two girls overeating
  • March 24, 2023

Why Am I Always Hungry? | Imbodi Health Eating Disorder Dietitian Clinic

POV – you’ve eaten “clean” all day. Before work, you smashed out a HIIT class and said no to sugar […]

POV you’ve eaten “clean” all day. Before work, you smashed out a HIIT class and said no to sugar in your coffee because a post on Instagram told you that it was bad. You even had enough “self-discipline” to say no to a biscuit at that work morning tea. 

After work, you finally arrive home with all intentions of eating that salad you meal-prepped but there is ice-cream in the freezer that sounds way better than vegetables… and the leftover dip and cheese from a social event over the weekend looks pretty good too… 

Before you know it, you’ve eaten your pre-made salad, half a tub of ice-cream, most of the cheese wheel and a few more rows of chocolate than you “should” have.

Even after bingeing on those things, you are still hungry and unsatisfied with your dinner. “Why did I ruin all of my hard work from earlier,” you tell yourself, “I’ve eaten too much so I won’t eat breakfast tomorrow to make up for it.” 

So lets take a deep dive into the question “why am I always hungry?” 

 

Binge Eating – What is it?

A binge eating episode is when someone eats an unusually large amount of food in a short time period and feels that they cannot stop (1,2).

This differs from overeating. Overeating may look like eating an extra serving on occasion ,or consuming more than you usually would every now and then without feeling a loss of control or guilt. This is something many people experience from time-to-time, and is normal (3,4).

 

 

 What Causes Overeating?

Eating more than you regularly would may be the result of emotions like stress or happiness, or feeling tired. For example, overeating on a special occasion or after a long day at work. 

Food is tied to social occasions and emotions, so it is not unusual to overindulge when celebrating a birthday with a delicious dessert while out with friends (5).

Hormones released when stressed can increase appetite and motivation, which may lead to overeating as a comfort (6).

When the body is tired, appetite hormones are activated to encourage you to eat more for energy. An increase in the hormone ghrelin, and decrease in another hormone called leptin makes us feel hungry. When these changes to our hormones occur alongside feeling tired, overeating tends to occur. This is our body’s way of telling us that it is low in energy.

Some of the appetite hormones can even make foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat seem more appealing (6).

 For many people that live busy lives, eating may seem more feasible than going to bed. This may cause someone to overeat (7).

 

Why Do I Overeat At Night?

Poor dietary choices earlier in the day may cause overeating in the evening or night. 

Ultimately, not eating enough throughout the day means the body has not been given the energy and nutrients it needs to function well (8). As a result of this, the body will give cues that encourage eating.

It is important to eat enough of each type of nutrient throughout the day to take care of your body and satisfy hunger. Protein and healthy sources of fat satisfy the body’s hunger hormones and promote feeling full for longer (9,10). Dietary fibre takes longer to digest than other nutrients, meaning it also makes us feel full for longer periods of time (10)

Not eating enough throughout the day can be avoided with careful planning ahead to make sure there are nutrient-dense snacks and meals available to you.

This may mean packing a lunch at home to bring to work, keeping a bowl of fruit and muesli bars in the office, or cooking a few extra serves of dinner so the leftovers can be eaten as lunch throughout the week.

 

 

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Overeating may turn into binge eating disorder (BED) when bingeing episodes become frequent and/or regular (weekly for three or more months), eating feels uncontrollable, and feelings of shame or guilt surround bingeing (1).

 

BED Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of BED can be psychological, physical and behavioural (11,12).

Physical:

  • Fluctuating or changing weight; “yo-yo” weight loss and gain
  • Tiredness
  • Digestive discomfort like bloating and constipation

 

Behavioural:

  • Regular/frequent episodes of bingeing; eating extremely large amounts in one sitting, uncontrollably
  • Eating until uncomfortable or very quickly 
  • Secretive eating behaviours
  • Isolating behaviours like avoiding social events 
  • Avoiding answering questions about eating, food and weight
  • Frequent dieting, yo-yo dieting
  • Eating even when full or not hungry

 

Psychological:

  • Feeling guilty, disappointed, sad or ashamed after bingeing
  • Obsessive thoughts around food, eating, body shape and size
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression, anxiety or irritability
  • Feeling out of control around food or when eating

 

2 girls eating a meal together

 

I can relate to some or a lot of these symptoms, or am concerned about someone I know who displays these signs – what should I do?

Overeating can occur separately from BED, but if you are concerned that you or someone you know is struggling with BED there are lots of online resources, helplines and professionals who can provide support and further information on diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

The condition is distinct from general overeating as it involves episodes of bingeing at least once a week for 3 months or more (13).

