- Always peckish? You're not alone
- Your appetite is regulated through a complex network of hormones and brain signals
- If you're always wanting to munch, it might be one of the seven reasons below
Hunger is your body’s natural cue signalling the need for energy and nourishment. Your appetite is controlled by the interplay between the hunger and satiety centres in your brain.
Through a complex network of gut hormones, neurotransmitters and your nervous system, your stomach and digestive system send signals to your brain for interpretation. Here are seven of the most common reasons why you might be feeling hungry all the time.
1. You are not eating enough protein
Consuming adequate amounts of protein is important for appetite control.
Protein helps to improve your satiety levels by increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reduce the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger. This will result in consuming fewer calories during the day and will also help you feel fuller for longer. You should include a source of lean protein in every meal.
2. You eat too many refined carbs and not enough fibre
If you are choosing refined carbs over high-fibre wholegrain carbohydrates, you are more likely to feel hungry. Refined carbohydrates cause a substantial rise in your blood sugar levels and a corresponding insulin response. This can result in a substantial drop in blood sugar levels – a signal to the body which says, “I need more food.”
On the other hand, consuming whole grain carbohydrates high in fibre helps to control your blood glucose levels, insulin and subsequent appetite far more efficiently.
3. You are not eating enough fat
Fat takes longer to digest than carbs and has a lower gastrointestinal transit time. It also stimulates certain satiety hormones. This causes you to feel fuller for longer. It's, however, important to prioritise the “good” fats over the “bad” fats. Give preference to oily fish (such as salmon and sardines), avocado, olives, nuts, and vegetable-based oils.
4. You are not drinking enough water
Feelings of thirst may be mistaken for feelings of hunger. Hydration plays a key role in promoting overall health and has the potential to reduce appetite when consumed before meals. It's recommended that you drink a glass or two of water if you are feeling hungry to find out if you aren't just thirsty. Aim to drink six to eight glasses of water per day.
5. You are not sleeping enough
If you are constantly feeling tired and in need of a snack to pep you up, you are most likely not getting quality shut-eye.
One of the roles of sleep is to regulate your appetite through the action of hormones and neurotransmitters. For example, sleep helps to regulate the appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, as well as the neurotransmitter serotonin. Lack of sleep may result in higher ghrelin levels and lower serotonin, which is why you may have a bigger appetite when you are tired.
Sleep also plays a role in regulating leptin, a hormone which promotes the feeling of fullness. To help regulate your appetite, it is recommended that you get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
6. You are eating too fast
Several studies have shown that people who eat more quickly have bigger appetites and a tendency to overeat at meals, compared to those who eat more slowly.
Suggested reasons for this include not chewing your food thoroughly and not being aware of what you're eating, which happens when eating too fast. It takes 20 minutes for signals from the stomach to reach the brain's satiety centre.
Tips to help you eat more slowly include chewing your food more slowly, putting your fork and knife down, and partaking in conversation or taking sips of water between mouthfuls.
7. You are eating while you are distracted
If you have a busy lifestyle, you probably find that you often eat while you are distracted, for example while working on your laptop or driving. These ways of eating lead to consuming more food than you need.
Eating while distracted reduces your awareness of how much you're consuming and prevents you from attending to your body's hunger and fullness cues.
Several studies have shown that those who eat while distracted feel hungrier and have a bigger appetite than those who eat mindfully. To help you become more aware of your body’s satiety signals, try eating mindfully and avoid all distractions while eating.
Let the team of registered dietitians at Nutritional Solutions help you make "healthy happen". Our dietitians pride themselves in offering expert nutritional advice based on evidence-based practices. Go to www.nutritionalsolutions.co.za for more information.
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