It’s only been an hour since you ate lunch, but your stomach is growling again, and you’re left wondering, Why am I always hungry? Days can go by without your appetite ever being satiated, leaving you and your waistline wondering what’s going on. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. No, your stomach isn’t a bottomless pit—there might be a scientific reason for your insatiable appetite. According to research, hunger is linked to a myriad of seemingly innocuous habits, from the type of food you snack on to the time you go to bed.
Can’t stop snacking? Here’s why you’re always hungry, and more importantly, how to fix it for good.
YOU’RE EATING REFINED CARBS
A slice of pizza here, a bowl of white pasta there. These indulgences are made of refined carbs, meaning they are heavily processed and nutrient deficient. Your body quickly burns up these foods, causing blood sugar to spike and quickly crash, leaving you with low glucose levels. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms this, finding that a high-glycemic meal (one that is quickly digested, absorbed, and metabolized) decreases glucose, increases hunger, and stimulates parts of the brain associated with reward and craving in comparison to a low-glycemic meal. So when you eat refined carbs, you crave even more carbs due to the quick changes in glucose levels that they create. This explains why you quickly feel hungry after eating a bagel for breakfast. What’s more is that it can turn into an endless cycle without more complex, nutrient-dense carbs in your diet.
The Solution: Eat fewer processed foods, and opt for whole grains and healthy carbs found in legumes, fruits, and dairy products.
YOU’RE NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
It’s no secret that sleeping is paramount to a healthy and productive day, but besides making you groggy and coffee-addicted, it can affect your appetite. According to a study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and overeating, with those lacking sleep eating an extra 385 calories on average the next day. What’s worse is that most of those calories were from fat, as sleep-deprived participants also tend to avoid protein and nutritious foods the next day. Researchers suspect that the greasy, high-calorie food serves as a reward for those lacking sleep—a common side effect of sleep deprivation.
The Solution: While recalibrating your sleep schedule is no easy feat, there are countless apps available on your smartphone that will provide guided meditations and track your movements while you sleep.
Next time you feel hungry, ask yourself how much water you’ve had that day. A study in Physiology & Behavior found that participants “inappropriately” responded to feelings of hunger and thirst 62% of the time. That means that we often confuse thirst with hunger, turning to food instead of water, which our body needs. It’s not surprising, considering sensations for hunger and thirst come from the same part of the brain. In severe cases, hunger can even be a symptom of dehydration.
The Solution: It can be tough to drink the right amount of water, especially if you’re one to turn to coffee and other beverages throughout the day. Try filling up a large reusable water bottle at the start of your day with the goal of finishing it by the time you leave work. Depending on the size, you may aim to refill it once or twice to be sure you’re drinking enough water.
YOU’RE STRESSED OUT
According to Harvard Health, overeating can be linked to stress. While stress can shut down your appetite in the short term, it can have quite the opposite effect when stress becomes a constant issue. Over time, stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol, increasing appetite and even the motivation to eat. The same article explains that these stressful emotions can make you desire foods that are high in fat and sugar. So stress-eating junk food is not an unjustified reaction—it’s a real scientific response to an emotion.
The Solution: There’s no quick fix for de-stressing your life, but meditation and exercise are great ways to start.
YOU’RE EATING LOW-FAT FOODS
You might be surprised to find that picking food based on low-fat labels could be making you eat more than intended. A study published in Nutrition & Diabetes found that the amount of sugar is higher in low-fat and non-fat versions of food compared to their regular (full-fat) counterparts. This is because low-fat packaged foods are often filled with sugar to compensate for a lack of flavor. Not only are these low-fat foods not filling and leave you wanting more, but the excess sugar can also lead to weight gain.
The Solution: Eat healthy full-fat foods to curb cravings and keep you fuller longer. Hello, avocado.
Which of these hunger-inducing habits surprised you the most? Tell us in the comments.