While some people may double check to make sure they have their keys when they leave the house, you have to make sure you have a snack. And if you forget? Let’s just hope no one is around to witness how hangry you get. You think you’re eating enough, but no matter what you put in your body, you always seem to develop maddening cravings.
So, what exactly is going on here? It turns out that hunger is a pretty complicated function and is influenced by both biological and psychological factors. (And there are also the devilish foods that make you hungrier, too!) We found some of the most common, scientifically-backed reasons why some of us are constantly ravenous. We also paired each reason why you’re always hungry with a tip that can help you fill up and finally feel satisfied!
1. You Eat A Lot of Refined Carbs
Even if you’re eating something at every meal, if your day looks something like this—a cup of sugary, flaked cereal for breakfast, a slice of pizza or a sandwich on white bread for lunch, chips for a snack, either white rice or pasta for dinner, and then a chocolate chip cookie for dessert—your problem is that you’re constantly fueling yourself with nutritionally-deficient refined carbs. Lacking the satiating fiber of their original form, simple and refined carbs burn up quickly in your body, which spikes your blood sugar and then causes it to crash. Low glucose levels are what triggers your hunger hormones, as detailed in a Disease Models & Mechanisms review, leaving you with a craving for more carbs!
Tip: For slow-burning, clean sources of energy, choose complex carbs such as grains like brown rice, quinoa and triticale, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain sprouted bread.
2. You’re Actually Thirsty
Did seeing that picture of water just make you forget about what you thought was a hungry tummy? A study in the journal Physiology & Behavior suggests people inappropriately respond to thirst over 62 percent of the time by eating instead of drinking. That’s because your hypothalamus regulates hunger and thirst, and sometimes it mixes up its signals. Just sipping on H2O is the solution to quelling your hunger pangs and, ultimately, helping you slim down. In fact, preloading meals with water can shave hundreds of calories from your daily intake. A study published in Obesity found that drinking two cups of water before eating led people to consume 75 to 90 fewer calories over the course of a meal.
Tip: Next time you’re hankering for a snack, knock back a cup of water first and wait 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat something. And if you’re sick of plain ol’ H2O, whip up some of these best detox waters to rev your metabolism and boost your fat burning potential!
3. You Eat While Distracted
Everyone knows that you eat with your eyes, but it turns out, your ears also play a role. A new study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, tested how our perception of the sound of eating food affects our eating habits. They had two groups of participants eat crunchy foods, one with white-noise-producing headphones and the other without. These headphones were intended to mimic everyday behaviors of distracted eating, such as watching TV or listening to music while you eat. It turned out, participants who were less aware of the sound of the food, because of the levels of white noise, ate more than those that could hear the food they were eating.
Tip: Step away from the TV (or computer, for all you cord-cutters out there) and lower the music during dinner. And if you’re out to dinner at a busy restaurant, maybe think about ordering something crunchy! As long as you can hear the food you are eating, it’ll make you aware of the fact that you’re actually eating food. When you’re unaware, you basically forget that you’re eating, which can lead to an increase in food consumption.
4. You’re Always Stressed Out
While stress may shut down appetite in the short term—it pumps out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response and puts eating on hold—if stress persists, it’s a different story, explains a Harvard Mental Health Letter. Your adrenal glands then release a different hormone called cortisol, which will not only trigger your hunger hormones, but it will also pull lipids from the bloodstream to store them in our fat cells.
Tip: You might not be able to control exactly what’s happening in your life that’s making you stressed, but you can control what you’re putting in your body. Make it these teas that combat stress!
5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
If you feel like you’re always delving into your office snack stash, you might be able to blame your lack of sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, levels of leptin (the “I’m full” hormone) drop, according to a PLoS Medicine study, which in turn increases appetite and makes comfort food more appealing. Besides stimulating your appetite a lack of sufficient sleep can cause you to burn fewer calories, lack appetite control and experience an increase in cortisol levels, which stores fat.
