Jan 30, 2024 • 8 min read

Stomach Feels Empty: Why Am I Hungry After Eating?

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Eating should be satisfying, both physically and mentally. If you’re still hungry after you eat or if your stomach feels empty after eating, you may be wondering why.

There are several reasons why you may be hungry after eating, including the meal not being filling enough, stress or lack of sleep, eating too fast, or eating while distracted. It could also be a combination of multiple things.

If you are still feeling hungry after you eat, it’s time to examine the quality of your meals, your eating behaviors, and your environment to see if there’s a trigger that may be impacting your meal satisfaction. 

This guide goes over why you may experience hunger directly after eating, what you can do about it, how to better listen to your body’s hunger and satiety cues, and more. 

Reasons you may feel hungry after eating & solutions to try

Feeling hungry after a meal can be frustrating, especially if you are trying to watch your weight. Below are some of the most common reasons you may be experiencing this and solutions that can help.

1. Meal quality 

You may not be satisfied following a meal if it does not provide satiating nutrients. Certain foods are more filling than others including protein, healthy fats, and dietary fiber. A diet lacking in these nutrients is more likely to result in overeating and less meal satisfaction. 

Recommended solutions

Choosing balanced meals that contain a good source of protein, healthy fat, and fiber can help to aid in satiety during meals. Below are good sources of each of these nutrients to include in your meals and snacks to boost satisfaction:

Protein:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Soy

Fiber:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Healthy Fats:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Fatty fish (like salmon and tuna)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Egg yolk

For example, a balanced meal might include baked salmon (protein and healthy fat) with brown rice (fiber) and broccoli (fiber), or a sandwich on whole grain bread (fiber) with turkey (protein), Swiss cheese (protein), and avocado (fiber and healthy fat).

Working with a dietitian is a great way to learn how to create balanced meals that fit your preferences and lifestyle. They provide a range of services, so beyond helping you create meals that satiate you, they can also teach you how to read food labels for better grocery shopping and choose wisely when eating out.

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2. Eating too quickly

It takes our stomach 20-30 minutes to send signals to our brain that we are feeling full. When we eat our meals very quickly, it can be easy to miss these signals. 

Additionally, chewing plays a large role in satiety. Studies have found that chewing can help increase the release of hormones in your gut that induce satiety. When we eat fast, we aren’t spending as much time chewing which can potentially impact our meal satisfaction.

Recommended solutions

Prioritize slower mealtimes. Focus on enjoying the food and do so without distraction. Avoid getting overly hungry between meals as this can cause you to eat faster and make poor choices when it comes to food.

3. Eating while distracted

If we aren’t paying attention to the food we’re eating, we don’t get as much satisfaction from it. Eating while distracted, like when watching TV, working on your computer, or looking at your phone, can cause you to miss your body’s natural satiety cues.

Recommended solutions

Focus on mealtimes without distraction. Sit at the table for all meals and snacks and focus only on enjoying the food in front of you. Consider how the food tastes, smells, and its texture. Experiencing your food can help boost mealtime satisfaction.

4. Meals are too small

Another reason you may be feeling hungry right after a meal is because you are. If we choose portions that are too small, we may still require more food to feel satisfied. Fixing this requires us to understand our body’s hunger and satiety cues. 

Recommended solutions

Choose appropriate portions for your hunger levels. To avoid overeating, be sure to eat slowly, without distraction, and prioritize filling foods such as protein, healthy fats, and fiber as previously mentioned. 

If you continue to struggle to feel satisfied following a meal, consider adding an extra snack or two earlier in the day that contains a good source of protein. This can help better control your hunger levels, so you aren’t overly hungry by the time you get to your next meal.

5. Dehydration

Hunger levels can increase with inadequate fluid intake. Feeling satisfied during meals means making sure you are eating enough and are well-hydrated. Mild dehydration can often feel like hunger.

Recommended solutions

Make sure to sip on fluids throughout the day and limit excessive intake of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages as these can be dehydrating. Plan to have a glass of water with meals. 

6. Skipping meals

Those who frequently skip meals are more likely to struggle with increased hunger levels after they finally eat. Skipping meals or going long periods without eating can make it more challenging to control your hunger levels throughout the day, especially during your next meal.

Recommended solutions

Avoid skipping meals and prioritize a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks in between as needed. Evaluate your meal schedule and address any areas where you may be going long periods without eating during the day.

7. Eating out of habit or emotion

Habitual or emotional eating causes us to eat during times when we aren’t actually hungry but are, instead, trying to satisfy a different need. Instead of hunger, we are eating to cope with an emotion or because it’s become part of our regular routine.

