Are you constantly hungry? Why? The answer to this is not simple, but what you need to know is that the drive to eat not only comes from the body’s need for calories, but also from a pursuit of pleasure.
Researchers have in fact showed that there are two types of hunger: homeostatic hunger and hedonic hunger.
Homeostatic hunger occurs when you haven’t eaten for several hours, and your body needs energy to continue to function. Homeostatic hunger is regulated by the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and the central nervous system. The GI sends a complex series of signals to the central nervous system which in turn activates the hormone ghrelin (also known as the hunger hormone) which promotes food anticipation and motivation for food. When you start eating, ghrelin is oppressed, and leptin is released. Leptin is the satiating hormone. It interacts with the brain to say that enough calories have been stored.
Some types of foods are more fulfilling than others. Especially foods rich in fibre, protein and fats. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews are a very good example of ingredients that help to maintain weight and reduce appetite, because they are good sources of fibre, protein and healthy fats. On the other hand, foods high in carbohydrates are rapidly digested and converted into blood sugar. Therefore, they are less satiating and will often leave you feeling hungry again soon after eating them.
Hedonic hunger occurs when people want to consume food driven by pleasure. People want to eat even when they don’t need to. This type of hunger is more complex to understand, but so far, we know that the high palatable foods are the main drivers of this hunger. Evidence has shown that obese individuals prefer and consume high palatable foods including cookies, crisps and burgers more than those of normal weight.
Processed and ultra-processed products loaded with fats and sugar are something to watch out for. Studies show that these foods contain chemicals that drive you to eat more and more. People eating processed and ultra-processed food consume on average an extra 500 calories a day and are more likely to suffer from type-2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease at some point in their life.
Hunger vs Cravings
The desire to eat may sound similar to cravings but there is a difference between them. While hedonic hunger is a desire of palatable foods in general, cravings are a desire for a specific food.
A very common action that we tend to do is to imagine a specific food in greater detail. Visualising plays a very strong role in cravings. By only imagining the sight, smell and taste of the food, we are developing a craving.
How to stop cravings
It’s not easy to stop them, but research shows us that visualising a familiar and pleasant scene reduces the intensity of those cravings. When you have a craving, but aren’t actually hungry, the best thing you can do is try to take your mind off of it by focussing on something else; for example chatting to a loved one, going for a run or journaling.
The biggest hunger factors
Not getting enough sleep increases hunger (both homeostatic and hedonic). Researchers found that in a 24 hour period following sleep deprivation, levels of endocannabinoids (compounds that activate the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana) are high. High levels of endocannabinoids cause an increase in ghrelin, a decrease in leptin and the result is hunger.
Exercise is also a factor that plays an important role in hunger. It is interesting to acknowledge that high-intensity exercise suppresses hunger, whereas low to moderate exercise has the opposite effect. The reason for this is attributed to the fact that, when the intensity is low to moderate, it is easy for the body to replenish the energy used for the exercise. The body wants to eat food to replenish the calories just burnt. However, after a high-intensity workout, more metabolic and physical changes occur, such as improvements in vasomotor (dilation of your blood vessels) control, reduction of the total peripheral resistance (blood pressure) and increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Therefore, the body needs to prioritise these changes before replenishing it’s energy stores.
Stress is another factor that influences appetite. Stress induces the adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol which increases appetites. Research shows that women are more likely to turn to food, whereas men to alcohol and smoking. A very effective way to reduce stress is to meditate. Meditation helps reduce stress and helps people become more mindful of food choices.
Finally, the diet plays a key role in suppressing or increasing hunger, which seems like a no brainer, right! If you eat a lot of low satiating foods (sometimes referred to as ‘empty calories’) you will find yourself feeling hungry a lot more often as these foods don’t have the nutrients to keep you going effectively. Therefore we recommend sticking to a balanced diet that is rich in healthy, filling carbohydrates such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, as well as a good amount of protein, fruits and vegetables in order to combat that unsatisfied, hungry feeling.
If you wanted to try something a bit more extreme, the ketogenic diet is a dietary strategy that has been associated with the suppression of appetite. This diet is high in fats which provide satiety and very low in carbohydrates. It forces the body to go into ketosis, a state in which ketone bodies are used as energy sources rather than glucose.
Overall, we think that having a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours is recommended for adults), exercising and meditating are great ways to combat unexplained feelings of hunger. Moreover, a diet rich in healthy fats and protein, and low in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar is highly recommended to stop feelings of hunger and cravings.
We encourage you to try our keto diet or balanced diet in order to effectively stave away hunger pains and feel as energised, satisfied and happy as possible! Remember to always listen to your body and the signals that it gives you, and if your hunger persists despite following these tips we suggest speaking to a health professional.