Are you finding that you always feel hungry even after eating?
Are you wondering if this is normal? If it’s all in your head? Or if you're actually still hungry after eating?
I get it, it’s confusing. Hunger signals can be difficult to determine and there are a variety of reasons why you may still be feeling hungry after eating. So let’s get to the root of the problem and see if you can fix it.
Why do I feel hungry after eating?
1. You’re dieting
Oftentimes individuals don’t even recognize that they’re dieting. A diet can be described as any type of restriction for the purpose of weight loss.
So think about it, do you make food choices based on how they may affect your body size? Do you avoid certain foods because you believe they may result in weight gain?
Maybe you count your calories? Maybe you cut back on carbs? Or maybe, you have decided that you aren’t allowed to eat dessert?
All of these are forms of restriction. If you’re restricting, the chances are that at some point throughout the day your body is not getting enough of the energy or nutrients (i.e. carbs) that it needs or desires. Therefore you will still feel hungry, even after eating.
If this is the case for you, you may want to try another approach to eating such as intuitive eating.
I have described the disadvantages of dieting over and over again, and feeling hungry after eating doesn’t even come close to the one of the worst side effects, so take that into consideration before you continue to diet.
2. Your meals aren’t satisfying
There are three macronutrients that our bodies require; carbohydrates (a.k.a carbs), protein and fat. If your meals lack a good source of one of these macronutrients, you will never feel completely satisfied.
Typically if you’re eating balanced meals that have a good source of carbs and protein, you will also get enough fat. Fat isn’t something we usually have to focus on.
Incorporating protein into your meals and snacks will help you feel satisfied for longer. If you eat a piece of plain toast, you’re going to be feeling hungry a lot sooner than if you were to add a protein source (i.e. an egg) on top of that toast.
The reason for this is that the structure of protein is a lot more complex than the structure of carbs. Therefore, it takes protein longer to break down and digest, helping you feel full longer.
Now please don’t misinterpret this information and think that you should double up on protein and eat less carbs. Our bodies need BOTH.
A lot of individuals view carbs as the enemy and try to cut them out. The thing is, our bodies actually need more carbs than protein and fat. Our bodies desire for carbs is so strong that if you don’t eat enough, both biological and psychological mechanisms drive into action to ensure you get them.
One of the many ways our bodies do this is by increasing a certain neurotransmitter, called neuropeptide Y. Essentially this neurotransmitter drives carb cravings. These cravings typically don’t go away until you give your body what it needs and eat the carbs.
The type of carbohydrate you eat also makes a difference in terms of the ability to satisfy your needs. Simple refined carbs such as candy, juice and baked goods are digested a lot faster than more complex carbs.
Therefore if your snack is simply a cup of juice and a piece of white bread, you are likely to feel hungry a lot sooner, than if you were to eat a bowl of oatmeal (a more complex carb with a good source of fibre).
Now I would like to add that satisfying your taste buds is just as important as satisfying your physical needs. If you don’t eat foods you actually enjoy, you will be continuously longing for more, which may ultimately feel like hunger.
So eat a balanced meal with carbs, protein and fat, but make sure you enjoy it. P.S. it’s okay if you leave room for dessert.
3. You’re not eating enough
This one may seem obvious, but for many individuals it’s not.
People often think that skipping breakfast is a good strategy to hold off hunger. The reality is, if you skip breakfast or any other meal, your body will want you to make up for it later and eat more.
Your body needs a consistent fuel supply. General rule of thumb is to go no longer than 5 hours without eating. This is based on the biology of your liver's ability to store glycogen (fuel). On average it needs to be replenished every 3-6 hours.
So for some people, and this depends on a variety of factors, eating more frequently is needed. Typically if you go longer durations without eating you will need to have larger meals.
If you go shorter durations, smaller meals may work better for you, and in this case it may be normal to feel hungry 2 hours after eating a meal.
4. You’re eating a normal volume of food but lacking the energy
This one may make sense to you if you’re still asking “why am I eating so much and not getting full?”
If you’re replacing regular foods with low calorie foods, you’re bound to be hungry after eating.
Rice cakes may be the size of a piece of bread but the calorie, carb and fibre content are a lot lower.
