Hunger is your body’s natural cue that it needs more food.
When you’re hungry, your stomach may growl and feel empty, or you may get a headache, feel irritable #hangry or be unable to concentrate.
Most people can go several hours between meals before feeling hungry again, though this isn’t the case for everyone.
There are several possible explanations for this, including a diet that lacks protein, fat or fiber, as well as excessive stress or dehydration.
Here are 14 reasons for excessive hunger:
1. Consuming Enough Protein is Important for Hunger Control.
Protein has hunger-reducing properties that may help you automatically consume fewer calories during the day. It plays a role in increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger (1, 2, 3, 4).
Due to these effects, you may feel hungry frequently if you’re not eating enough protein.
In one study, 14 overweight men who consumed 25% of their calories from protein for 12 weeks experienced a 50% reduction in their desire for late-night snacking, compared to a group that consumed less protein (5).
Additionally, those with a higher protein intake reported greater fullness throughout the day and fewer obsessive thoughts about food (5).
Many different foods are high in protein, so it is not difficult to get enough of it through your diet. Including a source of protein in every meal can help prevent excessive hunger.
Animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, contain high amounts of protein. It is also found in some dairy products, including milk and yogurt, as well as a few plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, seeds.
Summary: Protein plays an important role in appetite control by regulating your hunger hormones. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if you don’t eat enough of it.
2. Not Getting Enough Sleep.
There is no denying that getting adequate sleep is extremely important for your health.
Sleep is required for the proper functioning of your brain and immune system, and it is associated with a lower risk of several chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer (6).
Additionally, sleeping enough is a factor in controlling appetite, as it helps regulate ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone (think; growling tummy, that’s ghrelin). Lack of sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels, which is why you may feel hungrier when you are sleep deprived (7, 8).
In one study, 15 people who were sleep deprived for only one night reported being significantly more hungry and chose 14% larger portion sizes, compared to a group that slept for eight hours (9).
To keep your hunger levels under control, it is generally recommended to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Summary: Sleep deprivation is known to cause fluctuations in your hunger hormone levels and may leave you feeling hungry more frequently.
3. Eating Too Many Refined/Processed Carbohydrates.
Refined/processed carbohydrates have been processed and stripped of their fiber, vitamins and minerals.
One of the most popular sources of refined carbs is white flour, which is found in many grain-based foods like white rice, bread and pasta. Foods such as soda, lollies and baked goods, which are made with processed sugars, are also considered to be refined carbohydrates.
Since refined carbohydrates lack filling fiber, your body digests them very quickly. This is a major reason why you may be hungry frequently if you eat a lot of refined carbs, as they do not promote significant feelings of fullness (10).
Blood sugar fluctuations signal your body that it needs more food, which is another reason why you may feel hungry often if refined carbs are a regular part of your diet (10).
To reduce your refined carb intake, simply replace them with healthier, whole foods like vegetables. These foods are still high in carbohydrates, but they are rich in fiber, which is helpful for keeping hunger under control (12).
Summary: Refined/processed carbohydrates lack fiber and cause blood sugar fluctuations, which are the primary reasons why eating too many of them may leave you feeling hungry.
4. Diet Is Low in Fat.
Fat plays a key role in keeping you full.
This is partly due to its slow gastrointestinal transit time, meaning that it takes longer for you to digest and remains in your stomach for a long period of time. Additionally, eating fat will lead to the release of fullness-promoting hormones (13, 14, 15).
For these reasons, you may feel frequent hunger if your diet is low in fat.
One study including 270 obese adults found that those who followed a low-fat diet had significant increases in cravings for carbs and preferences for high-sugar foods, compared to a group that consumed a low-carb diet (16).
Furthermore, those in the low-fat group reported more feelings of hunger than the group that followed a low-carb eating pattern (16).
There are many healthy, high-fat foods that you can include in your diet to increase your fat intake. Certain types of fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and omega-3 fatty acids, have been studied the most for their impact on reducing appetite (17, 18, 19, 20).
The richest food source of MCT is coconut oil, while omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. You can also get omega-3s from plant-based foods, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
Some other sources of healthy, high-fat foods include avocados, olive oil, eggs and full-fat yogurt.
Summary: You may feel hungry often if you don’t eat enough fat. That’s because fat plays a role in slowing digestion and increasing the production of fullness-promoting hormones.
5. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water.
Proper hydration is incredibly important for your overall health.
Drinking enough water has several health benefits, including promoting brain and heart health and optimizing exercise performance. Additionally, water keeps your skin and digestive system healthy (21).
In one study, 14 people who drank two cups of water before a meal ate almost 600 fewer calories than those who didn’t drink any water (24).
Due to water’s role in keeping you full, you may find that you feel hungry frequently if you’re not drinking enough of it.
It is also known that feelings of thirst can be mistaken for feelings of hunger, as these signals originate in the same region of the brain. If you’re always hungry, it may be helpful to drink a glass or two of water to find out if you are just thirsty (23).
