It’s stunning how often we eat out of boredom, nervousness, habit, or frustration—so often, in fact, that many of us have actually forgotten what physical hunger feels like. If you’re hankering for a specific food, it’s probably a craving, not hunger. If you’d eat anything you could get your hands on, chances are you’re truly hungry. Learn how to recognize these feelings mistaken for hunger, then find ways other than eating to express love, tame stress, and relieve boredom. But talk to your doctor if you think you’re always hungry for a medical reason. Here are 10 medical reasons you might be hungry.
Support your weight loss and exercise program by getting between 1.2 and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram (or 0.55 and 0.73 grams per pound) of your body weight, recommends research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013. For a 200-pound woman, this would suggest you aim for 110 to 146 grams of protein daily, split up among three to five meals.
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."
“Trans fats don’t occur in nature, so our bodies weren’t designed to metabolize them,” says Schoffro Cook. “That means they can’t be properly digested, throwing off blood-sugar levels and contributing to obesity.” A six-year study found that a high-trans-fat diet that included foods like margarine led to a 33 percent increase in tummy fat. By contrast, she says, “coconut oil speeds fat-burning.”
Dairy products contain varying amounts of lactose (milk sugar), which slows down weight loss. What’s more, part of the protein in milk generates a significant insulin response, which can have the same effect. Consequently, cutting back on dairy products may accelerate weight loss. This applies especially to dairy products typically lacking in fat, such as regular milk and various yogurts, but be careful with full-fat dairy such as cream and cheese all the same. And don’t forget whey protein powder, which is pure milk protein.
"When we’re lacking in sleep, our body’s hormones get thrown off balance which can impact our hunger levels the next day. We all have two hormones that affect our appetite: ghrelin and leptin. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us feel hungry) rise, and our leptin levels (the hormone that makes us feel full) drop. This means that when we’re awake, we tend to eat more but feel less satisfied. Try going to bed a little earlier than usual to avoid this imbalance and remember to remove any distractions that might prevent you from nodding off."
Or skip your favorite early-morning show—whatever it takes to grab a few more minutes of sleep each day. When researchers at the University of Chicago studied men who were sleep-deprived, they found that after just a few days, their bodies had a much harder time processing glucose in the blood—a problem common in overweight diabetics. When the individuals returned to a more normal seven to eight hours of sleep a night, however, their metabolisms returned to normal.
Women who wake up and go to bed at the same time each day have lower levels of body fat, according to a study of more than 300 women from Brigham Young University in Utah. Chaotic sleep habits cause your internal clock to go haywire, which in turn causes your body to secrete fat-storing hormones like cortisol. The sweet spot? Try not to stray an hour from your usual sleep pattern, the study authors say. More than a 90-minute difference in sleep and wake times were linked to more body fat. (Tossing and turning? Check out these 100 tips to sleep better every night.)
Measure your waist to learn if you have too much belly fat. Wrap the tape measure around your stomach, just above your hipbone. Pull the tape tight, but not so tight that it pinches you. It should fit snugly and be even all the way around. When you've got the tape measure in place, exhale and relax. Pinch your thumb and forefinger together at the measuring tape, in order to see what your measurement is.
Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.