Your stomach starts grumbling, you start rooting around your desk or your pantry for just a little bite of something - even though you ate a meal less than an hour ago. Sound familiar? If you feel hungry all the damn time, there could be several different things going on - only a few of which actually have to do with food, says a mindful eating expert Dr Susan Albers. “We make hundreds of food decisions in a day, the majority of which are not prompted by true hunger,” she says. “We are surrounded by food 24/7 and are flooded daily with stress and emotions. The majority of all eating is triggered by emotion.”
Here are some of the top reasons you may be in a state of constant hunger:
You’re not filling up at meals
For the first reason, let's acknowledge the obvious: If you're just picking at a plate of cucumbers or you're trying out a fad diet that eliminates an entire food group, you're going to be hungry. And then you're going to snack. Which defeats the purpose of all that kilojoule-cutting during your meals. To keep satiated longer than it takes to walk from your kitchen to your living room, include a wide variety of nutrients in your meals, including proteins, healthy fats (nuts, avocado, olive oil), and fibere, says obesity specialist Dr Alexandra Sowa. “Fibre-filled foods like high-density green vegetables and complex carbs like steel-cut porridge give you some bulk in the stomach and digestive track, and lower blood glucose levels, keeping you fuller longer,” she explains.
Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by work deadlines, relationship issues, or the general state of the world, your body can react by screaming, Feed me! “When you’re stressed, your body spikes the hormones cortisol and ghrelin, which both make you hungry,” says Sowa, who points out that stress-eaters usually reach for carbs first. Albers recommends you explore calming techniques that can keep you from reaching for the cookies or chips, such as relaxation exercises or taking a walk through a green space.
Staying up until the wee hours working, reading, or bingeing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel can completely throw off your eating cues - the hunger hormone ghrelin rises, while the fullness hormone leptin drops - making you feel famished when you’re really just tired. “When you’re not sleeping well, the body interprets that as a state of danger, and the stress hormones also increase,” says Sowa, who recommends that if you’re in a chronic state of exhaustion, you should check with a doctor to see if you’re suffering from sleep apnoea.
You’re looking at too much food porn
If you spend the day scrolling through Instagram posts about milkshakes topped with candy topped with pretzels, the fact is, you’re going to get hungry. In fact, researchers are finding that simply viewing pictures of food can make your brain feel famished. “The more you start to imagine the sensory qualities of a food - how it smells and tastes in your mouth - the more you want it,” says Albers. But Sowa points out that you can flip this phenomenon around: “Instead of looking at decadent food all day, seek out hashtags you can follow with healthy food choices, and use those to inspire you to make filling meals.” (We like #farmtotable and #mediterraneandiet.)
You’re eating on the run
Finding a few minutes to sit at table and eat your meal rather than grabbing something to gobble down on the go can help keep you from grazing later on, says Albers. In fact, one study showed that when women ate a cereal bar while walking, they consumed five times more kilojoules during a later snack, compared to when they sat down to eat the same bar. “You can’t focus on what you’re eating when you’re distracted,” Albers explains. “Instead, take a moment to feel your feet flat against the floor, and notice your back touching the back of a chair. Take a deep breath before beginning to eat.”
You’re just soooo bored
When you’re in one of those moods - all your friends are busy and you don’t feel like exercising, working, or doing anything productive around the house-your mind can meander right on over to the fridge. In fact, researchers have made the none-too-surprising connection being boredom and bad eating habits. Albers points out this telltale difference between craving food and being bored: “When you’re bored, you’re not really hungry for something specific,” she says. “You wander around your kitchen having difficulty finding what you really want.” She suggests you make a list of five boredom busters, like putting together a puzzle or working in the garden, and hang it on the fridge or the pantry to shake you out of your doldrums.
You may be insulin resistant
If you truly find you’re hungry all the time - and it’s not related to any of the reasons above - check with your doctor to see if you have insulin resistance, a condition that, if left untreated, could eventually lead to type-2 diabetes, suggests Sowa. “If you’re insulin resistant, it means your cells are not reacting to insulin as efficiently as they should, so the pancreas has to pump out much more insulin than normal to get the cells to absorb glucose - all that extra insulin is telling your body to eat,” she explains. “Then as you eat, your blood-sugar levels rise, you pump out more insulin, and it tells you to eat even more.” Making changes to your diet and adding moderate exercise to your routine can help stop this cycle.
You’re eating your food in the wrong order
Something as simple as saving your dinner roll until after you’ve eaten your entrée instead of nibbling on it at the start of the meal can keep you fuller longer, says a small but interesting study out of Weill Cornell Medicine. The study found that when people with diabetes ate proteins and vegetables before they loaded up on simple carbs, their insulin and glucose levels were significantly lower after the meal than when they ate their meal in reverse. “If you eat your low-glycemic food first, it will keep your insulin levels from spiking and you won’t be as hungry,” Sowa says.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr Wendy Scinta, a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board, on July 1, 2019.