Always hungry? The surprising reasons why you may be overeating
If you always feel hungry despite your best attempts to eat well you may be surprised at some of the reasons why.
Constantly yearning for food can derail the best of intentions, so understanding the real cause of excessive hunger can put you back on track to regain control of your eating habits.
Nutritionist Fiona Tuck’s top reasons why you may be hungry
Not eating enough during the day
Skipping breakfast or not eating enough during the day can lead to blood sugar drops and overeating at night time. When the body is not satiated it will continue to crave more food which triggers a never ending cycle of overeating in the evening. Include good quality protein such as natural yoghurt, cheese, nuts, fish, chicken, tofu and good fats such as avocado, olive oil, and essential fatty acids from seeds, nuts and oily fish with every meal. A low protein or low fat diet can leave the body craving more food.
Low tryptophan diet
If we do not have enough of an amino acid called tryptophan in our diet we can suffer from overeating at night time. Tryptophan is an amino acid involved in the production of serotonin, an important brain chemical involved in regulating mood. If we do not have enough tryptophan our serotonin levels can become low which can influence how we feel.
Serotonin helps us to feel calm, relaxed, and helps us to sleep. The body cannot make its own tryptophan so it must consumed as part of the diet; for this reason tryptophan is known as an “essential” amino acid. Tryptophan rich foods include nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs.
Often when we are stressed we can turn to food for comfort. Stress eating can be a way of coping with stressful situations or negative emotions. When we are stressed our nervous system and adrenal glands use up more nutrients- particularly magnesium, the B vitamins and vitamin C, which in turn leads us to crave more food: particularly high carb, high sugar and salty foods. Look to include more stress busting nutrients in your diet and look at ways to balance the stress in your life such as practising mindfulness, yoga and taking time out for yourself.
Not enough Sleep
When we are not getting enough sleep our bodies are not able to properly rest which makes it harder for the body to produce the hormone leptin. Leptin is the hormone that is involved in satiety- it helps tell us when we are full. Low leptin means that we do not feel satisfied and we feel the need to eat more. Sleep deprivation also increases Ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
Often we can misinterpret what we think is hunger is actually thirst. If we are not taking in enough fluid we can become tired, irritable and fatigued – symptoms that we often associate with hunger. Try drinking a glass of water and wait for 20 minutes before turning to food. Often the hunger symptoms will go away as the body becomes more hydrated. The best way to tell if you need to drink more water is by looking at the colour of your urine. It should be a pale straw like colour. If it is dark in colour it means you need to drink more.
Research shows that alcohol consumption can increase the production of our hunger hormone ghrelin. Drinking alcohol, especially before or during meals, can therefore make us more likely to eat more and consume more calories than we need.
Eating too many processed foods
Processed foods are usually high in fat, salt and sugar and low in nutrients. If the body is not getting adequate nutrition, even though we are eating enough calories, it will crave sustenance- which means hunger. The high fat, high sugar, high salt and additives in processed food can also lead us to crave more junk food which in turn leads us to overeating. Cut back on the junk food and increase fresh, wholefoods that are high in fibre and valuable nutrients that keep us satiated.
If you like to chew gum it may in fact be making you feel hungry. When we chew, we produce saliva which is the first step in the digestion process. This causes the stomach to expect food which in turn makes us hungry!
Simply by making small changes in your diet such as keeping hydrated, increasing nutrient rich foods and eating regularly can satiate our bodies and keep hunger pangs at bay.
Catch Fiona every Monday after 1pm on Better Living with Ed Phillips for Myth Busting Mondays.