Science explains why you’re always starving — and how to fight the dreaded urge to snack.
1. YOU’RE DRINKING TOO MUCH SODA.
Need another excuse to cut soda out of your diet? Sodas, iced teas, and other sweetened beverages are chock full of high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to lower levels of satiety, according to a study conducted by Yale University.
2. YOUR DINNER CAME OUT OF A CAN.
Many plastic food and beverage containers contain the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA. The Food and Drug Administration says the low levels of BPA we’re exposed to are safe, but studies have shown that BPA can affect our waistlines. According to a study from 2014, BPA changes the levels of hormones leptin and ghrelin, which control hunger and satiety. A spike in these hormone levels can lead to food cravings, which can in turn lead to weight gain.
3. YOU DIDN’T HAVE A BIG ENOUGH BREAKFAST.
Your mum was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So a cup of coffee to kickstart your day just isn’t going to do it.
According to a long-term study by University of Cambridge researchers, people who ate just 300 calories for breakfast gained almost twice as much weight as those who ate 500 calories or more. The reason: Eating a big breakfast makes for smaller rises in blood sugar and insulin throughout the day, meaning you have fewer sudden food cravings. (Pro tip: adding protein to your meal by having a side of, say, turkey sausage with your eggs, also helps.)
4. YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH SALAD.
Leafy greens are high in vitamin K, an insulin-regulating nutrient that helps quash cravings. Guys should get at least 120 micrograms of vitamin K a day, which is equal to about one cup of kale.
5. YOU DON’T DRINK ENOUGH TEA.
According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, people who drank one cup of black tea after eating a meal of high-carb foods decreased their blood sugar levels by 10% for a few hours after the meal, which means they stayed full for longer.
Need yet another reason to switch from coffee to tea? A 2017 study from UCLA had similar results, with researchers hypothesizing that sipping on black tea can lead to changes in the gut microbiome that can help with weight loss.
6. YOU’RE NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER.
Dehydration often mimics the feeling of hunger. That’s because the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates hunger and thirst, can send you mixed messages when you’re super thirsty, leading you to think that you need a snack even though you really just need a glass of water.
7. YOU’RE BORED.
Yup, seriously: boredom is a major contributing factor to weight gain. In fact, a 2015 study found a link between susceptibility to boredom and overeating. To test yourself to see if you’re truly hungry, imagine a huge, sizzling steak. If you’re truly hungry, the steak will seem appealing. But if that doesn’t seem tempting, chances are you’re in need of a distraction, not another meal.
8. YOU’RE HITTING UP HAPPY HOUR WAY TOO OFTEN.
We already know that alcohol is bad for your waistline. But in addition to being full of empty calories, booze could be tricking your brain into thinking you’re hungry when you’re actually not.
In a 2017 study, researchers fed mice alcohol and found that it triggered specific brain neurons that causes a desire to eat. That said, since the study was conducted on animals and not on people, scientists are still trying to determine if it has the same effect on humans.
9. YOU’RE STRESSED.
Having an incredibly stressful day at work? That could have a huge impact on your desire to eat (that’s why stress eating is such a thing). When the day’s worries weigh you down, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause cravings for sugary, fattening or salty foods so you have the fuel to handle whatever threats come your way.
Luckily, you can tackle these cravings by keeping healthy snacks on hand and exercising to reduce anxiety.
10. YOU SPEND TOO MUCH TIME LOOKING AT FOOD PORN.
All that time ogling fattening foods on Instagram could be the cause of your cravings. A review of studies from 2016 published in the journal Brain and Cognition posited that food porn on social media could be making us “visually hungry.” In one study analyzed in the review, researchers found that obese people’s brains reacted more powerfully to food photos, even if they weren’t currently hungry, compared to people who were at a healthy weight. So if you’re predisposed to wanting that juicy burger, it’s probably not a good idea to look at pictures of it.