To ensure you’re properly hydrated, simply drink water when you feel thirsty. Eating lots of water-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, will also contribute to your hydration needs (25).
Summary: You may always be hungry if you’re not drinking enough water. That’s because it has appetite-reducing properties. Additionally, it is possible that you are mistaking feelings of thirst for feelings of hunger.
6. Your Diet Lacks Fiber.
If your diet lacks fiber, you may feel hungry frequently.
Additionally, a high fiber intake influences the release of appetite-reducing hormones and the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which have been shown to have fullness-promoting effects (12), also contributing to a healthy microbiome of the lower GI tract.
It’s important to note that there are different types of fiber, and some are better than others at keeping you full and preventing hunger. Several studies have found soluble fiber, or fiber that dissolves in water, to be more filling than insoluble fiber (27, 28, 29).
Many different foods, such as oatmeal, flaxseeds, sweet potatoes, oranges and Brussels sprouts, are excellent sources of soluble fiber.
Not only is a high-fiber diet helpful for reducing hunger, it is also associated with several other health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity (30).
To ensure you’re getting enough fiber, opt for a diet that is rich in whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Summary: If your diet lacks fiber, you may find that you are always hungry. This is because fiber plays a role in reducing your appetite and keeping you full.
7. Eating While You’re Distracted.
If you live a busy lifestyle, you may often eat while you are distracted.
Although it may save you time, distracted eating can be detrimental to your health. It is associated with a greater appetite, increased calorie intake and weight gain (31).
The primary reason for this is because distracted eating reduces your awareness of how much you’re actually consuming. It prevents you from recognizing your body’s fullness signals as efficiently as when you’re not distracted (31).
Several studies have shown that those who engage in distracted eating are hungrier than those who avoid distractions during mealtimes (31).
In one study, 88 women were instructed to eat either while distracted or sitting in silence. Those who were distracted were less full and had a significantly greater desire to eat more throughout the day, compared to the non-distracted eaters (32).
Another study found that subjects who distracted themselves with a computer game during lunch were less full than those who did not play the game. Additionally, the distracted eaters consumed 48% more food in a test that occurred later that day (33).
To prevent excessive hunger, it may help to avoid distracted eating (i.e. being on your phone/laptop/iPad, in front of the TV, driving etc.). This will allow you to sit down and taste your food, helping you better recognize your body’s fullness signals.
Summary: Distracted eating may be a reason why you are always hungry, as it makes it difficult for you to recognize feelings of fullness.
8. Excessive Exercise.
Individuals who exercise frequently burn a lot of energy.
This is especially true if you regularly participate in high-intensity exercise or engage in physical activity for long durations, such as in marathon training.
Research has shown that those who exercise vigorously on a regular basis tend to have faster metabolisms, which means that they burn more energy at rest than those who exercise moderately or live sedentary lifestyles (34, 35, 36).
In one study, 10 men who engaged in a vigorous 45-minute workout increased their overall metabolic rate by 37% for the day, compared to another day when they did not exercise (37).
Another study found that women who exercised at a high intensity every day for 16 days burned 33% more energy throughout the day than a group that did not exercise, and 15% more energy than moderate exercisers. The results were similar for men (38).
Although several studies have shown exercise to be beneficial for suppressing appetite, there is some evidence that vigorous, long-term exercisers tend to have greater appetites than those who do not exercise (39, 40, 41, 42).
You can prevent excessive hunger from exercise, simply by eating more to fuel your workouts. It is most helpful to increase your intake of filling foods that are high in fiber, protein and healthy fats.
It is important to note that this mostly applies to those who are avid athletes who work out frequently at a high intensity or for long periods of time. If you exercise moderately, you probably don’t need to increase your energy intake.
Summary: Individuals who regularly exercise at a high intensity or for long durations tend to have greater appetites and faster metabolisms. Thus, they may experience frequent hunger.
Alcohol is well known for its appetite-stimulating effects (43).
Studies have shown that alcohol may inhibit hormones that reduce appetite, such as leptin, especially when it is consumed before or with meals. For this reason, you may feel hungry often if you drink too much alcohol (43, 44, 45).
In one study, 12 men who drank 40 ml of alcohol before lunch ended up consuming 300 more calories at the meal than a group that drank only 10 ml (46).
Additionally, those who drank more alcohol ate 10% more energy throughout the entire day, compared to the group that drank less. They were also more likely to consume high amounts of highly processed carbohydrate dense, trans fats and salty foods (46).
Another study found that 26 people who drank 30 ml of alcohol with a meal consumed 30% more calories, compared to a group that avoided alcohol (47).
Not only does alcohol have the ability to make you hungrier, but it may also impair the part of your brain that controls judgment and self-control. This may lead you to eat more, regardless of how hungry you are (44).
To reduce the hunger-inducing effects of alcohol, it is best to consume it moderately or avoid it completely (48).