Tip: Having trouble falling asleep? Get the recommended 7-8 hours of shut-eye by following this one-day plan for better sleep.
6. You Eat According to Calories, Not Nutrients
It’s not calories that satiate your hunger, it’s nutrients: fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Unfortunately, simple, refined carbs are lacking in all three and so are many 100-calorie snacks; They’ll just fill your body with fast, cheap calories. So no matter how much you eat, your body will go in search of more food. The result: a sluggish, hungrier you—one who’s more likely to dive into the snack drawer.
Tip: Start your day with a high-protein, high-fat food like Greek yogurt, a veggie-filled omelet, or chia pudding, and you’ll reduce your hunger overall.
7. You Eat Too Quickly
Hunger hormones take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes to get to your brain, according to Cara Stewart, RD, LDN, so if you wolf down your entire meal in under 5 minutes, you’ll most likely eat more than your fill. Scientists believe it’s because your hunger hormones act in a relay, passing off feelings of fullness between each other before telling your brain. This system takes some time to work, which is why it’s best to eat slowly. Yet another reason why fast food makes you fat.
Tip: When your entrée arrives, dive in and eat half, then wait at least 10 minutes before coming out for round 2. While you chat and sip water, your stomach will have a chance to digest and decide whether you’ve had enough— no matter what the plate’s saying.
8. Your Insta Feed is Loaded With Food Photos
As it turns out, scrolling through your social feeds is just as bad for your gut as seeking out those trending treats themselves. A review published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that when we see “food porn,” it exacerbates our desire for food through a channel of neural and physical responses called “visual hunger.” In other words, even if we’re not physically in need of food, our bodies will send a signal to our brains that we want to eat. So what exactly is going on here? Scientists found that the concentration of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin increases in response to seeing food images.
Tip: Looking at those “food porn” images of oozy yolks dribbling down cheesy burgers is going to make you hungry—even if you weren’t before you started scrolling—which puts you at risk of over-consuming and eating the same high-energy, belly-busting foods. If you’re trying to lose weight, unfollow some accounts that post images of unhealthy dishes, and start following accounts that highlight better-for-you choices: a study in Experimental Brain Researchfound that our brains don’t become as alert in response to seeing photos of low-energy, healthy foods like veggies.
9. You Drink Diet
Whether it’s diet or regular, soda is one of the sugariest foods you can consume. And while many of us know sugar makes you crave sugar, artificially sweetened products and sugar alternatives (like aspartame, acesulfame K, and sucralose) can actually ramp up your appetite even more than real sugar, causing increased calorie consumption over time. According to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that while drinks sweetened with glucose and fructose (two components of regular table sugar) increased satiety and decreased the hunger hormone ghrelin, drinks sweetened with an artificial sweetener were not able to affect satiety hormone signaling at all.
Tip: If you’re drinking soda for energy, check out these best foods for energy instead. Most of these energy-boosting foods are actual, real food and will properly decrease levels of your hunger hormones while giving you lasting fuel to help you tackle the rest your day.
10. You Skip Meals
This might sound like an obvious one, but it’s more than just the fact that you aren’t feeding your body. The habit of skipping meals has been shown to be able to make you feel hungrier when the next meal rolls around, according to researchers at the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program. When you don’t eat, your body can deplete its blood glucose stores, which promotes an uptick in the hunger hormone ghrelin, ramping up your appetite.
Tip: Try not to let more than 4 or 5 hours go by between meals, and keep healthy snacks on hand at all times to help curb hunger before it makes you overindulge.
11. You Have a Fast Metabolism
It could be the result of years of dedicated work in the gym, but for some, you’re just born with it. Either way, your constant hunger could be due to the fact that you just burn calories at a faster pace (even at rest), which means your body will need to continuously replenish its energy stores. According to University of Vermont researchers, about 32 percent of people have metabolisms that are more than eight percent higher or lower than the population average. Because having a faster-than-average metabolism can mean you burn anywhere from 100 to 400 extra calories a day, your body will try to alert you to eat more frequently.
