Always feeling hangry? You’re not alone. The struggle of feeling like your appetite’s always one step ahead of you is so real—even if your hunger isn’t.
If you find yourself totally ravenous more often than that, or if your stomach’s constantly rumbling, consider these nine potential reasons you’re feeling really, truly hungry all the time:
1. You’re eating too many refined carbohydrates…
“Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, cookies, candy—those do nothing to satiate you,” says Young. Plus, the blood-sugar crash that follows can also be to blame. “These foods raise the blood glucose very quickly,” says Sai Krupa Das, Ph.D., scientist at the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University. “They are digested sooner, which causes insulin to respond to the glucose high, resulting in the lowering of blood sugar and earlier onset of hunger.” Blood-sugar crashes can also encourage your brain to reach for foods that provide quick bursts of energy (e.g. sugar), “causing cravings and over-eating,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., co-author of Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get Healthy Now.
2. …And missing out on protein, fat, and fiber.
“There are three nutrients that help with feeling full: protein, fat, and fiber,” says Young. “They take longer to digest and therefore, we do not feel hungry in an hour.” She recommends striving to get at least one of these elements in every meal (although two or three are much better, she add0s). “Protein is the most satiating of the nutrients, which is why it makes you feel fullest the fastest,” explains Bowden, “and fiber stabilizes your blood sugar.” High-fiber foods also add “bulk” to your food: “Fiber keeps you full for longer periods of time, which helps to prevent overeating,” says Rovenia Brock, Ph.D., author of Dr. Ro’s Ten Secrets To Livin’ Healthy. Healthy fats also help keep you full—include things like “coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, grass-fed meat, and fish,” says Bowden.
3. You’re not eating enough at mealtime.
If you’re eating meals with protein, fat, and fiber and you still feel hungry often, this could be a sign that you’re simply not eating enough at meal time, says Young. Try bulking up your meals with more of these healthy nutrients, rather than adding refined carbohydrates. You also won’t feel as guilty if you’re indulging in something extra healthy.
4. You’re probably just thirsty.
Reach for your water bottle before you give in to premature hunger. “A lot of what we perceive as hunger is actually thirst,” says Bowden. “So if you have a big glass of water and suddenly a cheeseburger doesn’t sound quite as great, then thirst was probably part of it. If it doesn’t blunt your hunger, that’s a good signal that maybe you need some food.” While there’s no exact formula for figuring how much water each individual needs, a good rule of thumb is to “take your body weight and divide it by two [to find] the number of ounces of water [you should be drinking every day],” recommends Brock. “High-water fruits and veggies help [to hydrate you, too],” says Young. There are also cute apps like Plant Nanny to make sure you are drinking an adequate amount of water for your size and body weight
5. You have a fast metabolism.
You know those people who seem to eat whatever they want—without putting on weight? (That we absolutely envy) Thank a genetic advantage, says Young: Some people just have faster metabolism. If your metabolism is especially fast, you may need to eat more often. Metabolism isn’t a stable factor in a person’s life, though: Go on a dangerous low-calorie crash diet and you can slow it down; build lean muscle mass and you can speed it up. (The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest. Thanks, strength training!)
6. You’re not getting enough sleep.
Skimping on sleep? This could be a major contributor to added hunger and cravings during the day. “Adequate sleep has now been clearly shown to influence food intake,” says Das. “If individuals are sleep-deprived, then their hormonal control is out of balance and causes them to overeat.” Two major hormones can get out of whack when you’re not sleeping enough: “Even a little bit of under-sleeping raises a [stress] hormone called cortisol, which compels you to eat,” says Bowden. “It raises your cravings, particularly for combinations of sugar and fat, what your body thinks will be quick fuel.” Plus, “sleep deprivation can cause elevated levels of hunger hormone, ghrelin,” says Brock. While each individual’s sleep needs vary, aim for seven to nine hours, says Young.
7. You’re hardcore about your fitness
While a simple power walk isn’t an excuse to wolf down whatever you desire, your activity levels do play a role in how hungry you feel. “If you exercise a lot, you may need to eat more,” says Young. “Your caloric needs increase with energy output or exercise,” adds Brock. But there’s a catch: “We think we burn more calories than we do from exercise,” Young says, so don’t fall into a trap of thinking you need to eat more than you do to fuel your workout. One surefire way to tell? “At the end of the day, your clothing or a scale ends up being an indicator,” says Young. “So if you’re hungry and you eat more, but your weight is staying down, then you did need those calories.”
8. Your medication is making you hungry.
Some medications can increase your appetite. Always ask your doctor about the side affects of your medication before you are prescribed.
9. You’re about to get your period.
Your menstrual cycle can totally play a role in your hunger levels—but it shouldn’t cause a crazy desire to eat a ton all week, says Young. “When your basal body temperature goes up, which it does right before you get you get your period, you might be hungry,” she says. This effect shouldn’t last for more than a day or two beforehand, though, so it’s not an excuse to eat whatever, whenever during your period.