Hunger is one sensation that we all understand from the time of birth. It compels us to find food and eat it, or as is the case with infants, to alert caregivers about the desire to feed. What we all expect is to feel satisfied after eating which means that the sensation of hunger subsides. Both satiety and hunger are at two ends of the spectrum governed by specific centers in the brain. However, there are instances where a person may continue to feel hungry after eating. Or at times hunger starts after eating. This is not considered to be normal.
So why would a person feel hungry after eating? It is often not serious. Eating a little more or having another meal may do the trick. But there are also instances where hunger can be a sign of certain diseases. If the feeling of hunger after eating recurs frequently or leads to changes in appetite then it needs to be investigated further. Naturally a person may start to eat more on a daily basis and would even gain weight. However, in some diseases the constant hunger and increased appetite may not lead to weight gain. In fact a person may be losing weight instead.
Hunger vs Satiety
Hunger is controlled by several factors such as the quantity of nutrients in the bloodstream, signals from the stomach and fat cells, certain hormones and stimulation of different centers in the brain which may even be triggered by the sight, smell or thought of food. Once a person eats, the stomach distends, the blood glucose levels rise and different hormones are released. This stimulates the satiety centers in the brain which “switches off” the hunger centers. Eventually the feeling of hunger will return.
Hunger pangs stemming from the stomach are another signal which are due to strong stomach contractions. A similar feeling in the stomach may also arise with increased gastric acid secretion. Therefore problems in the stomach, with the blood glucose levels, abnormal nerve signals, eating disorders altering the normal activity of the satiety and hunger centers and hormone problems may all contribute to hunger even after eating.
Stimulating the satiety centers in the brain depends on the amount of food that you eat. Naturally if you eat less than you normally would you may not feel satisfied after a meal. Therefore hunger will persist even after eating. But there are cases where your body needs more nutrition, like after a long strenuous day where your body may have utilized more calories than normal. Even psychological stress can increase your appetite. Eating less than what your body needs can cause the hunger sensation to persist despite having consumed portion sizes that are normal for you.
Protein and Fat
Although the blood glucose levels are a major factor in determining hunger, protein and fat are just as important as carbohydrates. The modern diet is abundant in carbohydrates. Protein is often consumed in smaller than required quantities and people who are extremely health conscious may not be consuming sufficient amounts of fat. Therefore a balanced diet is important if you want to feel satisfied after eating. In fact protein is known to stimulate the satiety centers in the brain for longer periods of time than fats or carbohydrates. Fat also promotes the secretion of certain digestive hormones which have an effect on the hunger sensation.
Fiber is indigestible and cannot be absorbed by the body. It remains in the gut where it acts as a bulking agent. By absorbing water in the gut it expands and causes the stomach and bowels to distend. In this way fiber can help with reducing the hunger pangs. Fiber can also help slow down the absorption of foods leading to a prolonged delivery of glucose into the bloodstream. This will also help with keeping hunger at bay. Due to these properties, increasing dietary fiber may be helpful in preventing hunger after eating.
Eating Too Fast
Triggering the satiety centers and reducing hunger does not happen instantly. If you eat too fast you may find that your body did not as yet “switch off” the hunger centers. Waiting another 10 to 20 minutes can in fact lead to the hunger sensation tapering off. Furthermore eating has a psychological component to it. By eating too fast your brain may not register that you have eaten a sufficient amount of food. This can further sustain the hunger sensation after eating. This mental “monitor” is one of the reasons why people tend to overeat when they have meals in front of the TV or with other distractions.
Technically you are eating for two when you are pregnant although this many not mean that you need double your regular meal size. Not only will your body need more food than usual when you are pregnant but the hormonal changes with pregnancy can alter the appetite in many different ways. You can sometimes eat a full meal but still crave certain foods or snacks. The body needs more nutrients to sustain the baby and supply the essentials for fetal growth. If you are not eating enough during pregnancy you will feel hungry even after consuming what you may consider a full meal. Furthermore hunger that is not easily satisfied may also be a sign of gestational diabetes.
Medication and Substances
A number of prescription medication and other substances can alter appetite and lead to hunger after eating. Oral corticosteroids, somatropin and certain drugs used to stimulate appetite particularly in patients with HIV/AIDS can cause hunger despite having eaten a meal. Drugs that irritate the stomach lining can cause discomfort which may be perceived as hunger, particularly if a person has pre-existing stomach problem like gastritis or peptic ulcers. Other substances like alcohol and marijuana (cannabis) also alters the appetite and can lead to sensations of hunger after eating. With cannabis use it is commonly referred to as “the munchies”.
Constant hunger may be a sign of several diseases that differ in nature.
Diabetes is a problem with blood glucose control stemming from a deficiency or dysfunction with the hormone known as insulin. Although insulin reduces appetite, hunger may persist when the body’s receptors do not respond to insulin as is the case with type 2 diabetes.
The metabolic rate increases with hyperthyroidism. This means that the body utilizes more calories than it normally would. Therefore a person will need to constantly replenish these calories. A larger appetite and frequent hunger may be seen with hyperthyroidism.
Infestation with tapeworms are known to increase appetite. This applies to the pork, beef or even fish tapeworm. These parasites reside in the bowels and consume nutrients from the foods. The body is “robbed” of some of its nutrient supply thereby prompting abnormal hunger.
Certain sensations may be perceived as hunger although it is not. In gastritis and peptic ulcer disease, the irritation and erosion of the stomach lining may present with hunger. Increased gastric acid secretion after eating may further irritate the stomach lining thereby causing discomfort or pain which may be perceived as hunger.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on April 12, 2013