It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: An hour after eating breakfast (or lunch, or dinner), you find yourself still hungry. Not only is this urge to eat again annoying—but feeling like you need to follow up your latest meal with more food can indicate that something is off with your diet or lifestyle.
There are quite a few potential culprits behind the post-meal munchies, so getting your satisfaction back on track might require a little detective work. Here, experts outline some of the most common reasons you’re seemingly always hungry.
1. You Skimp On Fat
If your meals or snacks fall short on fat, which helps keep you satisfied for a longer period of time, you can expect to still feel hungry even moments later. The reason? Fats delay gastric emptying, or the movement of food from your stomach to your intestines, explains dietitian Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Without ample fat in your meal or snack, you’ll digest your food more quickly, prompting you to reach for more eats just a short while later.
To keep this from happening, be sure you’re getting at least 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat—ideally unsaturated fats, such as nuts and seeds, avocado, fish, whole eggs, and tofu. Under this guideline, a 300-calorie snack should contain roughly seven to 12 grams of total fat (ideally three grams or less of which are saturated fat), according to White. What that might look like: one serving of whole-grain crackers with 1.5 ounces of cheese.
2. You’re Low On Protein
Protein is another important piece of the hunger puzzle. In fact, this macronutrient tends to be more satiating than fat or carbs, according to a review published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Nutrition. Without enough of it on your plate, you may be bothered by persistent hunger.
That’s what happened to a group of men in one study, at least: The study participants who only scored 63 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein reported greater feelings of hunger than those who got either 94 or 125 percent of the RDA.
Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake
To maximize your satiety, aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. A few quality sources to include: eggs, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, edamame, and whey protein.
3. You Fill Up On Simple Carbs
Snacking on a blueberry muffin or ordering white rice with your stir fry may satisfy in the taste department, but the satisfaction from simple carbohydrates likely won’t stick around for long. In fact, going in on refined carbs like these is one of the most common causes of feeling hungry right after eating.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates into sugars, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream, White explains. As blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas responds by releasing insulin to allow your cells to take in that sugar to be used for energy. Because simple sugars are digested quickly, your blood sugar rises and drops suddenly, leading you to feel hungry again a short while after eating them, according to White.
To give your snacks and meals more staying power, opt for minimally processed foods like whole-grain bread and rice, vegetables, fruits, and beans and legumes, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends.
4. You Eat While Distracted
When your day is packed with calendar events and to-do items, it’s easy to extend your multi-tasking ways into your mealtimes, too. But answering emails in between bites can really mess with your brain, leading your stomach to rumble again a short while later.
“A person who is distracted while eating may not properly store the memory of having eaten,” White says. “This increases the likelihood of getting hungry sooner.”
Another possible culprit: That eating while distracted makes the food less rewarding, which could leave you wanting for that satisfaction, notes one 2013 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (That same review also found that paying attention while you chow down helps your brain store the memory of eating, which helps decrease the amount of food you eat later.)
To be more mindful while eating, White recommends the following:
- Use all your senses. Pay attention to the texture, smell, color, and taste of the food you’re eating.
- Chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing it.
- Practice gratitude. Take a moment to thank those who prepared the food and appreciate the company of anyone you’re enjoying it with.
5. You’re Stressed Or Sleep-Deprived
One of the many not-so-great side effects of stress and lack of sleep? Constant hunger.
You have your hormones to thank for this: “Stress increases cortisol levels, which can increase hunger and promote cravings,” White says. In fact, higher levels of this stress hormone are a predictor of future weight gain, according to a study published in Obesity.
People who are short on sleep also tend to have higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that tells us it’s time to eat, White adds. When this hormone runs high, so do cravings for fat-, sugar-, or salt-laden foods.
Read More: 8 Stress Management Supplements To Try In Challenging Times
In fact, one 2020 study found that sleep-deprived women were more likely to reach for foods higher in sugar and unhealthy fats, adding roughly 500 to 800 calories to their daily caloric intake.
If poor sleep and stress regularly give you trouble, practicing good sleep hygiene can ultimately help you come mealtime. A few tips he offers to his sleep-deprived clients:
- Try to keep your bedroom at 65 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cut off your caffeine consumption 10 hours before your usual bedtime
- Avoid eating big meals or exercising within three hours of hitting the hay
- Put away all electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime
If stress is a big issue, White recommends incorporating relaxing activities, like a 30-minute walk, into your daily routine. (Crunched for time? These nine acts of self-care take five minutes or less.)
6. You Don’t Eat Enough
Of course, the reason behind any post-meal hunger could be as simple as not putting enough food on your plate.
According to dietitian Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., owner of Street Smart Nutrition, this issue typically plagues chronic dieters. “It could be partially due to not eating an adequate amount for your individual needs,” she says.
Experiment with portion sizes to see if that makes a difference in satiety. Harbstreet suggests adding a second serving of the foods you typically include in your meal and assessing how you feel during and after your meal. Taking a quick pause to check in halfway through your meal, for example, can give you a helpful opportunity to assess your hunger and fullness.
7. You Don’t Really Enjoy What You’re Eating
So maybe you’ve nailed that balance of fats, carbs, and protein, are fully present while eating, sleep well, and manage stress—but you’re still always hungry. What are you supposed to do?
The issue could be that the foods you’re choosing aren’t genuinely satisfying. There are different types of hunger, according to Harbstreet: the physical (which is really about fullness, or the sensation of your stomach filling up) and the taste-focused (which is more about pleasure and enjoyment). “If either one is missing, you may continue feeling hungry, despite eating what seems like ‘enough,’” she says.
Read More: 5 Signs You’re Dieting, Not Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Your challenge: Think about the foods you usually reach for and ask yourself if you find them enjoyable and satisfying. If not, how can you tweak your snacks and meals to increase your enjoyment? Are there other foods you really want to incorporate? “Including more of those foods, as well as working to remove any guilt or shame associated with eating them, might be a missing piece in your efforts to feel full after eating,” Harbstreet says.
Basically, the winning combo of good-for-you and just-plain-good is the best way to get the most out of your meals.