Is It Normal to Always Feel Hungry? | Ask the Dietitian

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Is It Normal to Always Feel Hungry? | Ask the Dietitian

Hunger is your brain telling you that your body is low on the fuel it needs to keep moving — just like a car’s tank needs to be refilled with gasoline. That’s why it’s perfectly normal to feel hungry as soon as you start eating fewer calories to lose weight. Before you reheat those leftovers, let’s get to know what hunger really means. After all, it’s your body’s way of communicating with you.

WHAT CAUSES YOU TO FEEL HUNGRY?

We’re lucky enough to have access to calorie-rich foods that are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by, but we’ve evolved from our ancestors who lived in a feast or famine world. Under those conditions, it may have been beneficial for humans to get really good at: 1) loading up on food, 2) laying down fat stores and 3) maintaining a higher body weight.

Luckily, there is a science-based explanation for why weight loss is so hard. The Settling Point Model explains that our weight settles in a certain range, which is driven by genetics, aging and other lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress. Losing and gaining weight outside a certain range is difficult, because there are mechanisms in place to bring us back within range (Think: an increase in hunger and a decrease in satiety).

Research shows there are biological explanations for hunger, such as the increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin if you haven’t eaten in awhile. While there are a variety of hunger hormones, it’s ultimately more practical to learn how to tell if you’re truly hungry.

USE A HUNGER SCALE

The hunger scale helps you gauge when it’s a good time to start or stop eating. All too often we eat out of distraction or boredom instead of eating to satisfy true physiological hunger. Here’s a tip: Before you eat, spend a minute or two paying attention to your stomach. Repeat this process during and after a meal. Use this hunger scale to help you determine if you should eat something.  

If your hunger ranks high on the scale, have a snack that’s nutrient-dense and will satisfy you more than something that lower in nutrients, but higher in calories.  


READ MORE > AM I EATING TOO FEW CALORIES TO LOSE WEIGHT?


3 TIPS FOR TACKLING HUNGER

1. SLOW DOWN AND SAVOR

A small study of 20 overweight adults compared what happened when participants were told to finish the same amount of ice cream at different amounts of time. When they were given five minutes to wolf down the ice cream, they rated feeling hungrier and less satisfied than when they instructed to savor it for 30 minutes. Taking time to chew and savor your food enhances your enjoyment of the food and your perception of your own hunger, so don’t rush.

2. INCREASE YOUR DAILY CALORIE GOAL

The MyFitnessPal app helps you create a calorie deficit by subtracting calories for weight loss. If you feel like the amount of calories is not enough and it’s too stringent to follow, manually add back those calories in the settings. Getting to and maintaining your goal weight is not a race, so pace yourself.

3. CHOOSE FOODS HIGH IN PROTEIN, FIBER AND WATER

These three nutrients are highly linked to satiety, meaning they’re good at stifling your appetite after you eat. Focus on filling up on common-sense nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole-grains. Keep these things on hand so you don’t get caught off-guard. Need inspiration? Here are 21 healthy snacks other MyFitnessPal users enjoy.

Related

  • Andrea

    I used to think losing weight was strictly about cutting calories, so I began to think of food as a necessary evil. When I discovered the joy of exercising, I struggled to understand why I was feeling hungry all the time. MyFitnessPal automatically increases the daily calories I need when I enter my runs and weight lifting workouts, and at first, I thought this was horrible and wrong. Then I decided to listen to my body, stop the calorie obsession, and go with the calorie increase given to me by MFP. I still lost weight! I eat three meals a day (stopping as soon as I am full) along with several snacks. What I eat is predominately protein and vegetables, so I know I am getting a variety of vitamins and nutrition-dense foods…and I am still losing weight. My great realization is…I’m not on a diet; I have made a lifestyle change. When I am hungry, it’s my signal to eat something healthy (not a signal that something is wrong with my brain and I’m destined to eat my way back to obesity). Now, when I think of food, I see it as a partner in keeping me healthy. I grab a snack whenever I’m hungry, and I no longer feel guilty. I still keep to the increased calorie adjustment MFP makes according to the exercises I enter, and the pounds keep coming off and staying off. MyFitnessPal has shown me the math of calories in/calories out. I have trusted the app’s numbers, and it works!