Tip: Before you justify extra snacking with having a fast metabolism, make sure you’re not just hungry because of any other reasons we’ve mentioned—thirst, eating the wrong foods, etc. And once you have, having a fast metabolism shouldn’t justify you indulging in unhealthy options. Grab a handful of nuts, Greek yogurt, or snack on some veggies and hummus.
12. You Eat Low-Fat
If you’re an avid Eat This, Not That! reader, you already know that low-fat packaged foods tend to be filled with sugar to compensate for a lack of flavor—but adding sugar cravings to your hunger isn’t the only reason you may want to steer clear. Low-fat treats aren’t as satisfying as their fattier counterparts, according to recent research published in the journal Flavour. As you bite into a full-fat food, your tongue sends your brain a signal that something filling is on the way down to your stomach. However, this message isn’t sent when you opt for low-fat foods, which is why you’re left wanting more—even though you may have just consumed a good deal of calories.
Tip: Eating healthy fats won’t make you fat. In fact, just the opposite might be true! A recent review published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than people who stick to low-fat dairy. Additional research has linked full-fat eaters to lower rates of obesity compared to those who eschewed fat. When opting for dairy products, make sure to go with the full-fat options.
13. You Drink Alcohol Often
Having a drink before a meal in the hopes it’ll curb your appetite may actually be doing the opposite. A study published in the American Journal of Nutritionshowed that alcohol is one of the biggest drivers of excess food intake. Another study published in the journal Obesity has suggested that this may be because alcohol heightens our senses. Researchers found that women who’d received the equivalent of about two drinks in the form of an alcohol infusion ate 30% more food than those who’d received a saline solution. Even mild intoxication cranked up brain activity in the women’s hypothalamus regions. This, say the study’s authors, made them more sensitive to the smell of food, prompting them to eat more. Not only that, but alcohol can dehydrate you, which again, may cause feelings of hunger.
Tip: Besides curbing your hunger pangs, there are many benefits to giving up alcohol, including losing weight and sleeping better. But if you’re not looking to give up happy hour just yet, be sure to munch on healthy foods if you’re going to eat—not greasy pizza.
14. You Eat Out of Cans
Not only are they affordable, for many, they’re a culinary secret weapon that helps get dinner on the table in just minutes. Yes, that’s right; we’re talking about canned food. But as it turns out, there’s something scary lurking in these jars—bisphenol A, or BPA. BPA is a hormone-mimicking chemical used to prevent foods from coming in contact with the metal cans in which they’re stored, and it’s found in 67 percent of all canned food. The downside: it’s bad for your health—and your hunger pangs. According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, those who had higher levels of BPA in their blood also had higher levels of leptin and were at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Tip: So what’s your game plan if you want to minimize cravings? Avoid canned foods whenever possible, and instead, buy products that are sold in glass jars or cardboard containers to reduce your exposure. One of our go-to brands for safe “canned foods” is Pacific Foods. It’s sold in most health food groceries and carries soups, beans, tofu, purees, sauces, and gravies in chemical-free cardboard cartons.
15. You Skimp on Salads
According to the USDA’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the average American isn’t eating enough vegetables. This is an issue because most leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a micronutrient that studies have found regulates insulin levels. Vitamin K was found to increase insulin sensitivity, which makes it easier for your body to take up sugar from your bloodstream. If your body is taking up sugar more efficiently from your bloodstream, it won’t need to take more of it in through food, helping to quash your cravings. Even better, veggies are some of the most fiber-rich foods out there, and fiber is what slows the absorption of the foods we eat from the stomach into the bloodstream. In a Canadian study, researchers discovered that those whose diets were supplemented with insoluble fiber had lower levels of ghrelin.
Tip: For the best sources of insoluble fiber and vitamin K, make your salads with spinach, shaved brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli.
