Hunger - it's a useful, often-maligned, totally necessary human drive. It keeps your brain functioning, your muscles building, and allows you to recover after awesome physical adventures like kayaking, hiking, or a gab-fest walk around the track. And yeah, it's also what forces you to get up from the computer you've been glued to for the last four hours.
So what gives when, no matter how much you eat, you always seem to be hungry? Assuming you’re not breastfeeding or have a baby on board - two things that you already know can definitely increase appetite - here are some of the most common reasons you’re hungry all the time.
1. You’re not eating enough protein.
Experts have been telling you this for years now - protein is a key macronutrient to staying healthy, and it gives you that sense of satiety or fullness, says Natalie Allen, R.D., instructor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University. How much you should have each day varies based on your weight and lifestyle (this calculator from the United States Department of Agriculture churns out personalized numbers), but it's smart to try and include some in every meal. An easy trick? Pair it with stuff you're already having. Instead of eating crackers made from refined flour all by their lonesome, pair it with protein-packed cheese (or better yet, grab whole-grain crackers instead), suggests Summer Yule, M.S., R.D., a nutrition communications specialist in Connecticut. Fan of fruit? It's apple season, so slice one up and slather on some peanut butter for a trio of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
2. You’re not getting enough fiber.
Speaking of fiber, that's another filling nutrient that would leave you prone to snack attacks if you don't get enough of it. Foods without a lot of fiber move through your digestive tract quickly, leaving you hungry right after you eat, Allen says. Try incorporating more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain for their fiber content.
3. Your meals are too far apart.
Silly as it might sound, your constant hunger could actually be your body sending necessary signals that it's been too long since you fed it. Instead of sticking to three square meals, you may need a small snack every three to four hours, depending on your meal schedule and level of activity, says Rachel Gilwit, R.D., nutritionist at UC San Diego Health. A dietician can help you assess how often your body needs fuel, or you can experiment on your own to see if smaller meals more often help your hunger subside.
4. You're sleep deprived.
It’s pretty well documented that a lack of sleep increases our desire for food; the Mayo Clinic even lists it as a risk factor for obesity. Plus, in slightly funny but totally relevant evidence, a 2016 study published in the journal Sleep suggested that sleep deprivation activates the same parts of the brain as marijuana - meaning you might experience a case of the sleep munchies. So if your sleepless nights are lining up with those hunger pangs, it may be worth investing some energy into a healthy snooze cycle.
5. You're under chronic stress.
Yep, stress strikes again. “When we have high stress levels, we're preparing for action, either for fight or flight,” says Prudence Hall, M.D., medical director at The Hall Center. That body response can also trigger an increase of hunger in people, so much that the Cleveland Clinic lists an increased appetite as one of the symptoms of stress. If your hunger is coinciding with a stressful period in your life, cut yourself some slack and try these stress-busters that help you focus on a little TLC.
6. You aren't managing your diabetes.
When diabetes isn't controlled, it can make it difficult for your body to get blood sugar - or energy - to the parts of your body that need it, Gilwit says. “This sugar is essentially not being used for energy appropriately, and the body believes it is starving, [so you feel] the need to eat more,” she explains. Getting your blood sugar checked out is a good first step to figuring out whether type 2 diabetes should be a concern, and a doctor's visit can help you determine next steps.
7. Your thyroid is out of whack.
While an underactive thyroid can cause weight gain, an overactive one (which is diagnosed as hyperthyroidism) increases your metabolism, which can in turn cause increased hunger, Gilwit says. A racing heart, changes in your menstrual patterns, hair loss, tremors, sweating, fatigue, and weight loss are also associated with hyperthyroidism, reports the Mayo Clinic, so if you’re also having these symptoms, definitely talk to your doctor.
8. Your medicine has side effects.
When hunger seemingly comes out of nowhere, check your medicine cabinet. “Many very common prescription medications, such as corticosteroids and certain antidepressants, have a side effect of increased appetite,” Yule says. So if you're experiencing this particular symptom, don't be shy about telling your doctor. They can help assess all of the medications you're on, whether they're affecting your appetite, and if it's smart to have you try a different prescription.
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