A woman is looking into the fridge for some snacks
While some health conditions increase appetite, you are most likely hungry due to a lack of attention and connection with your body.
Photo Credit: Choreograph / iStockPhoto.com

Are You Actually Always Hungry? Or Is It Something Else?

Many of us believe we are hungry all of the time, when in truth we aren’t. We simply do not pay enough attention to the signals our bodies give us to indicate whether or not we are truly experiencing hunger, or simply desiring to eat for another reason.

While some health conditions increase appetite, you are most likely hungry due to a lack of attention and connection with your body. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to increase your awareness and diminish the urge to eat or overeat.

Hunger While Dieting

The first and most obvious cause of hunger is simply not eating enough food. This can occur if you are following a strict weight loss diet.

Your body acclimates to being a certain weight, which is called a set point. If your weight falls below that set point, your body thinks it is starving and takes steps to maintain that weight.

If this occurs, your body will take action in the form of increasing your appetite. Because this is a safety mechanism to prevent starvation, it can make weight loss difficult.

This is the major cause of a plateau when following weight loss diets. Your body needs time to acclimate itself to the lower weight and reset its set point. Meanwhile, you may feel hungry.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, you may need to increase your calorie count slightly for a short time so you have the opportunity to lose weight while your body loses the “starving” sensation.

Eating the Wrong Foods Can Increase Your Appetite

If you fill up on refined carbohydrates and sugars, you will experience hunger.

Refined sugars and carbs provide little nutritional value. They boost your blood sugar levels rapidly and the increase is not sustained, so as a result you will feel hungry.

Instead of reaching for a candy bar or junk food, eat some protein and whole grains when you feel hungry. Your blood sugar levels will be maintained at a steadier level. Whole grains and complex carbohydrates are great sources of bulky fiber, which helps keep you feeling satisfied longer.

Fill up on dried beans, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you do not feel satisfied after eating raw fruits and vegetables, consider making brothy soups. The broth takes up volume in your stomach and can make you feel full.

Take a multivitamin supplement every day and eat a wide array of high-quality, minimally-processed foods. If you don’t consume nutritious foods that supply your body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally, your body may elicit hunger signals. Eating well and taking a supplement can help to reduce cravings.

Are Your Emotions Making You Hungry?

Many of us reach for comfort foods when we are stressed, bored, depressed or anxious. If you suffer from anorexia, bulimia, depression, bipolar disorder or an anxiety condition, you may eat to improve your mood and comfort level.

Comfort foods are soothing because they transport you to happier times and places. They are often sweet and high in fat. Sweets give you a quick energy boost and elevate your mood — unfortunately the effects do not last. Fatigue and poor mood rebound and leave you feeling worse.

Are Your Cravings Indicative of a Food Addiction?

Many comfort foods contain compounds capable of impacting emotions. For example, chocolate acts as an aphrodisiac and promotes the release of endorphins. We subconsciously crave the sensations comfort foods provide.

Some experts believe certain foods can be addicting. Notice what foods you crave when you are hungry and pay attention to how you feel after eating them. You may be able to satisfy food cravings by consuming a small portion of the food you crave or you may need to eliminate it from your diet completely.

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Are You Consuming Enough Food?

Consider your activity level when evaluating how much food you need to eat. If you are more active than you previously were or if you engage in vigorous activity, your food requirements will increase. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet and are consuming enough calories to keep your body sustained.

Health Conditions Causing an Increase in Appetite

Some illnesses may cause your appetite to increase. If your hunger is due to a health problem it is likely you will experience other symptoms, not simply hunger.

A classic sign of diabetes is an increase in appetite, which may be accompanied by weight loss, as well as increased thirst and urinary frequency.

If you take insulin or oral medications to manage diabetes they may cause your blood sugar to go too low, which is called hypoglycemia. It can cause hunger and potentially serious side effects.

Thyroid disease, such as an overactive thyroid, may cause an increase in appetite, excess energy and weight loss. Some rare genetic disorders may create excessive feelings of hunger.

Pregnant women are often hungry, especially during the third trimester. Many girls and women experience an increase in appetite and food cravings before or during their menstrual cycle.

If you have a new onset of hunger, or are always hungry and don’t know why, let your health care provider know. Most illnesses causing excess hunger can be diagnosed by simple blood tests.

Medication May Increase Your Appetite

Corticosteroids are medications used to treat a wide array of health conditions, and may cause a marked increase in your appetite. If you are taking corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and feel hungry more than usual, eat healthy foods so you do not overeat.

Other medications may increase your appetite, particularly if they irritate your gastrointestinal tract. While some medications cause nausea and result in a reduced appetite, others irritate the gastrointestinal tract with a lower intensity.

For example, you may eat more if you are taking an antibiotic if the medication makes your stomach rumble and you want to calm it down. This is usually a temporary condition that goes away as soon as the medication is discontinued.

Take medications with a small amount of food to avoid gastrointestinal distress unless it is contraindicated.

Most of Us Are Not as Hungry as We Think We Are

Most of us misinterpret hunger: we may think we are hungry because the clock says it is time to eat. Many of us have become so distracted from ourselves that our bodies and minds do not recognize hunger and satisfaction signals.

Eating fast food while driving, watching television during dinner, and eating when stressed do not give our bodies the information it needs to indicate nourishment. Despite adequate, and often excessive, numbers of calories consumed, our bodies are “starving” for comfort.

When you eat, sit down and relax and avoid distractions. Concentrate on the aromas, tastes and textures of the foods.

These actions can soothe your body and your mind. Hunger for food is often longing in disguise. Pay attention to your body’s innate wisdom and you may feel hunger sensations diminish and life satisfies you more.