Feeling hungry is normal. In fact, it's good - as long a it happens when it's supposed to. A few hours after you eat, after you wake up or a little while after a tough workout. These are all good times to feel hungry. But when you're always hungry, or when you're hungry to the point where you could eat just about anything - something is off. Fortunately, you can do something about it. Give your body 24-hours to get control over your hunger starting now.
Let's get your appetite and hunger under control!
First, don't try to fix what's not broken.
There are two important types of hunger:
- The hunger you experience in the morning after a rested night of sleep.
- The hunger you experience after three hours or so after eating a meal.
- The hunger you experience after a long (90-min +) workout.
Hunger that happens after any of these scenarios is probably normal and nothing to worry about as long as you're eating good, healthy foods.
- You get hungry an hour or two after eating breakfast, and crave sugary foods.
- You're hungry and probably tired an hour or two after eating lunch. You may feel like you want to take a nap.
- You eat something to give you a boost, then find yourself going back into the kitchen to eat more and more.
This is the type of hunger that you want to keep an eye on. If this goes on too long, your body could run into trouble well beyond dealing with weight gain.
Understand Your Hunger Hormones
Uncontrollable hunger has quickly become a norm in our culture. The standard American diet throws our important "hunger hormones", like insulin and ghrelin out of whack. This makes our appetite turn on in full force.
Naturally, we gain weight or fat - or both!
When we see we've gained body fat or weight because we're eating all the time, we do things like cut calories or follow trendy diets, like the keto diet that almost eliminate entire macronutrient groups. That's not good.
The mental agony of always being hungry is tough. You're hungry, so you eat. Not much later you're hungry again. You know you just ate, so you try to get your mind off eating but end up giving in to the next piece of candy, can of soda or slice of bread that crosses your path. Sometimes it seems like nothing you do can control your hunger.
Every once in a while, I have a day where I feel like I'm always hungry. I can almost always trace it back to something I ate (or didn't eat) in the hours before. Even though my hormones are urging me to eat something sugary so my blood sugar levels evens out, if only for a little while, I know reaching for sugar is the last thing my body needs.
Here are three common hunger scenarios I've worked through with my clients. Most people want to lose weight and feel stronger. Uncontrollable hunger impacts both.
Why You're Always Hungry & What You Can Do
Scenario 1: If you're unusually hungry before breakfast...
What's wrong with being hungry before breakfast?
But if you're famished and ravenously hungry before you even get out of bed, or wake up long before you naturally would because you're really craving something sweet, take a look at what you ate the night before.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Did I eat too late at night?
- Did I eat a heavy snack (ice cream, chips, nachos) within 2 hours of bedtime?
- Did I eat or drink anything with a lot of sugar before bed?
- Did I drink alcohol before bedtime?
All of these points can trigger hormones to make you hungry first thing in the morning.
Your hunger hormones work 24 hours a day. Insulin, in particular, is hugely affected when you eat in the hours before you go to sleep.
When we eat before bedtime, or if we eat too much sugary food late at night, our insulin levels shoot up. Insulin is released every time we eat (this is normal), but if it's when we go to bed, it interferes with another important hormone called Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that should be burning for the next eight hours while you sleep.
Insulin will always slow the release of HGH. And when HGH can't get released properly because insulin is in the way, our body can't repair itself and insulin doesn't regulate like it normally would.
When insulin starts itself on a blood sugar roller coaster, it's hard to get off. As a result, early morning hunger can happen.
With all this talk about insulin and blood sugar, read this to help prevent diabetes entirely.
How to curb pre-breakfast hunger
First things first, drink water. 12 ounces of room temp or warm water is best.
Next, eat something for breakfast that has a combination of protein and fat in it with a bit of complex carbohydrate. A couple suggestions include:
- 2 eggs + 1/2 apple with nut butter
- 1/2 c oatmeal + 1/4 c walnuts + 1/4 c blueberries + cinnamon
- 2 slices of sprouted grain toast + 1/2 avocado spread on top
Get the meal plan that's right for your body type and follow that for a few days.
- If you're an APPLE shape body type, read this.
- If you're a PEAR shape body type, read this.
- If you're an HOURGLASS shape body type, read this.
- If you're an INVERTED PYRAMID shape body type, read this.
Scenario #2: You're hungry 2 hours or less after breakfast
Feeling hungry a few hours after breakfast might be normal, but if you're ready to eat cardboard an hour after you polished off your breakfast, you need to change what your first meal of the day is.
