Why am I always so hungry?

By HBF

4 minutes

15 June 2021

A plate of healthy snacks with hands reaching for them

Feel like your stomach is always growling? A dietitian explains a few ways to feel full and satisfied for longer while enjoying delicious, nourishing foods.

Hunger is our body’s natural, healthy signal that we need to eat.

When we fuel our bodies with nourishing foods, that grumbling feeling should be temporarily soothed – leaving us feeling satisfied and recharged.

So if you feel like you’re always hungry, it might be a sign that you need to fuel yourself more effectively, says Milly Smith, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for Dietitians Australia.

“Hunger is regulated by hormones,” she says. “The main two we talk about are ghrelin, which signals to our brain that we need to eat food, and leptin, which tells us we’re full and satisfied.

“What we choose to eat in response to our hunger signals can determine how full we feel and how long that fullness lasts.”

Here, Smith shares are a few small changes that might help you feel more satisfied.

Make sure you’re eating enough

It sounds obvious, Smith says, but if you’re always feeling hungry it might be that you’re not actually eating enough for your body’s needs.

If you’re exercising a lot, for example, you might be burning more energy than you realise, and need to replenish accordingly.

“Sometimes with diet culture, or depending on the people around us, we serve ourselves less food than we really need, and then blame ourselves for still feeling hungry,” Smith says.

“It’s important to make sure we’re listening to those hunger cues, eating enough at each meal for our own individual needs and including healthy snacks if we need them.”

Choose low GI carbs

Carbohydrates are essential fuel for our bodies, but some are better at providing a steady stream of energy than others.1

“You might notice when you eat simple carbs like white bread, pasta and rice crackers, or foods that are high in added sugars, they’re not actually super filling,” Smith says.

“That’s because they’re high GI – they get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, so the energy gets used up quickly, and we start to feel hungry again sooner.” 

What is the glycaemic index (GI)?

The glycaemic index is essentially a guide to how quickly different carbohydrate foods get absorbed into our bloodstream.1

  • High GI carbs, such as bread and pasta, are absorbed quickly, causing a spike in energy and blood glucose that then crashes, leaving us feeling hungry again. 1
  • Low GI carbs, such as wholegrains and legumes, are absorbed more slowly, keeping our blood glucose levels stable and helping us stay full and satisfied for longer.1

Fill up on fibre

Low GI carbs tend to be high in fibre, which is another important nutrient for fullness and satisfaction.2

“We tend to feel fuller for longer when we’re including fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains,” Smith says.

“Fibre goes through our digestive tract undigested, giving us a really good sensation of fullness, and it helps delay how quickly things exit from the stomach into our small intestine, so it helps regulate our blood sugar levels.”

Get your protein

Protein also plays a role in keeping us feeling nourished and energised, so it’s important to have a good spread of it across the day.3

“Protein is our slow-burning fuel – it takes longer to break down and use its energy, so it keeps us fuller for much longer,” Smith says.

Good sources of protein include lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt.4

Enjoy healthy fats

Healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are an important source of energy for our bodies.5

“Ideally, we should be trying to include a healthy fat in every meal,” Smith says. “Good sources of healthy fats include oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and oils like extra virgin olive oil."

“The real benefit is that they help with the absorption of some of our fat-soluble vitamins. They’re also good for our heart health and brain health.”

Stay hydrated

You might be secretly thirsty instead of hungry. Drinking plenty of water is essential for good health, and it can also impact our sense of fullness.6

“Our body isn't very good at distinguishing between thirst and hunger, so we often find that we’re looking for food when really we need to be hydrating ourselves with more water,” Smith explains.

Make sure you’re getting enough water throughout the day – try carrying a water bottle around with you, and making water your main beverage choice.

Get a good night’s sleep

If you’re not getting enough restful sleep, it’s common to feel hungrier than usual. Feeling fatigued can lead to a surge in ghrelin, the hunger hormone.7

“Not getting enough sleep is also a major factor in what we call leptin resistance, where our body either doesn’t produce enough leptin, the fullness hormone, or doesn’t respond to those fullness cues properly,” Smith says.

Sleeping well might be easier said than done, but practising good sleep hygiene – like keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet, avoiding caffeine late in the day, reducing alcohol, and taking time to relax before bed – can make a real difference.8

Soothe your stress

Similarly, feeling stressed or anxious can impact our hunger hormones. While some people lose their appetite when they’re stressed, others feel hungrier and experience more cravings, Smith says.

Try to take some time each day to practice some simple relaxation techniques – whether it’s meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, going for a walk, exercising, reading a book, or whatever works for you.9

With a few small changes to your lifestyle and eating patterns, you can help give your body a better chance of feeling vibrant and energised – and keep that grumbling stomach happy.

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Sources:
1Low GI explained – The Glycaemic Index Foundation
2Dietary fibre: key for a happy, healthy gut – Dietitians Australia
3Optimising foods for satiety – Trends in Food Science and Technology (2015)
4All about protein – Dietitians Australia
5The ins and outs of unsaturated fats – Dietitians Australia
6Drinking water and your health – healthdirect (2019)
7Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index – PLoS Medicine (2004)
8Sleep hygiene – The Better Health Channel (2014)
9Managing stress – healthdirect (2019)

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Disclaimer:

This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.