16. Your Snacks Are in Plain View
Out of sight, out of mouth? According to researchers at Google, simply reorganizing your pantry to hide any dietary kryptonite could help quell cravings. A study, conducted at the search engine’s New York office dubbed “Project M&M” found that placing chocolate candies in opaque containers as opposed to glass ones curbed M&M consumption by 3.1 million calories in just seven weeks. Cambridge researchers explain this is because our evolutionary “visual hunger”—the innate human desire to see images of food—has programmed our guts to release ghrelin at the mere sight of food, which can lead to false hunger.
Tip: We know snacking is important for keeping your metabolism going, but that doesn’t mean they should constantly be sitting on your desk. Keep snacks out of sight, and only reach for them when your tummy is rumbling.
17. You’re Not Eating Enough Protein
Piling your plate with lean protein can help keep hunger pangs at bay. Protein takes a longer time to digest, which means it stays in your stomach and promotes feelings of fullness. But that’s not all–it’s also been shown to have an appetite-suppressing effect. In a study of 21 men published in the journal Nutrition Research, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group were observed to have a lower response to ghrelin, were less hungry three hours later and consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours!
Tip: Besides the obvious sources of protein like meat and fish (which you can’t necessarily eat all day long), load up on vegetarian sources throughout the day by sprinkling chia seeds in smoothies, eat quinoa in your granola bars, and dip carrots in hummus or apples in peanut butter.
18. You’re Working Out A Lot
If you’re breaking a sweat every day in order to boost weight loss, it should come as no surprise that your body is going to need more calories. Pumping iron causes your body to boost its metabolism and burn through energy and glucose stores, which, in turn, triggers the release of ghrelin.
Tip: After a workout, be sure to replenish lost glucose stores with a protein shake smoothie! Grab one of our favorite protein powders to provide you with satiating nutrients, and blend it with some almond milk and your favorite fruit to provide you with replenishing carbs.
19. You’re Bored
Feeling hungry really can be caused by something as simple as boredom. When you’re bored you actually lose your ability to make smart food choices; you become an “emotional eater,” according to a new study in the Journal of Health Psychology. And boredom turns you into the worse kind of emotional eater, because you not only make the wrong food choices, you eat much more of those fattening foods than you normally would. In fact, “Because I’m Bored” (as opposed to “I’m Hungry”) is one of the top reasons people give when they’re asked about their emotions before they eat.
Tip: You feel bored when you are dissatisfied, restless, and unchallenged, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology. The best way to beat boredom is to find something to do that is purposeful and challenging. Start with these tips for motivation that actually work.
20. You Linger Over Commercials
Cord-cutters are onto something bigger than just saving money—they’re also protecting their health. Here’s why: Streaming services, like Netflix, offer a way to view television without commercials. And according to two recent studies, that’s good news for your waistline because you won’t be subjected to 30-second spots of a rotating, juicy Big Mac. The two meta-analyses, published in the journals The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Obesity Reviews, uncovered a staggering connection between food advertising and food consumption; Researchers found that exposure to these drool-worthy commercials and billboards act as a “food cue,” which increases cravings and leads to eating behavior (even if your body isn’t physically hungry) and weight gain.
Tip: Still using cable? DVR your favorite shows so you can fast forward through commercials to avoid temptation—or try one of these ways to stop thinking about food.
21. It May Just Be a Craving
They sound like they mean the same thing, but hunger and appetite are separate processes. True hunger is the physical need for food when your body senses a dip in blood sugar or the stretch receptors in your stomach sense it’s empty. Appetite, on the other hand, is the conditioned desire to eat rather than the need for sustenance—often described as that “craving” feeling you experience when you see a piece of chocolate cake right after you’ve eaten a more-than-filling dinner.
Tip: Deny that dessert menu, step away from the fridge, and pass on those office donuts! Perceived hunger can often stem out of boredom or the mere presence of food. Because exercise has been connected to reduced food cravings, going for a walk or jog can help clear and distract your mind long enough to realize you aren’t actually hungry and can banish your hankering for junk food.
