Why am I hungry all the time?
If you find yourself hungry all. the. time. it's time to take a look at what and how you're eating.
Hunger is a phenomenon that is influenced by a number of factors including blood sugar, stress, mood, the microbiome, and habit. If you notice yourself craving those quick carbohydrates, snacking all day long or still hungry soon after eating a substantial meal, here's what you want to consider:
Blood sugar dysregulation is a major cause of hunger and snacking. Insulin is the #1 player - the hormone that shuttles sugar molecules into the cell where they can be turned into energy. With the Standard American Diet (SAD - a diet full of packed & refined foods + hydrogenated oils and lacking whole foods with nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, etc) insulin resistance can easily develop. This means that cells are less receptive to insulin resulting in high levels of sugar in the blood - not in the cell. What happens next? Your cells send our signals to the brain that there is an urgent need for energy. What's the quickest form of energy available to the body? CARBOHYDRATES - chips, bread, candy. Say hello to your love for carbohydrates.
Whether its psychological, emotional, physical, or environmental, stress always translates to cortisol in the body. You might be stressed from work, school, family, a recent injury, illness, a lack of sleep, a lack of support, or toxins in the environment - no matter what it is, the body reacts in a similar way by increasing the release of cortisol. Cortisol is like the alarm for the body, telling it to get ready for war. Part of this reaction affects increases the release of sugar into the blood and consequently, insulin is also raised. Now we're dealing, again, with blood sugar dysregulation and insulin resistance. Other signs of elevated cortisol? High blood pressure, belly fat, and poor sleep.
If you haven't noticed by now, when we snack we typically go for the foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. The trifecta, engineered to make you addicted. This is a real phenomenon. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in the reward system in the brain, is spiked each time we eat something that is hyper-palatable (meaning really, really delicious and not found in nature). Eventually, this can turn into a full-fledged addition. So what does this have to do with mood? When we're feeling down, insecure or anxious we look for things that will lift our mood. You know the kind - ice cream, chips, bread, doughnuts... But like anyone who has indulged in the name of comfort, we know the lift doesn't last forever. Often, you'll be left feeling more yucky and uncomfortable in your body but with a memory of that pint of ice cream.
Here's a fun one that is starting to become more well known. We've got a lot of microbes in our gastrointestinal tract - bacteria and fungus, and hopefully not, viruses and parasites. Part of what makes their presence so important is that they communicate directly with our brain, via the gut-brain axis. One that is important for hunger and, particularly, sugar cravings is a fungus called Candida. These guys feed off of SUGAR! Candida is naturally present in our gut, but when it overgrows (which is shockingly common) these guys can communicate with your brain to cause sugar cravings.
Habit & hunger signals
In this day, technology is ever present. I, like many others I'm sure, have found myself forming a habit of eating while on the computer or scrolling through my phone. Just like eating snacks at the movie theater, sometimes it's just fun to have a snack while you're being entertained and distracted. The problem is that this is often without paying attention to our hunger signals. We might not be actually hungry but because of habits and the need to feel occupied, we eat anyway.
Another thing to consider is that we often are overfed but undernourished. Sometimes your body's hunger is in hopes that it will be fed a plate of nutrients - vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. The things it needs for the millions of chemical processes that go on every day. Here's where paying attention to what you're craving, and what you might be lacking, is important.
What's the solution?
Everyone has their own biochemistry, environment and genetics. Regardless, there are basic principles that are pretty universal.
- Eat real food. Make half of your plate vegetables. Include quality fats (this just means unprocessed fats - nothing refined, hydrogenated, roasted, etc). Include a protein source with your meals - about the size of your palm.
- Get in touch with your body. Get to know what it feels like to be actually hungry. Are you hungry or just thirsty? Drink a glass of water and you'll know.
- Meditate. This is the ultimate skill because it will help you to create SPACE between that hunger and actually eating. It gives you the space to decide if you are hungry. Less impulse, more being in touch with what is really going on. Sometimes you need to sit in your emotion and feel it, rather than covering it up with food.
Work with me!
Addressing insulin dysregulation, elevated cortisol, mood, the microbiome, and hunger signals is different for every one, every body. There isn't a cookie cutter approach but there is a way for you. I'd love to help you discover it!