By Barbara Pierce
“Rumbling stomach growls are a sure sign that you’re hungry. It’s your body’s way of telling you so,” said registered dietitian Crystal Hein, owner and operator of Crystal Clear Nutrition in Herkimer. “Hunger is a physiological need for food.”
Feelings of hunger are how our body tells us we need food.
Or do they?
What if we feel hungry all the time, even after a meal?
Are we really hungry or could there be another reason we’re feeling hungry?
Hein offers these reasons you could feel hungry all the time:
• You may actually be hungry—you may not be eating enough calories, she said. Or it could be your food choices; what you’re eating can leave you feeling hungry.
• You may not be eating enough protein. Protein takes longer to digest and therefore will promote feelings of fullness, she suggested. It works by increasing the production of the hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger.
To add more protein to your diet, include lean meats, low fat dairy products like cheeses and Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts and seeds at your meals and snacks, she recommended. Including a source of protein in every meal can help prevent excessive hunger.
• You may not be drinking enough water. Mild dehydration may be the cause of your hunger feelings, she said. Feelings of thirst can be mistaken for feelings of hunger. Your hypothalamus is the region of the brain that regulates hunger and thirst. If you haven’t had much water to drink, try drinking a glass of water, wait 10 to 15 minutes and see if you’re still hungry. Due to water’s role in keeping you full, you may find that you feel hungry frequently if you’re not drinking enough of it.
Also, as water is filling, it can reduce your appetite when you drink it before eating.
• You may be eating too many refined carbohydrates and not enough fiber. One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, found in bread and pasta. Foods like soda, candy and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbs. These are easily digested and lead to a quick rise in blood sugar levels. Spiking blood sugar levels will be followed by a plunging blood sugar, which can leave you craving more sugary carbohydrates.
Since refined carbs lack fiber, your body digests them quickly, so they don’t leave you feeling full. Fiber requires more chewing and slows digestion so you feel full, said Hein. For more fiber, add fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, oatmeal, popcorn, nuts and seeds and whole grains to your diet.
• You may not be eating enough fat. As with protein, not enough fat can increase feelings of hunger. Unsaturated fats can keep you feeling full. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, chia seeds and flaxseed are a good way to get these good fats.
• You may have a high stress level: Stress can increase hormones adrenaline and cortisol and decrease serotonin levels—that can lead to increased appetite and make you feel hungry, suggested Hein. People with higher stress levels are more likely to overeat and to eat significantly sweeter foods.
• You may not be getting enough sleep: Poor sleep results in an increased ghrelin level, said Hein. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates your appetite. And poor sleep lowers your leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone that makes you feel full. Therefore, not getting enough sleep and subsequent elevated ghrelin levels can cause you to feel hungry.
To keep your hunger levels managed, it’s recommended you get at least eight hours of sleep each night.
• You may be eating too fast: Eating too fast doesn’t give your brain enough time to get the message that your stomach is full. The slower you eat, the fuller you will feel and less hungry you will be, she added. This is partly due to the lack of chewing and reduced awareness that occur when you eat too fast, both of which are necessary to lessen feelings of hunger.
If you eat while you’re distracted, this reduces your awareness of how much you’re eating and prevents you from recognizing your body’s fullness signals efficiently.
• You aren’t getting enough solid food: If you consume a lot of liquid foods, such as smoothies, meal replacement shakes and soups, you may be hungrier more often than you would be if you ate more solid foods, as liquids pass through your stomach more quickly than solid foods.
Or, your hunger may indicate a medical condition; see your health care provider to rule this out. Also, excessive hunger can be a side effect of some medications. Drinking too much alcohol may cause you to feel hungry frequently as alcohol decreases the hormones that give you that full feeling.