Summary: Drinking too much alcohol may cause you to feel hungry frequently due to its role in decreasing the production of hormones that promote fullness.
10. You Drink Your Calories.
Liquid and solid foods affect your appetite in different ways. If you consume a lot of liquid foods, such as smoothies, meal replacement shakes and soups, you may be hungrier more often than you would be if you ate more solid foods.
One major reason for this is that liquids pass through your stomach more quickly than solid foods do (49, 50, 51). Furthermore, some studies suggest that liquid foods do not have as great of an impact on the suppression of hunger-promoting hormones, compared to solid foods (49, 52).
Eating liquid foods also tends to take less time than eating solid foods. This may lead you to want to eat more, only because your brain hasn’t had enough time to receive fullness signals (53).
In one study, people who consumed a liquid snack reported less fullness and more feelings of hunger than those who consumed a solid snack. They also consumed 400 more calories throughout the day than the solid-snack group (52).
To prevent frequent hunger, it may help to focus on incorporating more whole, solids foods into your diet.
Summary: Liquid foods do not have the same effects on keeping you full and satisfied as solid foods do. For this reason, you may feel hungry frequently if liquids are a major part of your diet.
11. Feeling Stressed.
Excess stress is known to increase appetite. This is mostly due to its effects on increasing levels of cortisol, a hormone that has been shown to promote hunger and food cravings. For this reason, you might find that you are always hungry if you experience frequent, long-term stress (54, 55, 56, 57).
In one study, 59 women who were exposed to stress consumed more food throughout the day and ate significantly more sweet foods than women who were not stressed (57).
Another study compared the eating habits of 350 young girls. Those with higher stress levels were more likely to overeat than those with lower levels of stress. The stressed girls also reported higher intakes of unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies (58).
Summary: Excessive stress is a reason why you may be hungry frequently, given its ability to increase cortisol levels in the body.
12. Taking Certain Medications.
Several medications may increase your appetite as a side effect. The most common appetite-inducing medications include antipsychotics, such as clozapine and olanzapine, as well as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, corticosteroids and anti-seizure drugs (61, 62, 63, 64).
Additionally, some diabetes medications, such as insulin, insulin secretagogues and thiazolidinediones, are known to increase your hunger and appetite (65).
There is also some anecdotal evidence that birth control pills have appetite-stimulating properties, but this is not supported by strong scientific research.
If you suspect that medications are the cause of your frequent hunger, it may help to talk to your doctor about other treatment options. There may be alternative medications that don’t make you hungry.
Summary: Certain medications cause increased appetite as a side effect. In turn, they may cause you to experience frequent hunger.
13. Eating Too Fast.
The rate at which you eat may play a role in how hungry you are.
Several studies have shown that fast eaters have greater appetites and a tendency to overeat at meals, compared to slow eaters. They are also more likely to be overweight or obese (66, 67, 68, 69). In one study in 30 women, fast eaters consumed 10% more calories at a meal and reported significantly less fullness, compared to slow eaters (70).
Another study compared the effects of eating rates in those with diabetes. Those who ate a meal slowly became full more quickly and reported less hunger 30 minutes after the meal, compared to fast eaters (71).
These effects are partly due to the lack of chewing and reduced awareness that occurs when you eat too fast, which are both necessary to alleviate feelings of hunger (72, 73, 74). Additionally, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly gives your body and brain more time to release anti-hunger hormones and receive fullness signals (72, 75).
If you are hungry frequently, it may help to slow down when you eat. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths before meals, putting your fork down between bites and increasing the extent to which you chew your food.
Summary: Eating too quickly doesn’t allow your body enough time to recognize fullness, which may promote excessive hunger.
14. Medical Conditions.
Frequent hunger is a symptom of a few specific illnesses. First, frequent hunger is a classic sign of diabetes. It occurs as a result of extremely high blood sugar levels and is typically accompanied by other symptoms, including excessive thirst, weight loss and fatigue (76).
Hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by an overactive thyroid, is also associated with increased hunger. This is because it causes the excess production of thyroid hormones, which are known to promote appetite (77, 78).
Summary: Excessive hunger is a symptom of a few specific medical conditions, which should be ruled out if you are frequently hungry.
The Bottom Line
Excessive hunger is a sign that your body needs more food. It is often a result of imbalanced hunger hormones, which may occur for a variety of reasons, including inadequate diet and certain lifestyle habits.
You may feel hungry frequently if your diet lacks protein, fiber or fat, all of which have properties that promote fullness and reduce appetite. Extreme hunger is also a sign of inadequate sleep and chronic stress.
Additionally, certain medications and illnesses are known to cause frequent hunger.
Your hunger could also be a sign that you are not eating enough, which can be solved simply by increasing your food intake. If you feel hungry often, it may be beneficial to assess your diet and lifestyle to determine if there are changes you can make that will help you feel more full.
As always, i am here to help, if you have any questions in regards to your health or nutrition, please reach out [email protected]