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Why am I hungry all the time?

By Michelle May, M.D.

I have been hungry constantly today. I’ve already been through my mental checklist and arrived at an answer (more on that below). Since many of you ask, “Why am I hungry all the time?,” I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the questions I asked myself. (If you’ve read Am I Hungry?, you’ll recognize these from the Eating Cycle.)

What to ask yourself when you feel hungry all the time:

  1. Am I actually hungry? This is the first and most important question. Often we say we’re hungry when we really mean, “I want to eat.” So take a moment, close your eyes and do a quick mind-body scan. Look for physical signs of hunger, as well as any other clues about why you might feel like eating (thirst, fatigue, pain, stress, worry, boredom, etc.). If you are not physically hungry then the rest of these questions don’t matter as much because it is really not about the food!
  2. How hungry am I? You may be responding to very early or mild signs of hunger, causing you to eat more frequently than is really necessary. (Also remember, if you’re only a little bit hungry, you only need a little bit of food.)
  3. When did I last eat? If it has been several hours since you had a light meal or a snack, your body may simply be ready for more fuel. Why second guess yourself?
  4. What did I last eat? Different types of food “last” for different lengths of time. Generally, protein lasts longer than fat which lasts longer than carbs.
  5. How much did I last eat? Pretty obvious: if you ate a small meal or snack, you will be hungry sooner.
  6. How active have I been? The more you do, the more fuel your body needs.
  7. Are there any other factors to consider? e.g. illness, medications, growth (in the case of children), pregnancy, premenstrual symptoms.

These questions help you figure out whether being hungry “all the time” is really just part of your natural hunger rhythm that day. While many plans recommend eating on a schedule (for example, eat every three hours), in actuality your hunger levels will vary somewhat from day to day due to changes in your activity level, the type and amount of food you ate, and other issues like hormones (ladies, you know what I’m talking about don’t you!). You shouldn’t need a watch to tell you it’s time to eat.

Unfortunately, experts (sometimes expert-mom) teach us to distrust our own instinctive hunger (and fullness) signals. We hear “eat every three hours,” “don’t eat after 7,” “you have to eat breakfast,” and “you shouldn’t be hungry yet!” – often coming from inside our own heads.

For many years while I struggled with yo-yo dieting, I had a pattern of doing really well on my diet then feeling overwhelmed by the desire to eat all the time. It wasn’t until I stopped dieting and learned to listen to and trust my body that I realized that I had a pretty significant increase in hunger (and of course, specific cravings) premenstrually. Turns out that is exactly what is going on today. Even though I’ve had a hysterectomy (I still have my ovaries) and don’t track my cycles like I should, I have other symptoms, that along with my answers to the other questions above, made it clear to me that is what I am dealing with.

So I had pizza for lunch. Just what the doctor ordered!

What are your questions and aha’s about your hunger rhythms?

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

One Comment

  1. As I described in my post yesterday, I had a “hungry day” – especially the first part of my day. The pizza I had for lunch (actually, it was my second lunch, just a couple hours after my first lunch), was really satisfying and it was the first time all day that I didn’t feel hungry soon after. I wasn’t hungry again until about six hours later – and today, everything seems back to my usual pattern.
    In the past, wanting to eat all the time and then eating pizza would have triggered my eat-repent-repeat cycle. Now, by trusting my instincts and not feeling guilty about when or what I ate, I moved through it very easily without getting stuck in the “I’ve already blown it, I might as well keep eating” phase.

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