impulse control and willpower, increases reward-seeking behaviour and often leads to mindless snacking or overeating as a means to boost energy levels. The fact is, you don’t need more calories after a sleepless night. You just feel like you do.
Stress and emotions:
Emotional factors, such as stress, anxiety, or boredom, can trigger the desire to eat, even when your body doesn’t require additional nutrients. Eating can also trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. As a result, you may seek out food to experience a momentary mood boost or as a form of self-reward.
Certain medications or medical conditions:
Some medications, such as corticosteroids, and certain medical conditions, like diabetes or hyperthyroidism, can increase hunger as a side effect.
- How do you stop the cycle of being too hungry, followed by overeating?
- Eat when you are hungry, don’t wait until you are starving.
- Steer clear from crash diets.
Eat foods that are high in fibre or protein. They are more filling and satiating. It could be meat and vegetables, Chief Beef Bar, or Collagen Bar.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods.
- Practice mindful eating. Sit with your meal, chew slowly and don’t do anything else.
- Drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day. Don’t get to the point of being super thirsty.
- Work on your mental fitness, i.e. stress and anxiety management, meditation.
- Have strategies in place in case unpleasant emotions arise, i.e. go for a walk, do a few stretches, have a cup of coffee or tea, call a friend, meditate.
- Practice your sleep hygiene to rest well at night and try to sleep 7-8 hours.
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