According to Alissa Rumsey, RD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “mild dehydration is often masked as feelings of hunger, when really your body just needs fluids.” This confusion happens in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which is responsible for both appetite and thirst. When you’re dehydrated, wires get crossed in the hypothalamus, leading you to grab a bag of chips instead of a bottle of water. Therefore, if you’re feeling hungry and you know that you haven't drunk much that day, drink a glass of water and wait 15-20 minutes to see if your hunger subsides.
2. You’re a Restless Sleeper
By the time you have woken up after a poor night of sleep, two hormones linked to appetite have already begun conspiring against you. Rumsey states that “too little sleep can lead to surging levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, as well as decreased levels of leptin, a hormone that causes feelings of fullness.” After poor sleep, you’re more likely to have serious fatigue and brain fog. Therefore, your body, desperate for a shot of energy, triggers cravings for sugar carbs even if you’re not actually hungry. You should always aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night to ensure that your energy levels and hunger hormones are kept on track.
3. You’re a Stress Case
Stress has a sneaky way of making you more voracious. When you’re tense, your system increases the production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Elevated levels of these hormones trick your body into thinking it’s under attack and needs energy, so your appetite starts raging. Being stressed also reduces the levels of the brain chemical serotonin, and that will make you feel hungry when you’re not.
Maggie Moon, RD, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist, states that “simple carbs, the kind found in sugary, white flour foods like pastries, crackers, and cookies, spike your blood sugar levels quickly, then leave them plunging soon after.” That plunge causes intense hunger for more sugary carbs, and the vicious cycle continues. Therefore, you can prevent fluctuating blood sugar levels by simply avoiding simple-carb foods as often as possible. You can get your carb fix by eating almonds, chia seeds, apples, and pistachios.
5. You Drink Too Much Alcohol
That pre-dinner glass of wine that’s meant to whet your appetite before the food arrives does exactly that, stimulating a feeling of hunger. A study that was published in the journal Appetite, backs this up, finding that people were more likely to consume foods high in calories after drinking alcohol. To add to this, because booze dehydrates you, it can trick you into thinking you need some food when all you really need is some water. This effect can be offset by eating before you drink.
6. You’re Not Eating Enough Fat
Just like protein, unsaturated fat is also linked to feelings of fullness. Rumsey states that “when you’re satisfied after a meal, you’re more likely to listen to your hunger cues and not eat again until you are truly hungry.” This heart-healthy, brain-boosting kind of fat can be found in the form of oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Experts recommend that adults limit their fat intake to 20-35% of their total daily calories.
7. You Skip Meals
When you skip a meal and your stomach has been empty for too long, it produces an increase in the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Which ramps up your appetite. When you finally give in to your body’s desires, you’re more likely to binge eat. Therefore, as a general rule, you should try not to go more than 4-5 hours between meals. Even if you hate breakfast, you should try to eat something small.
This may sound counterintuitive, but piling your plate with more food – specifically lean protein and healthy fat – will keep hunger pangs at bay. “Not only does protein stay in your stomach and produce feelings of fullness, it’s been shown to have an appetite-suppressing effect,” says Rumsey. You should aim for around 46 grams of protein per day, which is the RDA for women between the ages of 19 and 70. For men, it’s 56 grams per day.
9. You Inhale Your Food
When you wolf down your food, your stomach might be full, but your brain hasn’t had enough time to register that fullness. When your brain is still in the dark, it keeps your appetite high, and you continue to eat. Therefore, you should try to eat your food slowly, savoring each bite and enjoying a good meal. Then, you should wait about 20 minutes before deciding whether you really need another portion. This is how long it takes for that fullness signal to reach your brain.
10. You’re on Certain Meds
The drugs that you’re taking to treat a certain health condition can also drive you to raid the fridge. Antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft, as well as corticosteroids such as Prenisone, are known to affect appetite, says Rumsey. If you’re on prescription medication and feel hungry after a normal-sized meal, talk to your doctor to see if it’s possible for you to change to another drug.