Does it ever seem like you’re hungry all the time? You eat breakfast, and then, 15 minutes later, you’re back in the pantry, eating cereal straight out of the box. Or it’s ten in the morning and you suddenly get a craving for cookies.
This happens to me all the time. I work from home and I am constantly stopping myself from going into the kitchen and scarfing down whatever happens to be on the counter at the moment.
Why do you get hungry when you’ve just eaten? How do you stop yourself from being hungry all the time? I went to the experts to find out what causes constant hunger, and how to handle it.
One of the most common reasons for hunger is boredom. If you feel like you have nothing to do, often the default becomes grabbing a snack. Dr. Helen Odessky, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist, and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, told me, “Boredom can make someone feel hungry. We often reach for snack or food when we are bored and that can lead you to feeling hungry throughout the day.”
Erin Oprea, celebrity fitness trainer and USANA ambassador agreed. She said, “Boredom is literally a no-brainer. Being hungry because you have nothing else to do is a leading cause of my clients snacking while sitting on the couch. The kitchen is a natural place to hover around when you have nothing else to do.”
I can relate. I often find myself scarfing down crackers when I know I’m not actually hungry. Luckily, you can easily combat your boredom by getting out and moving your body. Oprea told me, “Movement is the biggest key to breaking this boredom eating. Just going for a walk will quite often quench that fake hunger trigger.”
You’re depressed or lonely
If you’re feeling depressed, you may look to food to ease your unhappiness. Dr. Odessky told me, “Some people crave food all day long and feel hungry when they are depressed. When we are lonely, we may use food as a substitute for human connection and to numb our pain and that can lead us to feeling hungry all day.”
In addition, if your depression is chronic, you may lose your ability to discern whether you are actually hungry or not. Individual, child, and relationship psychotherapist, Dana Carretta, MS, LMHC, LPC, RBT, told me, “If we are incredibly stressed or have experienced [trauma], there is a disconnect between what we think and what we feel. Our minds may think we are hungry, when in reality, our body is not.”
Carretta went on to describe the effects of long term emotional trauma on the body. “If there is a long history of childhood trauma (including abuse, neglect, sexual abuse), that may even cause symptoms of dissociation. Dissociation is when we are disconnected from ourselves, including a disconnect from our own thoughts, feelings, and/or physical sensations.”
Instead of focusing on the hunger itself, Carretta suggests, “Work on the underlying emotional issues that drive [you] to feel hungry.”
You’re stressed out
What’s your comfort food? Mine is chicken wings and beer. Not exactly the healthiest choice, but it’s what I go to when I am stressed out. And I’m not alone. Many women translate their stress into hunger.
Oprea shared, “Stress causes so many symptoms in your body that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint how it is affecting you. From sleep to even hair loss, stress will cause havoc on your health. Stress eating is a real thing. There’s a reason why people choose comfort food instead of broccoli (broccoli is not on the current list of de-stressing foods. Ice cream, however, seems to be the yearly number one)!”
Dr. Caroline Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, agreed. She added, “Chronic stress heightens cortisol, which prompts the body to overeat to refuel after fighting off a stressor.”
Dr. Apovian recommended that women manage their stress in a healthier way. She said, “Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as seeking out social support, minimizing or eliminating stressful situations, exercising, and eating a balanced diet.”
You skip breakfast
If you’re trying to lose weight, you may think that skipping breakfast will be a good way to save some calories. Or you may just get busy in the morning and not have time to eat. Unfortunately, foregoing your morning cereal or eggs will set you up to be hungrier throughout the day.
“Breakfast is really the most important meal of the day and skipping food can lead to women feeling hungrier than usual,” nutrition coach, Amanda Sauceda, MS, RDN, CLT, told me in an interview. “Many times women skip breakfast because they are [so] busy getting ready for work, or getting their kids ready for school, that they forget to eat. Not eating breakfast cannot only cause us to feel hungrier later in the day; it can actually lead to overeating.”
If you’re too busy to eat before work, slip a granola bar into your bag and eat it on the go. This will set you up to feel more satiated throughout the day. Sauceda recommends, “Eat breakfast even if you aren’t hungry. Eating breakfast will not only help [you] get [your] nutrients for the day but it can help curb hunger later in the day.”
You don’t eat enough protein
Do you include protein in every meal? Do you keep protein-rich snacks around, like hard-boiled eggs and turkey cold-cuts? If you’re subsisting mainly on carbs, lack of protein may be the cause of your hunger.
Sauceda told me, “Protein is needed for everything from healthy skin and hair, to hormones. Many of us reach for snacks that are grain-based, and while carbohydrates are important, it is protein that helps keep us from feeling ravenous. Protein is one of the most satiating nutrients.”
Sauceda recommended eating a lot more protein throughout the day. She suggested, “Include protein with every meal and snack. The protein will help not only keep you full but also help with regulating blood sugar.”
Amanda L. Dale, MEd, MA, personal trainer, nutritionist and wellness coach, agreed. She added, “Many of my female clients tend to undereat protein and overeat carbohydrates — leading to lethargy, higher body fat levels, and fatigue. A higher-protein diet — combined with vegetable carbohydrates, and healthy fats — can improve muscle tone, raise energy levels, and help you wake up feeling more rested and light.”