And if it happens to you on the reg, the feeling is enough to make anyone ask themselves “why am I always hungry” while frantically Googling the symptoms of a tapeworm.
There could be a few things behind your perpetual hunger pangs that have nothing to do with a parasitic infection (whew). From not sleeping enough to simple dissatisfaction with your food, we asked the experts to determine all the reasons you might feel hungry all the time. Check them out below, and see what you might need to change in your daily routine to beat your rumbly stomach once and for all.
1. You’re not hungry—you’re just craving something.
“I think the first thing to do if you’re hungry right after a meal is determine if you’re actually hungry, or just hungry for a cookie,” says Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, and founder of Foodtrainers, a New York City-based nutrition practice. “I have my clients do the ‘chicken test’—aka if you’re not hungry for a piece of protein like chicken or eggs, chances are you’re not really hungry.” Instead, Slayton says you’re likely craving something like carbs or sugar.
If you don’t pass the “chicken test,” and having a treat isn’t something you want to have, Slayton says you can distract yourself from those cravings with something non-food related, like a cup of warm tea, a bubble bath, or a good book. Since it’s not true hunger, she says the feeling will pass.
2. You’re secretly thirsty.
Yes, you’ve heard this over and over again—but for good reason. “A lot of the time, dehydration masks itself as hunger,” says certified nutrition specialist Khushbu Thadani. “Your body can’t tell the difference between hunger and thirst, so if you’re feeling really hungry after a meal, you just might be dehydrated.” Womp womp. Thadani says to be diligent about hydrating (although that doesn’t necessarily mean you need eight glasses of water) and drink up after you eat. If you’re satisfied after that water, you likely weren’t hungry after all.
3. You got a crappy night of sleep.
Tired AF? That’s going to throw your hunger levels out of whack. “Not sleeping enough causes the adrenals to go into overdrive,” says Thadani. “Your body craves additional energy, and this affects your hunger levels.” Plus, some research has shown that when you miss out on sleep, the hormone ghrelin (which controls your appetite) gets released in larger amounts than normal, contributing to that always hungry feeling. Thadani recommends about seven hours at a minimum each night to keep your hormones happy—so make it happen.
4. You’re super stressed.
There’s a reason why stress eating is a thing. When your body is stressed, it releases cortisol (the stress hormone) to cope. “It can have great functions, like revving you up,” says Slayton. But cortisol also spikes your blood sugar (meant to fuel your fight-or-flight response), leading to a crash later on. “This results in what we feel as hunger,” she says.
Slayton says eating more foods with fatty acids can help compensate for this—there is some mixed evidence that the omega-3s in fish oil could help reduce cortisol levels. She also suggests adding some stress-busting adaptogens, like ashwagandha, to your diet. Making other lifestyle changes to reduce stress (meditation, positive thinking, self-care, time with friends) can also help you deal without feeling like you need to mainline snacks.
5. You’re going way too hard at the gym.
It’s ironic, because exercise can be a helpful way to reduce stress (and obvs it’s really good for you). But exercising too much, especially if it’s all HIIT or cardio, can mess with your body. “Although the intensity might vary depending on the person, revving up your exercise too much can raise your cortisol,” says Slayton. The end result: You’re hungry, tired, and all-around miserable. Slayton suggests limiting your cardio (which can be hard on the body) to no more than five hours a week, and says supplementing some of those more intense sessions with yoga and pilates can help.
6. You have an overactive thyroid.
Less obvious: having an overactive thyroid (also called hyperthyroidism), says Dr. Ashita Gupta, MD, and founder of Yantra, an endocrinology practice in New York. “It’s a hormonal disorder characterized by burning calories faster and being very skinny, so people with overactive thyroids need to eat more to keep up with their energy requirements.”
Other symptoms of any overactive thyroid include a rapid or irregular heartbeat, persistent thirst, anxiety, and tremors. If any of this sounds like you, Dr. Gupta says you should get checked out by a doctor; hyperthyroidism can cause serious issues like heart problems and brittle bones if untreated.
7. You’re taking a prescription med that can mess with appetite.
Yes, this is a thing (and it sucks). “Most commonly, antidepressants are associated with constant hunger and weight gain,” says Dr. Gupta, especially SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Lexapro and Zoloft. It’s believed that they can mess with your hunger signals, making you want to eat more. If your increased appetite is interfering with your day-to-day, it’s worth bringing up with your doctor to see if there’s another med you can try instead.
8. You’re not eating the right mix of nutrients.
You might wonder why you’re starving after a huge meal. But what exactly was in that meal? “Too little fiber or fat can prevent someone from being satisfied, and also too little protein is linked to increased hunger levels later in the day—especially at breakfast,” says Slayton. She cites a 2014 study that found people who ate a higher-carb oatmeal breakfast were hungrier earlier in the day than people who ate a high-fat, low-carb egg breakfast.
But this doesn’t mean you have to give up on pasta or other carby foods for good. “You should always pair your carbs with a lean protein or healthy fat,” says Thadani. This will ensure your meal gives you the nutrients (and staying power) to stay fuller for longer.
And hey, if you’re still feeling hungry after lunch and none of this really applies to you…maybe you just need a slightly bigger meal. “Not fueling your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive makes it communicate with us through cravings—for carbs, for something sweet that will raise your blood sugar,” says Thadani. So go ahead and order that extra side of guac. Your stomach will thank you later.
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