22. You Sit All Day
Sitting all day is just one of the ways your job is making you fat, but did you know it could also be a reason for your constant tummy rumbling? According to research published in the journals Diabetes Care and BMJ Open, when middle-aged overweight and obese adults interrupted long periods of sitting time with short bouts of walking every 30 minutes, they were able to both minimize spikes in blood sugar and lower insulin levels after eating meals. Both mechanisms control how soon you will start to feel hunger pangs after eating. Without getting up to walk, your body may struggle to manage its glucose sensitivity, and it can lead you to feel hungry soon after noshing.
Tip: Set a timer to go off every 20 or 30 minutes during the work day to remind you to get up and walk—even if it’s just going to the break room to grab a glass of water.
23. You Have a Sweet Tooth
It’s the dip in your blood sugar levels that triggers the release of hormones to tell your body that you’re hungry. Besides refined carbs, that crash in blood sugar is also the result of eating foods full of added sugars and no fiber or protein to help slow the digestion of these sugars. Besides your morning java, you’d be surprised to learn of the foods where sugar is lurking—like bread, condiments, frozen meals, breakfast cereals, and salad dressings. Even these “health” foods have more sugar than a Dunkin’ donut.
Tip: The easiest way to cut down on added sugars is leaving the ultra-processed foods on the store shelves and whipping up your own homemade snacks. According to a recent study published in the journal BMJ Open, ultra-processed foods—such as bread, salad dressings, frozen entrees, and condiments—on average contribute a whopping 90 percent of an American’s daily added sugar intake.
24. Your Gut Health Is Off
Years of rampant antibiotic use and unhealthy eating centered on saturated fats and sugars can knock your digestive system so out of whack that it could be blunting your weight loss efforts. That’s because these conditions empower the harmful bacteria that live in your gut while weakening the beneficial bugs. As a result, the good guys can’t effectively do their job: part of which is regulating your hunger hormones. According to researchers at New York University, a stomach bacterium called Helicobacter pylori can actually change the levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, in your body. Researchers found average levels of H. pylori have decreased in our belly biomes with the rise of the fast-food society. And that means less of its inhibiting effect on our appetites—perhaps reason for why many of us are always hungry.
Tip: To mend your tummy, cut out the bad-bug-feeding sugars from your diet, and load up on both prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a source of food for the good guys in your gut to help them build strength, and probiotics act as reinforcements, helping to drive out the bad guys. Good sources of prebiotics are legumes, onions, artichokes, spinach, and oats, and probiotics can be found in fermented foods as well as in Greek yogurt.
25. You Drink Your Nutrients
Smoothies and juices might be all the rage right now, but if you’ve ever swallowed a meal-replacement drink and felt hungry almost immediately after, here’s why: Your body doesn’t register liquid calories the same way as it does with solids. In fact, studies have shown that energy obtained from fluids is less satisfying than calories from solid foods, so we drink more before feeling satisfied, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Experts hypothesize that the physical act of chewing increases physiological satiety responses—one recent study in Food Quality and Preference attributed the satiety signal with the fact that hearing the crunch of food can serve as a way to monitor your consumption—or that whole foods are more slowly digested than liquids, a process known as gastric emptying, which causes your stomach to actually feel fuller for longer.
Tip: We certainly love our smoothies around here, but if you’ve become victim to always feeling hungry it might be best if you laid off on the blended meals. Or, follow the advice of recent findings: Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study found that thickening a smoothie made people feel fuller, regardless of how many calories it had. Thicken up your blended beverages by subbing out almond milk for Greek yogurt and water.
26. You’re Severely Overweight
Merely the fact that you’re carrying around extra weight may be enough to induce uncontrollable hunger pangs—even after you’ve just eaten. New research from a multidisciplinary team at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that severely obese women continue to respond to food cues even after they’ve eaten and are no longer physically hungry, unlike their lean counterparts. Using an MRI, researchers discovered that the brains of severely obese women showed they were still excited about the idea of eating even though they had just consumed a meal and reported feeling satiated. The findings, published in the journal Obesity, suggest that some people with severe obesity have an underlying drive to continuously nosh despite not feeling hungry.
