Feeling hungry is our brain’s way to telling us it’s time to refuel. It is a normal sensation and is influenced by both biological and psychological factors. Hunger typically sets in after 3-5 hours from the last time you’ve eaten a meal. However, if you constantly feel tired, experience stomach growling after a meal, or get low on energy/jittery, here are top three reasons why you might be feeling this way and what you can do about it.
If you feel hungry shortly after a meal, re-evaluate if you are eating adequately during your meal times. Some people undereat intentionally to follow a calorie-restricted diet/fad diet trends while other undereat nutrients (not calories or volume of food) which causes hunger, negative impact on energy levels, and mental fatigue.
The caloric need will vary from person to person and it depends on a variety of factors, such as body size, health conditions, and physical activity levels. Also, based on your lifestyle and eating habits, you may need a snack or eat more frequently between meals to keep you energetic throughout the day.
Oftentimes, I find my clients are setting an unrealistic standard on how much they should eat based on someone else’s eating habits or what they have read on the internet. Have you considered that you may not be allowing yourself enough food regularly?
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2. Imbalanced Meals
A balanced meal includes food from multiple food groups: whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and dairy. When you skip a food group or eat inappropriate portion, it can cause hunger or lack of satisfaction after a meal. For example, eating a breakfast full of refined carbohydrates (eg. sugary cereal, juice, waffles, pastries etc) may meet your caloric requirement but it is missing fiber and protein from your plate.
Since refined carbs lack filling fiber, your body digests them very quickly. It causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar and then when it drops, you’re hungry again. Consistent intake of high fiber food helps produce short-chain fatty acids, which causes the body to feel satiated and create healthy gut microbiome!
Always pair your carbohydrate with lean protein and healthy fat. Protein helps us to feel full while healthy fat helps with the production of leptin to signal that fullness and slow down our digestion. If you you’re lacking healthy fat in your diet, it can lead to craving foods high in sugar.
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3. Lack of Sleep
Sleep helps regulate ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone. If you do not get quality sleep consistently, it can increase the level of ghrelin, leading you to feel hungry when you’re actually in need of sleep.
If you have difficulty sleeping or feel hungry during bedtime, may be you need a bedtime snack. Instead of a heavy meal, eat a small snack that is high in carbohydrate with little protein as they increase the level of sleep-inducing tryptophan in the blood. Beware of food/drinks with caffeine before bedtime.
Few other things to consider:
- Your exercise regimen and over all nutrient intake
- medications like steroids, antidepressants called SSRIs, some diabetes medicines, and antipsychotic drugs.
- health conditions – diabetes, hormonal imbalance
- pregnancy, lactation