Plus, easy fixes to help you (finally) feel full again.
For the most part, you’ve got the whole healthy eating thing on lock—but some days, no matter how much you eat, it’s like your appetite doesn’t get the memo. When it’s not interrupting you mid-project, it’s peer pressuring you to buy out the entire vending machine on your break, or sounding the hunger alarm when you just ate dinner. Five minutes ago.
What gives? Like you, hunger is multi-faceted. It can be triggered by a number of factors, both biological and psychological, so there’s no one way to satisfy it, says Georgia-based registered dietitian Kristen Smith, RD.
However, there are certain eating habits that can make you feel hungrier than you were before you ate. Fix these, and you’ll be reunited with that full feeling in no time.
You’re filling up on unsatisfying foods.
You may feel physically full after chowing down on a plate of veggies—but not necessarily satisfied. This can make it harder for your brain’s hunger center to go into sleep mode, and you’ll likely hunt for more food in order to fill the void, says New York-based registered dietitian Chelsey Amer, RDN. The fix? Make sure most of your meals include high-fiber carbs and healthy fats, as these are the most satisfying nutrients, says Amer. And when you do experience a post-meal void, fill it with a snack that covers these bases. Think: sprouted whole grain bread (high-fiber carbs) with sunflower seed butter (healthy fats, protein) or plain Skyr yogurt (protein), raspberries (carbs), and a sprinkle of chia seeds (fats).
You’re relying on smoothies for sustenance.
Blending your meals puts the digestion process on fast-forward—the fiber-filled fruits and veggies are already partially broken down, so your body doesn’t have as much work to do when you drink them versus eating them whole, says Smith (hence why you feel hungry again before you’ve even finished your smoothie.) What you add to your smoothie can also send your appetite in the wrong direction: Smoothies that contain too much fruit, for example, can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash that can trigger hunger hormones, Smith explains. Consider adding more veggies than fruit to your smoothies—at a minimum, aim for an equal ratio of veggies to fruit—or make sure to snack on some raw veggies shortly afterward to stave off the pesky blood sugar spike.
You’re munching mindlessly.
Mindless eating—aka eating while you’re doing something else—is a super-common reason many people still feel hungry after eating a meal or snack, says Smith. It may be a timesaver, but studies show that distracted eaters are hungrier than those who aren’t. Because you’re more likely to focus on what you’re doing versus what you’re eating, Smith adds, you may not get the memo that you’re full (or satisfied). To get back in sync with your body’s fullness signals, do your best to avoid distractions during meal or snack time and focus solely on enjoying your grub.
You’re noshing on low-fat foods.
Many low-fat foods are often high in sugar and lack sufficient fiber, says Smith, and this one-two punch can cause an uptick in hunger shortly after eating. The sugar intake can cause your blood sugar to rapidly rise and fall (cue hunger hormones), while the empty carbs are broken down and digested lightning-fast, leaving your body unsatisfied. For a healthier one-two punch, add full-fat sources to your diet that satisfy and offer heart health benefits, such as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, says Smith. These types of fats can be found in nuts, nut butters, vegetable oils, olive oil, and avocados.
You’re waiting too long between meals.
When you put off eating until you’re ravenous, your hunger hormones can continue to go haywire even after you’re physically full. “Your body enters a ‘feed me now’ state, where you feel like you can’t get enough,” says Amer. This is why it’s so important to honor your hunger and eat when you start to feel hungry. If you know you’ll be out of the house for an extended period of time or don’t know when your next meal will be, keep an emergency stash of healthy snacks on standby, such as RX protein bars, Wonderful pistachios, or The Good Bean roasted chickpeas.
You’re skimping on breakfast.
Eating sugary convenience foods or loading up on caffeine first thing will usually trigger a blood sugar and stress hormone surge, which can domino into more hunger and sugar cravings throughout the day, says Nancy P. Rahnama, MD, a physician nutrition specialist in Beverly Hills, California. Starting your day off with a breakfast that’s high in protein, such as an omelet or chia pudding, doesn’t just keep you fuller longer—it also helps your body maintain healthier levels of insulin and stress hormones, and decreases your perma-appetite in the process.
You’re saving calories for later.
When you’ve got a dinner party coming up where you know there’s going to be a ton of delish food, it’s tempting to skip lunch and bank the calories for later. However, this strategy can backfire and cause you to hoover way more calories in the long-run, says Rachel Daniels, RD, senior director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners in New York. The longer you neglect your hunger hormones, the more of an influence they’ll have over you at the dinner party. This increases your odds of overeating, making poorer quality food choices, and, ultimately, feeling less satisfied, which can perpetuate the cycle. By eating a protein and fiber-rich breakfast and lunch (like a veggie omelet, followed by a chicken salad sandwich) and skipping the extras in between (snacks and desserts from the break room), you’ll feel satisfied leading up to the dinner party and will be in a better position to indulge smartly and stay that way.
You’re eating too fast.
Speed-eating may play a role in how fast your hunger returns: In one study, for example, participants who ate faster not only consumed 10 percent more calories, but compared to slow eaters, didn’t feel as full. “There’s a 20-minute delay between the messages from your gut to your brain alerting you that you’re full,” says Rahnama. By eating slower during your meals—taking smaller bites, chewing thoroughly—you’ll give your fullness signals a chance to kick in properly, increasing post-meal satisfaction.