Always hungry despite having just eaten? You’re not alone. Sometimes it can constantly feel like we’re filling a bottomless pit.
To help curb our cravings, we asked nutritionist, master herbalist and naturopath Elizabeth Peyton-Jones to shed some light on the reasons why our hunger at times just can’t seem to be stopped. From the foods which only satiate in the short-term to letting our emotions lead to unsatisfying meal choices, here’s her go-to guide for understanding those pesky hunger pangs.
1. Low blood sugar levels
Fed up of being a slave to your sugar cravings? You’re not alone. However, the short-term satisfaction of tucking into your favourite packet of biscuits could in fact be making you hungrier in the long-term. “If you are eating foods that are high in sugar, your body will try to get rid of the sugar quickly, because in high quantities it can be toxic,” explains Elizabeth. “The pancreas pumps out insulin and before you know it, sugar levels become low again and you end up feeling hungry again.”
2. Lack of sleep
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, it could be wreaking havoc with your hunger levels. “Sometimes when you are feeling exhausted, the body feels it needs energy and therefore will attempt to regain energy through food,” says Elizabeth. “This in turn will make you crave sugary or high carb foods. However, if you are eating like this, then you will feel hungry again soon afterwards.”
Hunger can often be misconstrued for thirst and usually rather than re-hydrating, it can seem a lot easier to keep snacking. “Try drinking water first,” recommends Elizabeth. “Sometimes the body is thirsty but we immediately imagine that when our body wants something, it wants food.”
“Sometimes when we are not mentally engaged, we end up bingeing to give us something to do,” explains Elizabeth. This can result in poor food choices and resultant bouts of hunger throughout the day.
5. Irregular meal times
“If you don’t eat proper meals at relatively the same time every day, the body can become nervous about when it will get its next meal and so therefore start to crave,” says Elizabeth. “Picking all the way through the day is not the same as eating a meal and should be avoided.”
6. A lack of nutrient-dense food
“Eating foods with no nutrition will make the body crave for what it does not have. This may be interpreted as needing more food, when in fact it needs nutrient-dense foods,” explains Elizabeth.
“If you are having difficulty feeling full, try to eat as many whole foods as possible. Nuts are good, fibre is good. Chia seeds that have been soaked set like a gel and are more filling.
“Oats swell and so are more filling. Fruit can make you more hungry as can coffee and alcohol, so try to minimise these things. Butter beans, aduki beans, split peas and cannellini beans are all vegetable proteins which will keep you fuller for longer, as will eggs.”
8. Emotional eating
“You may be emotionally attached to food and find it comforting or simply feel the need to chew as a source of emotional release,” says Elizabeth. Eating our emotions is hugely common. However, similarly to when boredom strikes, it can lead to unwise food decisions as a result.
9. Too little food
Rather than eating too much of the wrong stuff, the problem could lie in not eating enough. “If you are being very restrictive with your food, i.e. eating 3 meals a day but not putting enough on your plate given your energy output, versus calories versus age, height etc., you will be constantly hungry until your body is sated,” explains Elizabeth.
10. Not eating your food properly
“It’s not necessarily the food, it’s the way you eat it,” says Elizabeth. “Make sure you are eating without distraction. Don’t eat while walking, arguing, debating, watching TV or rushing. Chew your food at least 20 times or more in order for your brain to register that you are about to swallow.”