Tip: It’s not too late to start! Drastically cutting calories will only make hunger pangs worse, as this puts your body in starvation survival mode and revs up production of hunger hormones while slowing metabolism. To see the scale tip in your favor, check out our list of weight loss tips better than counting calories.
27. You Eat Off Large Plates
You may have gotten them as a wedding gift, but that set of extra large dinnerware has to go. When you serve yourself on a bigger plate, a typical portion of food may appear smaller and can trick your brain into thinking you aren’t eating enough food. Contrarily, smaller plates make food servings appear significantly larger, which tricks your mind into thinking you’re about to consume more calories than you really are. In fact, a study published in Appetite discovered people were satisfied for longer periods of time after researchers showed participants a large portion of fruit went into their smoothie compared to participants who were shown a small piece of fruit—even though both groups were actually given the same size smoothie to drink. The authors of the study suggest that feeling full or still hungry may be based on the perception of food quantity rather than solely based on caloric intake.
Tip: Try the trick at home by using smaller plates and glasses that make your portions look more generous, it’s just one of the easy ways to cut over 50 calories. That way you’ll trick your brain into feeling fuller, even though you’ve actually eaten less!
28. Certain Meds Give You Munchies
If you were prescribed a new medication and subsequently noticed an insatiable increase in your appetite, your Rx may be to blame. Antidepressants, steroids, birth control pills, beta-blockers, anti-seizure and migraine meds, and rheumatoid arthritis treatments have all been found to increase appetite in patients.
Tip: That doesn’t mean you should take yourself off the drug, though. Confirm with your doc that the medication is indeed the culprit, and discuss what other treatments are available. Your doctor might be able to prescribe a different medication that doesn’t carry the same belly-bulging side effects.
29. You Rarely Prepare Your Own Food
It may be a time saver, but eating out or grabbing a processed snack from the grocery store won’t help you curb your hunger pangs as much as you think. Restaurant food—even the desserts—is typically loaded with salt, which research has found can release the feel-good hormone, dopamine, making sodium-laden fare pretty addictive. (Which means you’ll constantly crave it!) As for processed junk? These foods are often made with appetite-revving additives like MSG, which encourage you to continue noshing beyond your fill.
Tip: Try cooking a majority of your own meals and snacks at home. You’ll not only be able to control the addictive sodium levels and leave out the appetite-revving additives—both will help to curb your seemingly insatiable hunger pangs—but you’ll also consume nearly 200 fewer calories than those who cook less, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
30. You May Have a Medical Issue
There are many reasons why you’re constantly hungry, but if none of the reasons above sound like your problem, it might be something you’re unaware of. A few possible medical reasons:
- Women who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) often have food cravings, as do women during early stages of their pregnancy.
- If your sudden hunger is also paired with an unquenchable thirst, you may want to talk to your doctor about being tested for diabetes. What may be happening is that you’re developing an insulin resistance, which means your body can’t as effectively funnel the glucose in food to be used as energy, and instead it stays in your bloodstream. As a result, you can experience “insulin resistant hunger” characterized by craving sugars or starches rather than being physically hungry.
- Sometimes, excessive hunger is the sign of a parasitic infestation in your intestine, which can occur after eating undercooked meat from infected animals. For example, tapeworms act by noshing on the essential nutrients from your food. (Yikes!) Because your body is missing out on these satiating nutrients, it can cause you to feel hungry and thus overeat.
- You may be suffering from a chronic, autoimmune health condition called hyperthyroidism—a condition in which your metabolism-running thyroid gland is running in overdrive. When your metabolism is constantly stimulated, it can result in feeling hungry all the time.
Tip: If you suspect any of the issues above, consult your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment options.