What to do when you're hungry all the time?

Sometimes you feel like you're hungry all day. But is it really hunger or just the desire to eat? How to tell the difference between the two and better manage your cravings? We explain to you the reasons why, sometimes, the feeling of hunger is permanent, and how to remedy it. 

Hunger results from mild hypoglycemia , that is to say a drop in blood sugar, also called sugar levels or blood glucose levels. It is a physiological signal, which indicates that all the calories from the previous meal have been burned, and that it is time to eat!

The feeling of hunger is sometimes accompanied by a sort of stomach cramp. It normally occurs after a meal, or following a physical activity that consumes glucose (housework, gardening, sport). If your  satiety  (absence of hunger) does not last more than 2 to 3 hours, check the balance of your menus . For example, at lunchtime, a main course is not enough.

Why do I always feel hungry (even after eating)?

Blood sugar could be the key to understanding the source of unwanted and frequent cravings . A link confirmed by a study published in 2021 in the journal Nature Metabolism (source 1). Researchers collected data on blood sugar responses and other health markers from 1,070 people after they ate standardized breakfasts and freely chosen meals over a two-week period. Participants completed a  fasting glucose response test (oral glucose tolerance test) to measure how well their body “processes” sugar. At the same time, they had to wear glucometers continuously to measure their blood sugar levels .

The scientific team noticed that some people had experienced significant “sugar dips” 2 to 4 hours after the famous “blood sugar spike” which occurs after a meal. People affected by this variation had a 9% increase in hunger and waited about 1/2 hour less before their next meal compared to other participants, even with similar meals. These same people also consumed 75 more calories in the 3/4 hours after breakfast and about 312 more calories throughout the day.

Blood sugar plays an important role in controlling hunger

However, this type of plan could potentially lead to a weight gain of around 9 kg over one year. “It has long been suspected that blood sugar plays an important role in controlling hunger. We show that sugar troughs are a better predictor of hunger and subsequent caloric intake than the initial blood sugar spike response after eating. This changes the way we think about the relationship between blood sugar and the foods consumed  ,” the researchers explain.

Leptin and ghrelin: two hunger hormones that can be dysregulated

Several hormones can influence the regulation of appetite: cortisol (stress hormone), insulin , pancreatic polypeptide (PP) and even sex hormones. However, two hormones mainly act to regulate our appetite and our feeling of hunger:

  • Ghrelin , a digestive hormone that stimulates appetite and snacking. It signals to our brain that we need to eat;
  • Leptin , the hormone that sends the signal of satiety and hunger to the brain when we have “filled up”.

Fatigue, PMS or pregnancy can impact hunger hormones

Certain life events or certain states can cause these hormones to malfunction , such as fatigue, stress , the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, etc.

When we are  tired , the hormones involved in regulating appetite are altered . Fatigue increases the rate of ghrelin production and decreases the rate of leptin production. And when we're  stressed, high cortisol levels lead to increased food cravings.

Variations in appetite, as well as an irrepressible desire for certain foods (often sweet) are among the symptoms of  premenstrual syndrome . Among the causes: the hormonal upheavals that the body experiences during this period. At the start of pregnancy , hormonal variations can also  increase your appetite, even if your needs are not greater.

How to stop being hungry all the time: our solutions

There are certain solutions to regulate your feeling of hunger.

Choose foods that fill you up

The desire to eat does not correspond to any nutritional need, it can occur when we have recently left the table. It is maintained by the omnipresence of tempting foods  : chocolates in the office, sweets from the vending machine at the station, pastries on the street corner...

To “settle in”, you must combine fiber, fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, bread and/or starchy foods, and proteins, meat, fish and dairy products with each meal . You can also focus on satiating foods .

Find sources of comfort other than food

Eating provides pleasure, particularly sweet foods which induce the release by the brain of well-being neurotransmitters ( serotonin , dopamine ). We often want to eat when we are sad, stressed, simply tired or idle. To avoid succumbing, you can try to better organize your days and allow yourself activities that provide comfort. For example,  regular practice of sport promotes the production of endorphins , real hormones of happiness.

Permanent feeling of hunger: avoid snacking between meals

" For your health, avoid snacking between meals " ! This slogan legally accompanies many food advertisements, as part of the National Nutrition and Health Program. It is true that snacking promotes excess weight .

Increased food intake maintains high blood sugar levels ( blood sugar logically increases after consumption of carbohydrate foods), and overly stimulates the production of insulin, the hormone involved in fat storage.

Eating all day long disrupts the alternation of hunger and satiety, we thus lose a natural system of regulation. And then we rarely want to snack on a carrot or lentils. Snacking reinforces the imbalance in our meals, too rich in fats and simple sugars, too poor in fiber and complex sugars.

Another solution: make snacks to fight cravings

If you have too little appetite to eat full main meals, or if your mornings or afternoons are particularly long, don't hesitate to introduce snacks.

Unlike snacking, snacks  , eaten regularly at a specific time of the day, are considered by the body as meals, and do not make you gain weight .

The ideal snack

It is a cereal product (bread, cereals, biscuits), a dairy product (milk, dairy products, cheese), and a fruit. Which doesn't stop you from treating yourself to a pastry, a few slices of sausage or squares of chocolate from time to time. Because the desire to eat also comes with the deprivations we impose on ourselves…

Source 1: Postprandial glycaemic dips predict appetite and energy intake in healthy individuals , Nature Metabolism , 04/12/2021.