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It's six in the morning, and you wake up. Your first thought? Food. Mid-afternoon rolls around. Your eye alights on the refrigerator. What runs though your mind? Food. Your fingers itch at the thought of a holding a cookie, your lips tingle as you imagine the sweet sugar. You're so hungry, you could gnaw your own hand off and eat it.
You only ate an hour ago.
Why do we get hungry?
Hunger is regulated by hormones. Leptin, produced by fat-cells, tells us we're full.
Ghrelin, on the other hand, is made in the stomach and makes us hungrier. Ghrelin sends signals to be brain that we're hungry and peaks right before we eat. When we've eaten, it drops again.
Traditionally, thin people produce more Ghrelin while people with more fat-cells produce more Leptin. However, some research suggests that in some overweight or obese people, this mechanism is disrupted, and overweight people keep producing Ghrelin. This creates a vicious cycle in which the person is always hungry.
However, that's not the only reason we get hungry.
Here, we look at nine of the most common reasons why you're always hungry.
1. You're not eating enough fat
Fat is not our enemy. We need some healthy fats for brain function, to absorb certain essential nutrients (such as Vitamin D), and some fats (like Omega 3 fatty acids) can keep your heart healthy. But there's another reason to eat healthy fats. Fats tell out brain that we're satiated (full). Because they take longer to break down, they stay in our stomach longer, meaning we need less food.
Eat healthy fats, such as olive oil, oily fish (like salmon), avocado, and cheddar cheese.
2. You're not getting enough protein
Protein remains in the stomach for longer, helping us to feel full. You should eat a palm-size portion of protein with every meal.
Good sources of lean protein are: chicken, turkey, eggs, oily fish (like salmon and tuna), beans and pulses, and edamame beans.
3. You're eating too many sweet carbs
Not all carbs are created equally. Certain carbs (such as cookies, doughnuts and pastries) are packed with sugar and white, refined flour. These send your blood glucose levels spiralling high and then crashing down really quickly. That's why, an hour after one cookie, you're desperate for another.
Carbs are not bad. In fact, they're an important part of your diet. Carbohydrates provide the glucose that your body needs for energy. But, you need stabilising carbs that will help keep your blood glucose levels on an even keel.
Wholegrains are really important. They protect against heart disease and may reduce your risk of some types of cancer. They also help you feel fuller for longer. When you eat carbs, you should aim to eat: wholegrain bread, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain pasta (or brown rice pasta, if you can't eat wheat), and brown rice. Vegetables such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash are also great sources of slow-burning carbs.
4. You're dehydrated
Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger. When we're thirsty, our hypothalamus gets confused, leading us to feel hungry when all we really want is a tall glass of cool water.
If you feel hungry, try getting a low-sugar drink first: water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or even low-cal hot chocolate. If you're still hungry 20 minutes later, you know it's not just your thirsty brain playing a trick on you and you can try a healthy snack.