I just got off the phone with a potential client, a woman who has been counting calories for a looong time, and is afraid that letting go of calorie counting will cause her to gain all the weight back.
Yet she also admits that she hates counting calories, is hungry all the time and would much rather be able to listen to her body, but isn’t sure if she can trust her body. She’s really concerned that if she lets go of the restriction, her body will still be always hungry, except now without any controls.
As I say in my guidebook, a little bit of hunger is a good sign that you’re in a calorie deficit. However, too much hunger can be a recipe for bingeing and mindless overeating. So what if you’re hungry all the time and still not losing weight?
Today I want to detail 9 reasons why you may be hungry all the time, and still not losing weight, and give you some tools to overcome these obstacles so you can stop feeling like you want to gnaw your arm off, and start seeing results.
Medical Reasons for Why You’re Always Hungry
Before I get into the nutrition habits that can be affecting your hunger, I want to discuss a couple of legitimate medical concerns for you to consider.
And let me point out that I am not a doctor, and this post is for informational purposes only. If you believe you have a medical concern, please see your doctor.
Increased hunger, thirst, and urination–
The trifecta of increased hunger, thirst, and urination together are a hallmark sign of diabetes, and requires medical treatment. Sometimes diabetes is also associated with rapid and unexpected weight loss, however that is not always the case.
Other symptoms of diabetes include poor wound healing, increased tiredness, irritability and visual changes. Please talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
Medications and hunger–
There are also multiple medications that can lead to increased hunger. Please do not stop taking your medications just because you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor to discuss options. Below is a list of the most common medications that may increase appetite:
Once we can rule out these medical reasons as concerns for hunger, it’s time to start considering our nutrition habits that may be keeping you from feeling satisfied so that you can go from hungry with no success to satisfied and seeing results.
Nutrition habits that are making you hungry all the time:
But before we go there… let’s talk about what’s NOT included on this list:
You need an appetite suppressant Your body is broken and actually can’t be trusted You need to be more strict with a diet…
These are all things I’ve been told that I needed when I was feeling incredibly hungry and NOT happy with my results. My favorite was “just stick with it come hell or high water.” A trainer told me that once. I hope he has found a greater compassion for those who struggle with nutrition.
We are bombarded by all sides by people, products, and systems intended to “fix” us, but the truth is, you’re not broken. You’re not lazy or unmotivated. You may have a nutrition habit or two we could tweak… but nothing that requires weight loss pills, strict diets, or giving up on trusting your body.
So lets get into the 7 nutrition habits that may be keeping you hungry (the title says 9 because I already talked about 2 medical ones)
Are you eating enough?
One of the biggest struggles with eating more unprocessed foods is that it can actually be hard to eat enough. I know it may sound ridiculous to you, but bear with me here.
We go from eating high calorie food all the time, to attempting to eat sensible meals.
So we hop online and check out “healthy recipes” or swap our big cereal breakfast for… an apple.
An apple is not a breakfast, it’s merely a piece of fruit. Less than 100 calories, and not enough to fuel you through until lunch.
Now looking at some popular “healthy” recipes, it becomes really obvious how “healthy eating” can mean underrating. Take a look at this day’s worth of healthy meals from Cooking Light magazine. Now before I get there, let me tell you I LOVE the recipes in Cooking Light. They are absolutely delicious and pretty easy to make. I buy their magazine regularly at the grocery store. But it’s rare that anything I make from there is a standalone meal.
If you followed these recipes exactly, full day’s worth of breakfast. lunch, and dinner would be under 1100 calories. To put that into perspective, 1200 calories is the minimum recommended amount a female eats for weight loss… and honestly for many it is wayyy too little for sustainable weight loss.
This is why I can’t stand it when I see all these list posts being shared on social media of “30 lunch recipes under 300 calories.” You need more than 300 calories for a third of your daily food intake!
So what’s the harm in under eating? First of all, you’re hungry all the time, and that’s not only miserable, but can also lead to munching and grazing during the day, since you’re never satisfied, unconsciously overeating when you’re not eating those “healthy” foods, or even bingeing.
The solution is to eat enough to feel satisfied at each meal. To find out if you’re eating enough, check out the worksheet in the blog post download guide here.
You’re eating “diet food”
When I was working as a nurse and attempting to lose weight (about 8 years ago) I would eat a can of soup every day for lunch.
My coworker once told me that if I ate one more can of soup I would turn into a can of soup.
I wasn’t sure how to take that.