Cauliflower is a vegetable, there is a place for it, and replacing rice or pizza crust for cauliflower just won’t cut it.
A large salad made up of strictly vegetables, may be large enough to fill up your stomach temporarily, but again, it’s very low calorie, so unless you add a good source of protein and carbs to it you’re going to be feeling hungry after eating.
You see what I’m getting at? You can’t trick your body by just filling your belly up with only low-calorie foods. Even if the amount seems large enough, your body will soon realize it’s missing something.
5. You’re not in tune with your body cues
A few things may interfere with your body’s ability to recognize your hunger and fullness cues.
Earlier, we mentioned that dieting may be a reason you still feel hungry after eating. Well, dieting also interferes with your body’s ability to recognize your hunger and fullness cues.
Instead of listening to your body's needs, diets teach you to follow external food rules, damaging your ability to recognize when you are actually hungry or full. Again, if this is the case for you, I would recommend that you consider a more intuitive approach to eating and get back in touch with your cues.
Lack of self-care may also interfere with your ability to recognize your hunger and fullness cues. So ask yourself, do you have uncontrolled stress? Are you lacking a good night's rest?
Stress stimulates an increase in the production of cortisol which may cause an increase in both appetite and cravings, therefore driving you to feel hungry and potentially eat more.
Overall, if your basic needs aren’t being met and your body is not being taken care of properly, you may experience an interference with the connection to your body, making it difficult to determine if you really are hungry or not.
6. You’re eating distracted
Have you ever sat in front of the TV with a full bag of chips and all of a sudden your fingers were at the bottom of the bag reaching for crumbs? Maybe it happened so fast that you could barely recall eating the chips? Then you found yourself longing for more?
When you don’t take the time to sit down and enjoy your food, free of distractions, your mind may not have the chance to fully register the fact that you just ate. Leaving a sense of unfulfillment, when in fact you probably did eat enough.
If this is you, try removing the distractions when you eat and use a more mindful approach. You will feel a lot more fulfilled if you actually take the time to enjoy your food.
7. You’re not drinking enough water
Water is an essential nutrient. Yes, we get water through food as well, however if you don’t drink water regularly, you’re probably not getting enough. It may then be difficult to differentiate what your body actually needs (i.e. food or fluids).
One way to determine if you’re lacking a sufficient amount of fluids is to check out your urine. If your urine is pale and odourless, you’re likely drinking enough. If it’s on the darker yellow side and there is more of an odour, you should probably drink more water.
Now I’m not saying is that if you feel hungry you should just drink water instead and ignore it. However, I would suggest you start carrying a water bottle around if you don’t already. Sip on it throughout the day. If you’re still hungry, then it’s likely something else.
The amount of exercise a person does is a large contributor to the amount of energy they will need. The more you move, the more energy you burn, therefore the more you need to eat. If you do a lot of movement in a day you’re going to be hungry more frequently.
If your day starts with an intense workout then you have breakfast right after, it’s normal to feel hungry soon after breakfast again. Your body still burns an increased amount of energy for a certain period of time following exercise.
So if you have recently started exercising more it is completely normal that you’re feeling hungry more frequently. The best thing to do for yourself is to listen to your body and eat more.
9. Result of a medication or health condition
Last but not least. There are a variety of medications and health conditions that may increase your appetite or cause you to feel hungry more frequently.
If you can’t quite pinpoint your issue, it may be a good idea to check in with your doctor or have a pharmacist review your medications.
How to stop feeling hungry after eating summed up
Determine the root of your hunger and take action:
If you’re dieting, consider another approach to eating such as intuitive eating.
If your meals aren’t satisfying make sure to eat a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) as well as foods that you actually enjoy.
If you’re not eating enough, increase the amount of food per meal or the frequency of eating.
If you’re distracted, remove the distractions and embrace a more mindful eating approach.
If you’re dehydrated, drink more fluids.
If you exercise a lot, normalize needing to eat more.
If you take medication check in with your pharmacist and determine the side effects.
If you still don’t have an answer check in with your doctor to see if there is an underlying health condition you are unaware of.
I hope you found some clarity and have a better understanding of why you may feel hungry after eating. If you have any questions please feel free to comment below or reach out to me directly. I’d love to stay in touch! Find me on instagram: @dietitian.krista :)