Do you eat a meal, only to find yourself hungry 20 minutes later?
I know I do sometimes. My plate is barely in the sink before I'm hunting through the kitchen for something else to eat. If this is you, you're not alone - and I'm here to help. Here are five reasons you're always hungry and ways to combat them!
1. Your portion sizes are too small
It's estimated that 50% of women are actively dieting at any given time - that's a whole lot of hungry ladies! Additionally, women often underestimate their daily caloric needs (or deliberately reduce their food intake) so end up not eating anywhere near enough nutrients to keep their body happy. If you finish a meal but have barely taken the edge of your hunger there's a good chance you're not eating enough.
What to do: Make sure you're eating enough serves of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, proteins and fats for your age, size and activity level.
See this post for a handy guide to proper portion sizes.
2. You're not eating enough protein
Protein is broken down slowly by your body and has a low glycaemic index (GI), meaning it keeps your tummy feeling full while keeping your blood sugar levels stable. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Nutrition showed that inadequate dietary protein increases hunger and the desire to eat, so if you find yourself getting hungry immediately after eating try upping your protein intake. Think yoghurt or scrambled eggs for breakfast, lean shredded chicken or quinoa at lunch, hummus as a snack and bean and/or lean meat chilli for dinner.
What to do: Include a source of lean protein at each meal - be it meat, dairy or alternatives, beans and legumes, eggs, soy products or protein powder.
3. You're eating the wrong sorts of carbs
There are two sorts of carbohydrates (and no, NOT good and bad...) - simple and complex. They're both useful at different times and perfectly healthy when eaten in the correct portions. Simple carbohydrates such as white bread/pasta/rice, lollies, fruit juice, rice syrup and other sweeteners are broken down quickly, giving you a rush of energy - useful for playing sports or recovering from exercise. Complex carbohydrates contain fibre and so are broken down slowly by the body, meaning no big sugar rush and they leave you feeling satisfied for longer.
What to do: Try swapping refined white carbohydrates for wholemeal/wholegrain versions, your 11am muffin for fibre-rich fruit salad with a handful of nuts or a 3pm lolly break for a more nutritious homemade muffin or snack - try these No-Bake Quinoa Muesli Bars, Chocolate Pear and Ginger Muffins or some Mixed Seed Crackers with dip.
4. You're dehydrated
We all know that drinking enough water is important for general good health - think great skin, a clear brain and no fluid retention - but did you know that when we're thirsty our body can trick us into thinking we're hungry? The same part of the brain regulates both thirst and appetite, so mild dehydration can often be interpreted as hunger.
What to do: Make sure you're drinking at least 1.5 - 2L of water everyday to keep the mindless munchies at bay. You can check out this useful blog post for tips to stay hydrated.
5. You're eating too quickly
An article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that eating the same meal over 30 min instead of 5 min leads to higher concentrations of gut hormones that play an important role in regulating hunger, satiety, and energy intake. Thus, the warning we were given as children that wolfing down your food will make you fat may in fact have a real life physiological explanation!
What to do: Make sure you're chewing your food thoroughly, putting your fork/spoon down between bites and savouring your meal instead of scoffing it.
Bonus Answer: You're not getting enough sleep
Ever had a rough night's sleep to find yourself completely ravenous the next day? It's not all in your head. Research shows that sleep deprivation throws off leptin and ghrelin production - the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. In one study, subjects who were chronically sleep deprived had 15% more ghrelin (the hunger hormone) than those who were well-rested, causing them to feel hungry more often an eat more as a result.
What to do: Make sleep a priority. Take naps if you need to, and start a bedtime wind-down routine (switching off electronic devices, having a warm bath and doing some quiet reading, ) if you're one of those people who has trouble getting a solid night's sleep (guilty...).
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