Are you hungry all the time? Does it seem like your stomach is a bottomless pit? What's up with never feeling full? If you're ravenous basically 24/7, you might wonder what in the world is going on in that belly of yours. Interestingly enough, the hunger signals you're getting may not always indicate a physiological need for food, although it might feel that way. Below are some of the common culprits behind those mysteriously incessant food cravings, as well as how to fix them.
Many times when you reach for that bag of potato chips when what your body actually needs is water. Dehydration can often be a trigger for hunger signals due to the dual role of the hypothalamus, which is the area of the brain that controls both thirst and appetite.
When the body's dehydrated, these signals can sometimes get crossed, prompting you to seek food instead of fluids. One of the best ways to prevent this is by drinking generous amounts of water every day, starting with at least one full glass first thing in the morning. As you add regular water intake to your daily regimen (experts suggest between 8-10 glasses a day), you'll begin to notice fewer fleeting cravings.
2. Carb-Heavy Foods
Countless studies have shown that a diet full of high-carbohydrate, high-sugar foods (think cookies, snack cakes, pasta, breads, soda, etc.) actually produces the opposite effect in terms of providing satiation for the body. In other words, the more you eat these types of foods, the hungrier you'll be all the time.
The reason why you're always hungry is because they fall under the category of simple carbohydrates, which are basically quick-burn foods that give you a brief jolt of energy by temporarily spiking your blood sugar levels. Once you come down off this sugar high, you'll become ravenously hungry, and naturally your body will crave more of the same. The best way to combat this is to eat lean protein or high-fiber foods such as lean meats (e.g., turkey, chicken and lean beef), or fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Not Enough Sleep
This might seem like a stretch, but when you understand the various hormonal interactions involved in your food cravings, it makes perfect sense. There are two major appetite-regulating hormones--ghrelin and leptin--that are directly affected by a lack of adequate sleep. Ghrelin is responsible for telling your body when it's hungry, so the more ghrelin you have, the hungrier you'll feel. Leptin is the hormone that sends signals to your brain to let you know when you're full.
Sleep deprivation will simultaneously cause your ghrelin levels to spike and your leptin levels to drop, which translates into a raging appetite. This only makes sense, because you're basically asking your body to function at the same level while providing it with only a fraction of the rest it needs, so it will require more calories (i.e., energy) to keep up with the additional demand. Do your best to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night in order to keep your ghelin and leptin levels within a healthy range.
4. Too Much Time Between Meals
When it comes to spacing out your meals during the day, it's much better to graze instead of gorge. In other words, eating smaller meals with more frequency during the day will help you regulate hunger much better than loading up on fewer heavy meals.
Try eating five smaller meals (e.g., breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner) instead of three larger meals; this will keep your blood sugar levels stable, minimizing those spikes and crashes that cause cravings to rear their ugly heads.
When those food cravings come, keep the above points in mind to help you separate noise from signal, so that you can approach your eating habits with a balanced mindset.