    • Margaret Owens Floeter

      Same here! Sounds like we’ve been on the same path, Andrea. Good for you!

  • John Oxley

    MFP is geared up towards North America. Many of the snacks mentioned are American brands, not available in the UK. Whereas I fully understand this, it really is not much use for myself.

    • David King

      Have to disagree there. Having used MFP for years I’ve never had issues finding food on there.

    • Nelsca

      For packaged foods and snacks, it’s quite easy to “create” a food in MFP and enter the numbers from the nutrition information label. Once you do that, that food will be saved in the database and will be very easy to log subsequently.

  • I’ve always wondered if were programed to be a certain weight. I can lose weight, but my body always seems to like to be around 225 pounds. If I go under that weight, which I have a few times, I feel hunger all the time. If, I eat the right amount of calories, exercise 20 to 40 minutes a day, I seem to feel my best at 225 and I don’t gain, but I don’t lose any weight. So, reading this article and what she said about “weight settles” makes sense to me, but it also discourages me at the same time. Does this mean that no matter how hard I try to eat right and exercise regularly, that I will always end up at 225? I’m trying to get down under 210, because I want to take free fall classes, so that I can be certified to skydive on my own.

    • Borgi Beeler

      After almost 30 years maintaining a reasonable weight, I started gaining and really struggled as I gained a size and couldn’t seem to lose the weight. Then I changed my eating habits and not only did I lose the extra pounds, I have dropped a few more pounds, down to my college weight! I honestly didn’t think it was possible! The new eating habits are simple- lean protein, veggies, fruits. I try to avoid sugar and all processed foods as much as possible- and that includes salad dressing and other sauces and bread (unless I made it myself).

    • Marie

      Robert, I sure hope not. But I do think it may be a bit more difficult in adulthood for us attempting to form these habits, compared to those that spent their childhood and entire adulthood essentially learning and training to maintain this lower body weight. For us we just need to keep a conscious effort with our nutrition and exercise to lower our weight. And, frankly, a lot of times when I find myself thinking and saying it’s easier for some people to weigh less, they chime in and state that they, too, have to work at it, and do so consistently, at that.

      All this to say hang in there and good luck.

  • Margaret Owens Floeter

    For me, hunger was a product of what I ate, rather than how often I ate. When I ate a lot of sugar and starches, I was never satisfied and always hungry. Then two years ago, I stopped eating sugar and starches and instead began eating healthy proteins and veggies. Not only did I lose over 230 lbs and reach my goal, but my bloodwork is fantastic, I no longer have diabetes or congestive heart problems, and I’m never hungry. It’s pretty amazing.

    • Jean

      Congratulations, Margaret! What a great outcome for your efforts!

  • Glammy Bee

    For myself, unless I’m hearing my stomach rumble, I’m assuming that I’m not truly hungry. That it’s habit (in my head) or I’m in need of hydration. Historically, 99.9% of the time, when I thought I was hungry, my stomach didn’t rumble.

  • Andrew

    This article is incorrect. People are hungry all the time because our bodies have grown to demand carbs and sugar as our primary fuel source. If you switch to a ketogenic eating lifestyle, you will be far less hungry and will only need a small amount of food to satisfy you. When you go keto you will curb your bodies craving for sugar and will be able to use your own fat reserves as fuel. Intermittent fasting will also come naturally with the ketogenic lifestyle, and you will start shredding the fat off of your body once you into ketosis and stay with it without cheating. Our ancestors would not have felt the hunger we do because they ate largely a ketogenic type diet of meat, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, etc. Weight loss isn’t about calories in and calories out, it’s about controlling insulin.

    • Skippykite

      I was just going to post the same thing. You are absolutely correct.
      When I was doing a vegan(ish) diet 2 years ago and I was eating nutrient dense foods (that were loaded with carbs) I was always hungry, my stomach was always growling and I gained 50 lbs in a few short months despite walking 8 miles a day.

      After I came to my senses and got on Keto, my hunger was gone in less than 3 days and I started to steadily lose weight. I am now doing Keto with Intermittent fasting where I only eat one time a day (usually in a 2 hour window) and I am totally fine the rest of the time. Unlike my coworkers who are always complaining of being hungry, I am not thinking of my next meal. And I don’t walk 8 miles a day anymore but I do have a somewhat physically demanding job… (except once a week I will choose to walk home instead of get a ride and that is 7 miles).