But really, that can of soup was 2 servings of 90 -100 calories… meaning my entire lunch was under 200 calories for the most part. I didn’t look at the label, or whether it was enough food, I looked at the fact that it was a “healthy fit diet soup” and called it good. Unfortunately, I was hungry a couple hours later and would overeat snacks the rest of the shift.
Here’s another line of frozen meals as an example of diet food:
So let’s be honest, for frozen food that actually looks pretty tasty… but 170 calories is not a meal, it’s an appetizer at best.
The same problems with under eating that I described above are also possible when we rely on “diet” food products. If you enjoy these meals, that’s not a problem, however they do not make an entire meal on their own. You may need to add a fruit, some yogurt, a little extra protein… you get the picture, so that you’re eating enough to feel satisfied.
You’re exhausting yourself with exercise
I am a big fan of exercise and movement in general. It improves health, it decreases impulsivity which helpings us stick to our nutrition habits, and it also can help us listen to our bodies better when it comes to how much food we need.
But too much exercise is actually an entirely different thing.
In fact, too much exercise can prevent fat loss because our bodies need more nutrients to recover. This is especially true of moderate intensity continuous exercise, like running or jogging, and heavy amounts of high intensity exercise, like Crossfit or boot camps.
When we are exercising to the max, we need enough nutrients to recover, and often that means that our bodies won’t tolerate much of a calorie deficit, if at all. If your workout leaves you hangry, it’s time for a new plan. The solution to this is to develop a movement plan that fits your life, helps you feel more energized, and minimizes hunger.
You may need to create more balanced meals
There’s no such thing as a good food or a bad food, however some foods do leave us more satisfied than others. It doesn’t mean we need to cut anything out, or avoid food groups altogether, but eating meals that are mostly composed of processed carbohydrates will leave you hungry.
Chances are if you’re trying to eat less, but your food quality is keeping you hungry, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle. By adding more proteins and veggies into your meals, you’re creating more satisfying meals that will help your meal digest more slowly.
I recommend experimenting with your own meal composition and seeing how you feel. In general, most women will do well with a palm sized serving of protein with each meal…. beyond that, some people feel more satisfied with slightly more carbohydrates (I’m one of those… give me a high fat salad and I’m STILL hungry) and others feel more satisfied with more fat and less carbohydrates.
Lack of sleep can make you hungry
I talk about this principle in detail in Never Diet Again, so I won’t spend too much time here. But here are a few things to consider with not getting enough sleep:
- Lack of sleep increases appetite, those who are sleep deprived (meaning sleeping 5-6 hours per night) eat on average 500 more calories per day than those who sleep enough.
- Lack of sleep increases our impulsivity.
- Lack of sleep makes highly palatable foods have an even greater effect on our brain chemistry.
With sleep, the thing to remember is to do the best you can. You may have a toddler who doesn’t sleep through the night, you may have a job that requires shift work (lol, I wrote “shit work” initially and just caught it on editing… I used to be a night shift nurse so I totally get it).
Do the best you can and build habits gradually. Check out all the sleep improvement habits listed in Never Diet Again, and start working on one that works for you, even if 8 solid hours isn’t possible.
Are you hungry or are you thirsty?
Sometimes our thirst can be mistaken for hunger, especially when we are unfamiliar with our bodies’ signals. An uncomfortable feeling in the mouth may be thirst, but we believe it to be hunger.
Interestingly, being adequately hydrated prior to meals can reduce calorie intake during the next meal, definitely something worth considering.
How much water do you need? It depends! A good ballpark figure is dividing your body weight by 2. However you may not get enough water if you’re extremely active or sweating a lot, and you may be getting more than you need too… another simple trick is to keep tabs on your urine.
Gross! No, you don’t have to test it with strips like the low carb people do, just check the color, and see if it’s clear or close to clear, Then you’ll be on track for drinking enough water.
What’s missing may not be food at all –
Too often, we eat not because we are actually hungry, but to fill a void in our lives. Maybe to mask our boredom, suppress our disappointment, or alleviate our sadness, fear, and anxiety.
Ask yourself what it is that you personally need more of (NOT food related) and make a point to pamper yourself at least a little. You may be amazed at how often our cravings and desire to eat is not actually out of hunger, but due to another emotion. This list can help you recognize whether or not what you’re feeling is true hunger or cravings.
If you’re feeling hungry all the time, start by ruling out medical concerns, then take a look at this list of seven additional reasons you may be hungry. By creating habits to address these concerns you will be able to create a healthier relationship with your body and address the underlying reasons of why you feel so hungry all the time.