They tell you that breastfeeding burns a ton of calories, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that, while nursing my son, I actually never felt full. I would finish a plate of food and immediately be thinking about what I would eat next or whether there was dessert in the kitchen (something that did not play well with my desire to lose all my baby weight). But if you find yourself always searching for something to eat and you’re not providing food for another human being with your body, there could be an underlying cause.
If you drink, it could be the alcohol, which “spurs the brain to release ‘I’m starving’ signals even if you’ve already eaten,” according to registered dietician Suzanne Dixon. Alcohol, in addition to being a great leveler, interrupts the signals from your brain to your body, convincing it opposite things are true.
Which makes a lot of sense, when you think about how it affects your other decision making.
You might be dehydrated, which is why registered dietician Kelli McGrane always advises her clients to drink two glasses of water and wait 20 minutes to see if you’re still feeling hungry.
“Fruits and vegetables are also high in water, so if your diet is low in either of these, try adding a serving to each meal.”
If you’re dieting, take a hard look at your calorie intake and make sure your meals are balanced. McGrane points out that cutting too many calories too quickly can lead to increased cravings and feeling tired, and if your diet excludes entire food groups, your nutrition overall might be suffering.
“While some individuals do well on more extreme diets, most of us are better off slowly reducing calories and getting rid of high-fat, high-sugar processed foods rather than eliminating entire food groups.”
This goes double if you’re active and working out a ton – make sure you’re listening to your body if it’s telling you that it needs to refuel. Your diet should keep up with your activity level.
Surprise! Not getting enough sleep can be behind your feeling of constant hunger, as well. Callie Exas, a New York-based nutritionist and trainer, says that getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night results in low levels of leptin, the hormone that lets your brain know you’re full -“just one night of messed-up sleep can make your ghrelin levels go up.”
Lack of sleep can also spike your insulin and cortisol levels, both of which can also affect your hunger instincts.
Stress eating is a real thing, so take a look at what might be going on in your life that could cause you to reach for the chips or cookies every couple of hours. Ysabel Montemayor, a registered dietician, notes that stress can also cause the release of cortisol associated with feeling hungry.
Make sure you’re eating enough protein and fiber, both of which help you feel full throughout the day, says Montemayer, and that your meals “have a source of protein, such as lean meats, fish, or tofu. You can also incorporate whole grains and vegetables to add fiber.”
Healthy fat sources like olive oil, avocados, and nuts can also keep you feeling full.
If none of the above apply to you, check your medications and consider that you might have an underlying condition like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or nondiabetic hypoglycemia.
If you’re worried, as always, it’s probably time to make an appointment to talk to your doctor.