- Did you eat enough fat and protein with your breakfast?
- Did your breakfast have more than 12 grams of added sugar?
- Was your breakfast too small?
- Did you eat too much refined carbohydrate (pastry, cereal, fat free yogurt)?
Eating a healthy breakfast is so important...mostly because it sets the stage for the day. Skimping on fat or protein can lead to always feeling hungry.
To be clear, I don't think we all need to eat breakfast right away in the morning. I definitely don't and often wait until I'm done with my morning workout.
Some people are better eating breakfast a couple hours after they wake up, while others should eat right away. So whether you're breakfast is at 7am or 11am, the most important thing is the quality of what you're eating.
Fat free yogurts, for example, are not only very low in calories, they're also void of fat (obviously) and typically high in sugar.
Similarly, an egg white omelet might be a good source of protein, but contains no fat. Your body absolutely needs some fat and there is no reason to worry that the egg yolk will make you fat. Go ahead and eat the whole egg! While you're at it, throw a cup of berries or 1/2 cup of old fashioned (slow cooking) oats on the side. Chances are you'll feel fuller for much longer.
Healthier breakfast ideas that curb hunger
If you're hungry within an hour of breakfast, eat something balanced that can help take the edge off, and plan on eating the same thing every hour for the next 3 hours until you feel like you've got things under control.
For example: If you at breakfast at 8am, but you're really hungry by 9:30am, reach for the following at 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 - even if you're going to eat lunch at noon:
- 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
- 1/2 avocado
- a couple carrots sliced with hummus
- 1 apple + 1 tbsp almond butter
Everything listed here is a good source of fat and fiber. Fiber will help food digest slower and make you feel fuller longer - among other great benefits of fiber!
You may need to keep this up for a few days, but eventually, provided you're eating healthy breakfast, you should be on track.
Scenario #3: You're hungry (or tired) in the middle of the afternoon
This is the most common scenario, I've worked with clients who've easily consumed 1000 calories in between 3pm and dinner because they were so hungry they just kept snacking until dinner. Does this sound familiar to you?
You've made it through the morning, ate lunch at 12:30, but for some reason you're either famished or ready to crash around 3:30. It's pretty normal to feel hungry a few hours after lunch, so don't worry if you're reaching for a healthy snack, but you should feel like you're always extremely hungry at this time everyday.
Sometimes eating too many carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates, can be the culprit of either afternoon hunger or fatigue.
- Did you eat too big of a lunch?
- Did your lunch consist largely of bread, pasta, pizza, pastries or rice?
- Did you have enough protein, fat or fiber in your lunch?
Think about what you're eating for your mid-day meal? Ideally, our meals should have plenty of fiber from vegetables, some good protein and fat. Additional carbohydrates shouldn't be the main act of the plate, but all too often they are. Big sandwiches, burritos, giant slices of pizza or bowls of pasta might be convenient, but they do your body no favors.
Large meals will trigger a big insulin response. If we're eating too large of a portion size or if we're eating too many carbohydrates for lunch, we'll not only feel really hungry later, but we'll probably want to take a nap at our desk. Another reference to this is a post-lunch dip.
Foods that might make you hungry through the afternoon
First and foremost, drink water before lunch (and every meal for that matter). Think about what vegetables you're going to have with your meal, then double that amount.
Take inventory of your starchy carbohydrates. Are you eating starchy carbs with every meal? Think about cutting back to one or two meals a day, and make sure the portion sizes are reasonable.
Starchy carbs include:
- pizza dough
- potatoes (any kind)
Some of these foods are not necessarily bad, but limit eating these foods in the middle of the day.
Instead eat more:
- Stir fries (hold the rice)
- Soups (homemade is best)
- Leftover Spaghetti Squash Bolognese (I love this recipe)
- Leftover Cashew Chicken Stir Fry (and this one, too)
Keep an eye on your snacks, too. The average person eats somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 calories in snacks a day. That's more than a meal for most people! If you're going to snack, snack healthy.
What Else Can You Do?
Sometimes getting your body back on track just needs a little fine-tuning. I wrote a comprehensive 21-day meal plan for each of the four body type (apple, pear, hourglass and inverted pyramid) as well as a 100% plant-based meal plan. Get a the right meal plan for your body today and start eating better for your body tomorrow. It's the easiest way to control hunger and get your body back on track.