      Anytime I have ever slipped up and did too many carbs during this journey, my hunger came back in force… So carbs are why people are always hungry.

      Thank You Andrew for setting it straight.

      • Jean

        Andrew and Skippykite, I am experiencing similar success with my new keto-lifestyle. For the first time in my life I am not constantly hungry. High fat, low carb in a limited eating window, and fasting thrown in is doing wonders for my body: weight, energy, productivity; I know my insulin is down and I am counting on inflammation to be down too with many more benefits down the road.
        I appreciate the intent of this article. It’s advice is based on ‘facts’ that have been popular and accepted for many years. The truth is that studies for decades have shown otherwise. I’m glad the truth is finally coming out and grateful that I stumbled across it.

  • Establishment

    Losers eat food high in fiber and protein. Winners eat cheese burgers from McDonnell with forks.

  • George

    It is not normal to feel hungry you also should not calorie restrict so much that you feel hungry. It is not healthy and you will kill all your brain cells. Oh wait your advice was funded by the meat and dairy industry. Oh that’s why you are giving such false information. I am vegan and I have already lost 70lbs because of it without restricting my calories. I feel full most of the time and I still loose weight even though I only do light exercise

  • Aimee Nicole Reece

    why is it so hard to find good for me food that tastes good? I hate raw veggies, I like some fruits but they are crazy expensive and go bad super fast. other than some baked chicken breast I don’t have a like for most healthy food. same for my family. I try to make myself drink water but it tastes nasty and makes me have acid reflux almost instantly and makes my whole body have severe cramps.I’m allergic to all sweetners. makes dieting hard.. i do the best i can at portion control. the cravings for sugar and carbs is crazy.

    • Jean

      Aimee, that is hard place to be! Since you’re asking, I suggest you look into a keto-style diet. I too was hooked on sweets and carbs and though I have always loved vegetables, my cravings took me straight to refined carbs. Keto has been completely satisfying and satiating for me. It’s high in healthy FATS (I know – it’s sounded very counter-intuitive to me too) which satiates. NO HUNGER or CRAVING at all! Important to drop all sweets and refined carbohydrates. It was easy when I loaded up on healthy fats. I looked into it because I have a friend who struggled with morbid obesity for decades- tried everything. The change in her has been remarkable. I honestly wish you the best on your journey to find what works for you.

    • Marie

      Aimee, I suggest exploring ways to cook your vegetables that you may like a bit better. I used to think of vegetables as something I had to choke down. I would look for all kinds of recipes for cooking other things, but vegetables you’re just supposed to eat as is, no? Not really. Search for recipes for veg same as you would anything else. If you don’t like the way it tastes, try a different veg or different cooking style. And don’t forget your spices!

      Some options I use: I sautée them in a pan with butter, or roast them in the oven. Sometimes I blend the veg and add to soups, beans and other recipes I already eat. Some people swear by smoothies as a way to quickly consume lots at once. A little more on adding to meals. I used to do this shrimp pasta recipe. I started out with the recipe as suggested and gradually started reducing the penne and adding even more spinach, tomatoes and other veg. With the sautéed veg, I started out with more potatoes (everyone likes those, right?) and then adjusted those down but increased bellpeppers, cucumbers, jalapeño peppers, etc. Right now I’m cooking beans with blended tomatoes, red bell peppers and onions added in. It ALL adds up!

      Is there any veg at all you like? Consume more of it.

  • Kate

    If you’re a woman, it’s also worth checking with your doctor or OBGYN about PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), especially if you’ve ever experienced heavy & irregular periods, acne, and/or hirsutism. I was finally diagnosed with it recently and discovered that there’s a lot more to it than needing birth control to regulate menstruation. It can also make you insulin resistant and your body overproduces the hunger hormone ghrelin. It suddenly made sense to me why I was hungry ALL THE TIME.

    It also made more sense why I’ve always gained weight, even though I eat a normal diet. I’ve had doctors test me for hypothyroidism three times in my life (came up negative), but none ever pursued this possibility, even though it’s an endocrine disorder with similar effects. So if you think it’s a possibility, you should ask to get tested.