Hunger is your body’s way of letting you know it needs more food.
However, many people find themselves feeling hungry even after eating. Many factors, including your diet, hormones, or lifestyle, can explain this phenomenon.
This article helps explain why you may feel hungry after a meal and what to do about it.
Causes and solutions
There are several reasons why some people feel hungry after a meal.
For starters, it could be due to the nutritional composition of your meal.
Meals that contain a greater proportion of protein tend to induce greater feelings of fullness than meals with greater proportions of carbs or fat — even when their calorie counts are similar.
Numerous studies have shown that higher protein meals are better at stimulating the release of fullness hormones, such as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CCK), and peptide YY (PYY).
Also, if your diet lacks fiber, you may find yourself feeling hungry more often.
Fiber is a type of carb that takes longer to digest and can slow your stomach’s emptying rate. When it’s digested in your lower digestive tract, it also promotes the release of appetite-suppressing hormones like GLP-1 and PYY.
Foods that are high in protein include meats, such as chicken breast, lean beef, turkey, and shrimp. Meanwhile, foods that are high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains.
If you find that you’re hungry after a meal and notice that your meals tend to lack protein and fiber, try incorporating more protein- and fiber-rich foods into your diet.
Aside from meal composition, your stomach has stretch receptors that play a key role in promoting feelings of fullness during and immediately after a meal.
The stretch receptors detect how much your stomach expands during a meal and send signals directly to your brain to induce feelings of fullness and reduce your appetite.
These stretch receptors don’t rely on the nutritional composition of food. Instead, they rely on the total volume of the meal.
However, feelings of fullness brought on by the stretch receptors don’t last long. So while they may help you eat less during a meal and shortly after, they don’t promote long-term feelings of fullness.
If you don’t find yourself feeling full during or immediately after a meal, try incorporating more foods that are high in volume but low in calories.
These foods, such as most fresh vegetables, fruits, air-popped popcorn, shrimp, chicken breast, and turkey, tend to have greater air or water content. Also, drinking water before or with meals adds volume to the meal and may further promote fullness.
Though many of these high-volume, low-calorie foods promote short-term, immediate fullness through the stretch receptors, they tend to be high in protein or fiber, both of which promote feelings of fullness long afterward by stimulating the release of fullness hormones.
In some cases, hormonal issues may explain why some people feel hungry after eating.
Leptin is the main hormone that signals feelings of fullness to your brain. It’s made by fat cells, so its blood levels tend to increase among people that carry more fat mass.
However, the problem is that sometimes leptin doesn’t work as well as it should in the brain, especially in some people with obesity. This is commonly called leptin resistance.
This means that although there’s plenty of leptin in the blood, your brain doesn’t recognize it as well and continues to think that you’re hungry — even after a meal.
Though leptin resistance is a complex issue, research suggests that getting in regular physical activity, reducing sugar intake, increasing fiber intake, and getting adequate sleep may help reduce leptin resistance.
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Behavioral and lifestyle factors
Aside from the key factors above, several behavioral factors may explain why you feel hungry after eating, including:
- Being distracted while eating. Research suggests that people who eat distracted feel less full and have a greater desire to eat throughout the day. If you usually eat distracted, try practicing mindfulness to better recognize your body’s signals.
- Eating too quickly. Research suggests that fast eaters tend to feel less full than slow eaters due to a lack of chewing and awareness, which are linked to feelings of fullness. If you’re a fast eater, aim to chew your food more thoroughly.
- Feeling stressed. Stress raises the hormone cortisol, which may promote hunger and cravings. If you find that you’re often stressed, try incorporating yoga or meditation into your weekly routine.
- Exercising a lot. People who exercise a lot tend to have greater appetites and faster metabolisms. If you exercise a lot, you may need to consume more food to fuel your workouts.
- A lack of sleep. Adequate sleep is essential for regulating hormones, such as ghrelin, levels of which tend to be higher among sleep-deprived people. Try setting a healthy sleep routine or limiting blue light exposure at night to get adequate sleep.
- Not eating enough food. In some situations, you may feel hungry after eating simply because you didn’t eat enough during the day.
- High blood sugar and insulin resistance. Having high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can significantly increase your hunger levels.
Summary: You may feel hungry after eating due to a lack of protein or fiber in your diet, not eating enough high-volume foods, hormone issues like leptin resistance, or behavioral and lifestyle choices. Try implementing some of the suggestions above.
Feeling hungry is a common problem for many people worldwide.
Suggested read: 18 science-based ways to reduce hunger and appetite
Often it’s the result of an inadequate diet that lacks protein or fiber. However, it could be due to hormone issues, such as leptin resistance, or your daily lifestyle.
If you often find yourself hungry after eating, try implementing some of the evidence-based suggestions above to help curb your appetite.