People are weird.
I mean that affectionately, but to elaborate, it seems everyone differs in their eating habits.
People like me find their hunger patterns are more friendly to not eating all day, but then having a massive meal in the evening time.
Others are simply never hungry for some reason. And some people, like those who are in a bulking cycle, are stuffing themselves with more food than they usually do and more consciously than they’re used to.
But I find in my practice as a dietitian that most people don’t follow the standard breakfast, lunch and supper format that was once thought to be a staple.
Most people engage in what is called “grazing.” This is when you snack on small amounts of food throughout the day which may or may not add up to the same amount of food/calories as having three square meals.
Depending on your weight and health goals, grazing could be just fine. However, for those trying to be more precise with their eating or struggling with weight loss, it’s not hard to see how it can be easy to overeat this way.
But even if you aren’t a grazer, you may still be one of those people who find you’re just freaking hungry…like all the time…no matter what you do.
And that can get annoying.
So, let me offer you some reasons as to why this can be.
Why Are You Always Hungry?
1.) You’re not eating enough calories.
Usually, the root cause of hunger isn’t some sort of personal failing of yours, but a biological mechanism of your body just trying to tell you it needs more fricking food.
Now, this mechanism is usually brought on by exercising regularly and thus burning more calories than you are eating, you intentionally cutting calories to lose weight or you unintentionally just not eating enough calories due to stress, being busy, non-access to food or a myriad of reasons.
Some of you might already be aware you’re not eating enough calories, especially if you’re dieting.
And if that’s the case, I’m afraid hunger just comes with the territory, and usually, your metabolism catches up and calms down the feelings of hunger after 2-4 weeks of a consistent calorie deficit.
Just make sure you’re doing it safely and never eating under 1,200 calories per day.
However, if you truly don’t know if you are eating enough calories to keep your calorie balance in check and give your body the fuel it needs to function, try adding in a high-protein and high-carb snack to the middle of your day.
2.) You’re burning more calories from exercise than your eating can keep up with.
This is a common one I see with athletes.
Intense exercise is so routine for them that they are totally unaware of how many calories they are burning and their schedules are typically so full, they don’t have enough time to eat consistently enough to replace those calories.
That’s why I have a ton of athletes who come to be utterly confused as to why they are always starving or why they are dropping weight they don’t want to drop.
If you are very active and having issues with hunger, try making the meals you eat more calorie-dense. Meaning, add in more healthy fats like avocado to your eggs, peanut butter in your morning oatmeal or snacking on nuts and seeds between exercise bouts.
3.) You’re eating while distracted or busy.
Don’t get me wrong, if you have the sort of busy job that often requires you to eat your lunches with a sandwich in one hand and typing an email with the other, don’t let me stress you out more by saying “don’t do that.”
Having worked in college athletics, the idea of a formal, sit-down lunch break is a joke.
However, as mentioned in the piece I’ve already written about distracted eating, studies show that your brain has trouble communicating with your stomach that you are full when the brain is busy processing other things like driving or phone scrolling.
This leads to you still feeling hungry even if you just ate and can also lead to cravings later on in the day because your brain is still seeking that satisfaction of being fed.
My advice would be to, as often as you can, find a meal that you have time to sit down and enjoy (mine was typically dinner).
And I mean ENJOY. Plate your food. Sit your fork down between bites. Chew slowly, enjoy the flavor and allow yourself to connect with the pleasure of eating, rather than getting through a feeding as if it is just another task.
4.) You’re eating too fast.
This brings me to my fourth point which is related to the previous one…so I’ll keep it quick.
Don’t scarf down your food like someone is going to take it from you at any moment. This also disrupts the connection between your brain and your stomach.
As suggested, set your fork or spoon down between bites. Get that burger out of your hand and set it down on the wrapper or plate until you’ve thoroughly chewed and swallowed that bite you just took.
That said…CHEW. I used to watch some of the guys I dated eat like Joey Chestnut at every meal and I’m astonished it doesn’t come back out in one piece. Not only does chewing slow down your eating, but aids in digestion which prevents constipation, post-meal stomach aches and bloating.
Taking your time with your food should satisfy your brain long enough to stave off hunger pains.
5.) You’re not eating enough fiber and/or protein
This is a huge one.
When I do private consultations, if a client or athlete tells me they have issues with hunger I always ALWAYS assess how much fiber and protein they are eating.
And nearly always always, it’s much less than they should be.
Fiber and protein are composed chemically in a way that causes them to digest very slowly which means they hang out in the stomach a lot longer before moving to your lower intestines.
So, not surprisingly, the longer your stomach stays full, the longer you feel full.
Unfortunately, the American diet’s staple snacks are very carb-rich (chips, granola bars, cookies, candy) and carbs do not hang out in the stomach very long, leaving you hungry soon after you seemingly just ate A LOT. This is why people blame carbs for weight gain…wrongly, I might add.
Choose high-fiber and/or high-protein snacks between meals when hunger strikes such as fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, string cheese, hummus and veggies, popcorn, nuts or beef jerky.
Along with that, make sure you have plenty of protein in your main meals and I can pretty much guarantee your consistent hunger reduces dramatically.
6.) You’re not drinking enough fluids.
Hydration is important for pretty much everyone, not just athletes.
But if you’re finding yourself feeling intense cravings seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of the day or late at night, you could just be confusing your thirst for hunger.
When these cravings strike, try drinking 8-16 ounces of water and wait 20 minutes. If you still feel hungry, you likely are actually having real hunger…and now you’re just more hydrated?
Yay! Never a bad thing. Now go have a protein snack.
If the feeling goes away, though, your body was just craving fluids and you should take note to keep sipping throughout the day to keep things in balance.
7.) You’re not getting enough sleep.
There’s this hormone. Its name is ghrelin. And when it’s released it makes you hungry.
Studies have shown that ghrelin production goes up as sleep duration and quality go down.
This could be why when you’re up late and should be sleeping, you tend to have cravings for those late-night treats.
Thus, try to get in at least 8 hours of continuous sleep a night. If this just ain’t gonna happen, choose low-calorie snacks like rice cakes or salted popcorn or high protein snacks (see again exhibit 5).
And no, athletes. This doesn't mean you can stay up all night because it could help you make weight. But nice try.
The bottom line?
There’s nothing wrong at all with being hungry. The sensation is just your body trying to take care of you and give you what it needs to survive and thrive.
However, if you feel like you’re always hungry when you shouldn’t be or your constant hunger is getting in the way of healthy weight loss, one of the things we discussed today could be a simple explanation.
If you need some ideas for high protein and healthful meals and snacks, check out my recipe books.