Why do I feel hungry all the time ?
Do you feel hungry all the time ?
In theory, you eat when you're hungry and stop once you're full. Sounds simple, right ? So why does this seem so unattainable ?
In a nutshell, dieting.....
How often have you felt hungry but ignored it ? This may have been because you didn't have enough calories left in your daily quota, because it wasn't the right time to eat (hello fasting diets), or because you felt guilty about breaking whatever diet rules you were trying to follow. How many of you have drunk water/tea/diet coke or even smoked to try and quash those hunger pangs ?
The bottom line is that the only way to stop feeling hungry is to eat. Your body is trying to tell you that it needs energy and nutrients. Ignoring it or trying to 'distract' it with a drink, itsn't going to give your body what it needs, you'll just end up feeling even more hungry, or unwell.
Have you ever ignored your hunger pangs and then ended up eating all the food ? These are often foods that you perceive as cheat or unhealthy foods. This is really common and again, is your body reacting to the lack of energy it's being given. You probably ended up eating really quickly, possibly over eating and almost definitely feeling bad afterwards, both physically and emotionally. This is a side effect of dieting or restricting. It's not that you don't have any willpower, your body doesn't know that it will be getting food (eventually), so it kicks into action physiological mechanisms to survive. To compensate for a period of effective starvation, the body will transmit powerful hunger signals, making over eating almost inevitable. This is because it needs energy and also doesn't know when the next meal will come. It sounds extreme but numerous studies have demonstrated this effect.
Are you thinking about about food a lot ?
Another side effect of restriction is constantly thinking about food. Again, studies have shown that the more we ignore our hunger and biological needs, the more we obsess about food. This could be craving a particular food that you've told yourself you can't eat, or just generally thinking about food, cooking, eating out, or recipes.
What causes hunger ?
As I stated earlier, feeling hungry is nothing to do with willpower. You body is incredibly clever and has all sorts of mechanisms in place to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible. The feeling of hunger is linked to the brain which sends messages via neural chemicals and hormones. Periods of fasting/restriction turn on these messages. For example; the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin increases when you ignore hunger and reduces after eating. It's trying to tell you something ! Have you ever noticed that when you haven't eaten for ages, you crave bread or pasta ? This is because when you restrict, production of the neurotransmitter NPY (which works in combination with ghrelin) increases and leads to cravings for carbs to get your blood sugar back up. Again, this is nothing to do with willpower, it's biology.
What this means is that dieting is counter-productive - you can't outwit biology, you'll just feel hungry.
What are the signs of hunger ?
Have you felt any of these ?
These are all symptoms of hunger and will vary from person to person, from day to day and have different intensities.
Sometimes we dont just have biological hunger, instead we have emotional hunger, caused by stress or boredom. We have practical hunger, when we know we aren't going to be able to eat for a long period of time, so pre-empt the hunger by eating beforehand. Finally, taste hunger, where we really fancy a particular food or flavour. This also includes where we eat at celebrations. For example, a slice of birthday cake, even if we aren't biologically hungry. None of these are inherently bad but it's really helpful to learn to understand what type of hunger you are feeling, so that you know how to deal with it.
When you get used to ignoring these signs for a long time, it takes stronger signals for you to recognise them, which is not healthy for your body or mind. As mentioned earlier, this leads to a vicious cycle of over eating to compensate and ironically leaves you feeling that you can't trust your body. Those who have chronically dieted and ignored hunger signals, or have a history of trauma or stress may find that they no longer recognise the signs. This is because the body has come to realise that you're not responding to the signals, so it stops bothering sending them. If this is the case, working with a professional is really important.
What can I do ?
You are probably programmed into eating certain foods at certain times due to long-term diets and food plans. This can mean that you either go too long without eating or eat because it's a scheduled time.
Learning to observe your hunger signs and understanding what to do as a result of them is a really powerful way of learning to honour your hunger, trust your body and finally stop feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time.
The main message I want you to take away from this is that eating when you are hungry is good for you ! It helps your body learn that it will be fed at regular intervals as it needs, and helps regulate those chemical messages that may be out of whack. It also helps regulate your blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
There are lots of ways you can work towards this and honour your hunger. Learning a skill called interoceptive awareness is key. This is where you ignore external cues as to when you should or should eat and focus inward to what your body is telling you.
You can use a hunger scale, which assesses all the signs of hunger, both physical and emotional (think of it like a fuel guage). This helps prevent you getting to the 'hangry' stage and face-planting into a loaf of bread.* You can journal what you eat and when, including hunger levels and how you felt before and after eating.
(*disclaimer- all foods are allowed and appropriate, this example is used for comedic effect)
Tell me more....
Learning to recognise why you are hungry and learning to listen to your body is a skill that takes time and patience. It's not easy. Using the tools I've mentioned above, alongside other techniques and resources is something I guide clients through. I can help you stop feeling hungry all the time and stop thinking about food constantly. I can help you find your food freedom.
Check out my Find Your Food Freedom programme here: https://www.rachelfletchernutrition.com/foodfreedom