A healthcare professional such as a psychologist or general practitioner,can help diagnose eating disorders like BED and develop treatment plans and strategies for recovery. 

Organisations like the InsideOut Institute (14), Butterfly Foundation (15), National Eating Disorder Collaboration (16) and ReachOut (17) have online resources for individuals struggling as well as people who support those with eating disorders like BED.

To find a healthcare professional that can help, like a psychologist, doctor or dietitian, the Verified Provider Directory on the Health At Every Size (HAES) Australia website can be used to search for a practitioner near you (18)..

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Strategies to Combat Overeating

If you find that you can’t satisfy your hunger at the end of the day or tend to snack endlessly in the evening, there are strategies that you can implement to ensure your hunger is satisfied and your body receives the nutrients it needs.

 

Eating regular meals and snacks

Skipping meals earlier in the day leaves your body tired and in need of energy. This leads to overeating later and seemingly endless snacking at night. To eat regularly, we recommend eating 3 main meals with 2-3 snacks, leaving no longer than 3 hours between meals/snacks. 

Regular eating helps minimise overeating by keeping energy levels and appetite more stable throughout the day (19). This leaves you feeling more satisfied between meals, and less likely to overeat at meal times. 

Eating regularly can be tricky to do in our busy lives. Here are some tips to made regular eating easier:

  • Meal prepping
  • Pre-planning meals
  • Packing lunch
  • Keeping non-perishable snacks in the car or the workplace
  • Making plans for mealtimes with other people to be held accountable

 

Including a range of foods in your diet

A diet including a variety of foods across the core food groups is important to meet your body’s needs and requirements. 

Together, a well-fueled body and brain are able to focus on achieving daily tasks and are not consumed by hunger at the end of the day.

It is recommended that each meal and snack contains a source of each macronutrient – protein, carbohydrates and fats. These nutrients each have an important job in supporting the body and brain. 

Protein and healthy fats in particular play a role in keeping us full for longer (19).

 

Allowing All Foods A Place On Your Plate

Between different media outlets, influencers, healthcare professionals and other sources of information, we hear and see many conflicting opinions and ideas about what is good for the body.

Dietitians, general practitioners, other healthcare providers and the Australian Dietary Guidelines advise that all foods have a place in the diet when consumed in moderation. There are no “bad” or “wrong” foods, rather there are some foods containing nutrients that the body needs less of than others (20).

A diet that has a balance of all food groups and foods, from fruit and vegetables to dessert and takeaway, makes both your body and mind happy and healthy.

 

Hydration

Just as the body needs nutrients and energy to function at its best, water is another key factor to keeping our body healthy.

Water contributes to energy, improves brain function, aids digestion and helps you feel more satisfied (19,21).

Overeating may happen when dehydrated to make up for a lack of energy (19).

 

Managing uncomfortable emotions surrounding food

Food and emotions are closely linked. Eating often accompanies major events like celebrations and can bring people together.

Another link between food and emotion is the use of food and eating as a coping mechanism or comforter. Food and eating can also be linked to difficult emotions and become a habit when these difficult emotions are experienced.

If you feel that you experience overeating or bingeing in response to feeling strong or difficult emotions, understanding these feelings is an important first step. 

Speaking to a healthcare professional like a general practitioner, dietitian or psychologist is another step you can take. This can help you develop a better understanding of your relationship with food and emotional eating.

 

Getting enough sleep

Other than through eating, the body gets its energy from sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, the body doesn’t have time to rest and recover from the day (23).

Similarly to when we are dehydrated, a lack of sleep and energy causes hunger and the body to crave foods that will supply energy quickly. This can lead to overeating or bingeing (23).

 Regularly eating smaller meals and snacks and a consistent sleep routine can help us acknowledge feelings of fullness when eating during the day. It will also support good quality and length of sleep at night. 

 

eating disorder dietitian gives advice on how to stop overeating at night

 

Summary

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a complex condition linked to mental health and relationships with food.

This differs to overeating, which is not associated with feelings of guilt, shame, depression or other difficult emotions. Overeating may also not occur as regularly as BED.

Overeating tends to occur as a result of several different factors. These include not enough food earlier in the day, restricting the amount of meals or specific foods in the diet, dehydration, lack of sleep or special occasions revolving around food.

There are a number of strategies that can be implemented to reduce overeating. It is always recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional such as a general practitioner, psychologist or dietitian for support. 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
Written by student dietitian Lilee Lunney
Reviewed by dietitian Jade Wrigley

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