"I want to lose weight, but I'm always hungry." Sound familiar? Don't worry. You're in the company of many. Unsatiated hunger is one of the most common reasons people fall off the healthy-eating wagon. Part of the reason you're always hungry may be a poorly designed diet plan that's too low in calories, fat and protein.
Other reasons may be psychological. Sometimes, when you restrict yourself, your brain goes into a rebellious preservation mode that signals cravings and false hunger cues. If you're trying to lose weight but are hungry all the time, take an objective look at your diet and see if you can use some proven methods to rectify the problem.
Why Am I Always Hungry?
Your hunger may be physiological, meaning you truly are physically hungry, or psychological, meaning you feel hungry but your body has no real physical need for food. Psychological hunger usually occurs as a result of boredom, habit or emotion. You may also feel psychological hunger when you're at social events where food is one of the main attractions.
When you're trying to lose weight but hungry all the time, it's important to differentiate between physical and psychological hunger. If you're truly hungry, you don't want to deprive yourself of essential nutrients, but if you find yourself wanting to eat because you're bored or emotional, it can derail your progress.
Physical vs. Psychological Hunger
To figure out if you're experiencing physical hunger, ask yourself these questions:
- Does my stomach feel empty?
- Do I feel any physical signs of hunger, like stomach rumbling or low energy?
On the other hand, you can determine if your hunger is psychological by asking yourself these questions:
- Am I bored?
- Is my "hunger" being triggered by emotional cues, like stress or sadness?
- Am I reaching for food out of habit, or does my stomach feel empty?
Psychological hunger is a big player in the game, especially when you're trying to lose weight but are always hungry at night. But if you determine that your hunger is physical after asking yourself these questions, you can troubleshoot your current dietary plan by looking at the types of foods you're eating.
Cut Out Sugar
Sugar has become one of the most widely consumed (and one of the most problematic) substances in America. According to the Diabetes Council, the U.S. has the world's highest average daily sugar consumption, with each person consuming about 126.4 grams per day. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends that adult men consume no more than 36 grams per day and adult women limit intake to no more than 25 grams daily.
Aside from the fact that sugar can cause weight gain and make it difficult for you to lose weight due to its caloric content alone, it also triggers intense cravings. The more you eat, the more you want. Even the sweet taste from diet drinks and artificial sweeteners can prompt cravings that make it difficult to feel full.
Stop Sugar Cravings
One of the most effective ways to stop cravings and the feeling of insatiable hunger is to cut out added sugar and simple carbohydrates. Even high-sugar fruits, like pineapple and mango, can trigger sugar cravings that can make you feel hungry when you're not.
Avoid the obvious sources of sugar, like cookies, cakes and other desserts, but look for hidden sugar too. Condiments — like ketchup, barbecue sauce and salad dressings — often have sugar added to them. Check all food labels and avoid anything that has added sugar in the ingredient list.
Avoid simple carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice and white pasta, and limit your overall carbohydrate intake.
Include Healthy Fats
Fat got a bad rap in the 1990s that it's still having difficulty shaking. Although research has since shown that healthy fats fit well into a balanced diet, many people still avoid them — especially they're when trying to lose weight — due to fear of gaining instead.
But fat plays a crucial role in keeping you full, and if you're desperate to lose weight but always hungry, it's possible that you're not eating enough fat. According to research published in the journal Nutrients in 2019, monounsaturated fat (like the kind found in avocados) can increase feelings of fullness, especially when combined with fiber.
When increasing your fat intake, keep in mind that fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient. In other words, it contains more calories per gram (9 to be exact) than protein or carbohydrates, so watch your portion sizes and don't overdo it.
Eat Enough Protein
Although fat helps keep you full, when it comes to satiety, protein is king. According to research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016, higher protein intake keeps you fuller longer than limiting protein. The lead investigator for the study, Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD, says this may be due to the fact that protein triggers your body to release hormones that make you feel full.
If you're trying to lose weight but are always hungry, up your intake of healthy proteins — including chicken, fish, lean beef, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and some grass-fed dairy — while still keeping your calorie goals in mind.
Get More Sleep
If your diet is "perfect," but you still feel hungry all the time, you might need to look past your meal plan. Inadequate sleep can interfere with two hormones called ghrelin and leptin. Lack of sleep causes your body to make more ghrelin and shuts off the production of leptin.
This is a problem, because ghrelin, nicknamed the "hunger hormone," signals to your body that you're hungry, even when you're not. On the other hand, leptin tells your body that you're full. If ghrelin is high and leptin is low, you'll feel hungry all the time.
Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night, but along with that, make sure it's quality sleep. Stop using any technology at least an hour before bedtime and make sure your room is dark, quiet and free from interruptions.
A Note on Excessive Hunger
If you go through this checklist, make the necessary changes and you're still always hungry, check in with your doctor. Excessive hunger can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes or hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland is too active. Simple blood tests can rule out any underlying medical conditions.
- American Heart Association: Added Sugars
- The Diabetes Council: 45 Alarming Statistics on American’s Sugar Consumption and the Effects of Sugar on Americans’ Health
- Thorne: The Science Behind Sugar Cravings
- Nutrients: Using the Avocado to Test the Satiety Effects of a Fat-Fiber Combination in Place of Carbohydrate Energy in a Breakfast Meal in Overweight and Obese Men and Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The Effects of Increased Protein Intake on Fullness: A Meta-Analysis and Its Limitations
- Elsevier: Increased Protein Consumption Linked to Feelings of Fullness: New Study