This causes us to feel mental hunger versus physical hunger. Mental hunger comes on quickly, and we feel a strong urge to immediately satisfy it while physical hunger grows over time.

Additionally, sometimes we couple eating with other habits that may also be distracting or cause us to fall into a routine of habitually eating instead of listening to our body. 

For example, many watch TV while having their evening snacks or dinner. Now, every time you watch TV, you want to eat, and that habit becomes very difficult to break.

Recommended solutions

Practice coping with whatever emotions may be fueling you to eat out of mental hunger. For example, if you often find yourself gravitating towards eating while stressed, consider different stress management techniques to help you cope without using food.

Additionally, practice mindful mealtimes that focus on listening to your body and not on routine. Avoid eating while distracted and instead, consider altering your routine to avoid falling back on food out of habit. 

For example, instead of watching TV in the evenings, try out family game night, go for an evening walk, or read a book.

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8. Excessive stress

Excessive stress can lead to increased cortisol levels which can drive your desire to eat. Additionally, excessive stress can fuel emotional eating behaviors that make it difficult to listen to your body’s hunger and satiety cues.

Recommended solutions

If you suffer from chronic stress, consider incorporating some stress management tools into your day such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular exercise. 

9. Lack of sleep

Sleep deprivation can cause stress on the body, which releases the stress hormone cortisol and makes it more challenging to control our appetite. Loss of sleep can alter our appetite due to promoting changes in our appetite-regulating hormones such as leptin and ghrelin.

Recommended solutions

Prioritize a consistent sleep routine that encourages adequate rest to avoid feeling overly tired throughout the day. 

Many sleep alterations can be prevented with lifestyle changes such as setting a consistent bedtime, avoiding caffeinated beverages later in the day, and avoiding exposure to blue light from electronic devices at least one hour prior to going to bed.

Make your room dark and quiet to encourage rest, and set a comfortable temperature for the room before going to bed. Using sound machines or white noise machines may also help improve sleep. 

10. Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalance can affect appetite and make it more difficult to control your hunger throughout the day. 

Certain hormones inhibit or stimulate appetite which can cause alterations in hunger levels when out of whack. For example, estrogen tends to inhibit appetite while progesterone and testosterone increase appetite.

Recommended solutions

Address potential hormonal imbalances with lifestyle factors including consuming a healthy, balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and prioritizing adequate sleep and stress management. 

11. Side effects from medications

Certain medications can alter hunger levels. For example, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and corticosteroids increase appetite and often lead to overeating behaviors.

This occurs for different reasons depending on the medication. For example, antidepressant medications typically cause increased appetite because they affect serotonin levels which affect mood and appetite.

Recommended solutions

If you believe your hunger levels are increased because of a medication, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine if a change in treatment may be right for you.

12. Overly restrictive dieting

Restrictive dieting can result in binge-eating behaviors and a lack of control surrounding food. This affects our appetite both mentally and biologically. When we feel out of control around food, we are less likely to listen to our body’s hunger and satiety cues.

Recommended solutions

Avoid restrictive dieting and focus on making small, sustainable lifestyle changes instead. Eliminate the all-or-nothing mentality that typically comes with changing our eating habits and work on moderation.

Finding a weight loss dietitian is a great way to make sure you are healthily losing weight. Dietitians can help you lose weight with a variety of tools and they can provide ongoing support to keep you accountable to your goals.

How your body signals hunger & fullness

Recognizing your body’s true hunger and satiety cues is essential for determining if you are truly still hungry following a meal or if you are experiencing mental hunger. 

Ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, is released in response to an empty stomach to tell your brain that it is time to eat. True physical hunger is associated with an empty feeling in your stomach, hunger pangs, and stomach gurgling or growling.

Once you eat, your body’s fat cells release the hormone leptin which helps to regulate appetite. Leptin is also called the satiety hormone as it signals to your brain that your body is satiated following a meal. 

Additionally, your stomach has receptors that can sense when it becomes physically full, sometimes referred to as “stretch receptors.” These receptors will send a signal to your brain to tell you to stop eating to avoid discomfort. 

Feeling satiated after a meal is characterized by feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Despite the release of leptin, these signals can be missed if we are distracted, eating too quickly, or not paying attention to our body’s cues.

How a Registered Dietitian (RD) can help you if you’re regularly hungry after eating

If you struggle with constant hunger, even after you have eaten a meal, it may be beneficial to find a Registered Dietitian (RD) to work with.

RDs are nutrition experts who can help you navigate challenges around your appetite and identify what may be contributing to your ongoing feelings of hunger. They can then work with you to create an actionable plan moving forward based on your specific needs.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians here at Zaya Care, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.