Chronic stress plays a huge role in why you always feel hungry. Cortisol messes up your insulin sensitivity, leaving your cells craving fuel (aka glucose) despite a big meal and regular snacking. And, overeating can leave you feeling fat, frumpy and frustrated, too.
Do you always feel hungry? If you seem to have a never ending appetite even with regular meals, you may be dealing with stress-induced hunger! Don’t worry – this is a very common side effect of adrenal fatigue and chronic stress. And, there are ways to get over always feeling hungry.
Of course, you may always feel hungry because your body actually needs food. Physical hunger is a real thing – your body will let you know when it needs food. Some reasons to feel physical hunger are an empty stomach, low blood sugar, or hunger hormones that are out of whack.
If you always feel hungry even though you eat well and eat often, you may have an underlying stress-related reason for your hunger. Cravings, emotional eating and even incessant hunger from lack of sleep are all related to too much stress.
Before we delve into the confusing world of stress-induced hunger, let me give you a bit of background on what causes hunger.
Our bodies, especially muscles and the brain, need glucose, or blood sugar, for fuel. We get glucose from carbohydrates because carbohydrates are made of varying types of sugar molecules. When these sugar molecules break down, they form glucose.
In order to get glucose into our cells, our pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin attaches to receptors on the cells that tell them to ‘open up’ and let glucose in. When enough glucose has been absorbed by the cells, the cells shut their doors. Excess glucose is sent to the liver and fat cells for storage.
When the brain is in need of some fuel, it signals a hormone called ghrelin to be secreted. Ghrelin is what causes the stomach to start contracting to get ready for food – this is what causes a growling tummy!
When we’ve eaten enough, the hormone leptin signals the brain that there is enough fuel available, which, in turn, tells us we’re full.
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Why You Always Feel Hungry
One common reason why you always feel hungry is that you may not be eating enough. Many women cut back on calories and choose low-fat, low-calorie options because they want to watch their weight. And, what we’re told to eat in magazines and through fitness programs is usually too little for most women.
I’ve spoken about the basal metabolic rate (BMR) in a few Facebook live videos over the past couple of months. The BMR is the number of calories your body will burn each day if all you were to do was lay in bed. Roughly, your BMR is your current weight with a zero added to the end. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, your BMR is about 1400 calories.
If you’re active, have a job that requires you to walk or do physical labor, or if you work out often, your overall daily caloric expenditure will be quite a bit higher than your BMR. And, many health magazines create meal plans that have around 1500 calories each day. This is because, on average, women weight around 150 pounds.
When you don’t eat enough, your body will let you know!
(Plus, it’s not just about the number of calories – it’s more important to get high-quality calories from real foods!)
Physiological Reasons Why You Always Feel Hungry
Aside from simply not eating enough, your body may be telling you you’re hungry because systems are imbalanced. Insulin resistance is probably the most common reason for why people always feel hungry.
Insulin, as I noted above, signals cells to take in blood sugar as fuel. Cells can only absorb a limited amount so they shut down when they’re full. If your blood sugar is high all the time, insulin will keep knocking on those cell doors to try to let more blood sugar in. Eventually, the cells stop responding, ignoring insulin’s repeated signals, and no blood sugar is let in. This is insulin resistance. It leaves your cells starving while making you fat.
When your cells are starving, they signal your body to eat. So, while you may have abundant fat stores that should theoretically provide enough fuel for your cells, if insulin resistance is happening, you will always feel hungry.
Chronic stress forces more glucose out of muscles and the liver and into the blood. Chronic stress causes chronically high levels of insulin, leading to insulin resistance. So, chronic stress can make you feel hungry all the time, too, and push you to reach for sugar and refined carbs more often.
And, lack of sleep can mess up your ghrelin and leptin hormones. If you’re exhausted, your ghrelin levels rise and leptin levels lower. Poor sleep is another reason why you always feel hungry.
Is it Hunger or Something Else?
We all have emotional triggers to food. Many of these triggers can cause us to always feel hungry, even after a big meal. When I eat something especially delicious, I want more of it even when I’m stuffed. Looking at cookies on Pinterest can suddenly ignite a massive sweets craving too! And, sometimes boredom or procrastination makes me want to eat.
When you always feel hungry, it’s best to pay attention to your mood, what you ate recently, and your environment. If constant hunger is driving you crazy, there are some actions you can take to start figuring out why you always feel hungry.
Stop and think.
When a hunger pang hits, take a few minutes to evaluate if you’re really hungry before scarfing down a protein bar. Grabbing something to eat, especially packaged goods, isn’t going to help you in the long run.
Listen for hunger cues.
Okay, now you’ve had a few moments to note that you feel hungry. Your next action is to determine if it’s true hunger or something else. Do you feel or hear your stomach growling? Did you skip a meal? Has it been a few hours since your last meal? Or, perhaps you’ve hit a wall on a project at work and just need a break. Pay attention to what’s going on before reaching for a snack.
Drink some water.
Most people are dehydrated and don’t know it. Sometimes the body responds to dehydration by signaling that you’re hungry. So, instead of finding something to eat right away, try drinking a big glass of water. If, after 20 minutes, you still feel hungry, go ahead and see if you can find something healthy to eat.
Still hungry? Check your emotions.
Now it’s time to really dig into whether or not your hunger is real or just an emotional reaction to something. Go for a walk if you feel bored. If you’re procrastinating, try some deep breathing or stretching for a few minutes. Remember, stress can cause you to always feel hungry, so take a few minutes to acknowledge stress and react positively to it.
Wait just a little longer.
Okay, I’m just being mean now, right? You’ve questioned your hunger, your downed some water, and you’ve taken a short break from whatever is stressing you out. Now, you should be more aware of whether your hunger is real or not.
If your stomach is still rumbling and you feel a little weak in the knees, go ahead and grab a healthy snack or meal. Remember to eat mindfully, chew every bite thoroughly, and avoid distractions. Eating mindfully will help regulate leptin and signal that you’re full long before you eat way too much!
Why do you always feel hungry? Well, one major factor in hunger is chronic stress. Chronic stress can cause sleep disturbances, hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. If you’re able to address your stress with mindfulness and self-care, you’ll help regulate hunger.
Remember to eat enough every day, too! If you truly do feel hungry between meals, pick a healthy snack to tide you over. Low blood sugar will almost always make you gravitate towards sugar, chocolate and donuts. And you don’t want that!