We’ve all been there: you’ve just eaten dinner, and you’re getting ready to sit down to watch television. Although you just ate, you suddenly feel hungry again. You eat more, but it seems like no matter how much you eat, you aren’t satisfied. You keep eating, but you are never full.
There are so many reasons why you might not feel full when you eat, ranging from emotional health issues like stress to serious genetic conditions. Some people truly are constantly hungry, while others may not be physically hungry but have a desire to continue eating.
If you’re concerned about your eating habits or digestive health, don’t take this article as medical advice, and seek medical attention as soon as you can.
While this article will touch on a variety of reasons, we’ll focus on the ones related to your emotional health, and talk about what you can do to start feeling satiated again.
Why am I eating so much and not getting full?
Low satiety is a term that describes the inability to feel full. It can be caused by numerous factors, some of which require medical treatment. People who experience low satiety tend to eat more than their body really needs, and are also more likely to eat foods high in sugars and fats. This can lead to serious health consequences like high blood pressure or weight gain.
Low satiety isn’t all that uncommon – around half of people experience at least mild low satiety, and up to 15% experience it in a severe form. People with obesity are more likely to have severe low satiety, and it affects over 50% of this population.
We also know that low satiety is highly genetic, and scientists have identified two main genes that can raise people’s risk.
Low satiety is different in some ways from constant hunger, also known as polyphagia or hyperphagia. People with polyphagia have a constant, intense, and insatiable hunger at all times. If you have low satiety, you may not be extremely hungry, but you also don’t feel completely full.
To put it simply, there are 4 main reasons why you may not feel full after eating a complete meal:
- You have a genetic or medical condition
- The foods you eat aren’t satisfying
- Stress and mental health conditions
- Disordered eating & lifestyle
Genetic or medical conditions that can cause low satiety
There are many medical conditions that can cause you to be unable to feel full after a meal. Some of these disorders, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism, are common. Constant hunger is one of the three main signs of diabetes. Hyperthyroidism, atypical depression, and some other hormonal conditions can also cause you to feel hungry all the time.
There are other, rare genetic conditions that can lead to an inability to feel full as well. For example, Congenital Leptin Deficiency is a rare genetic disorder affecting the hormones that lets your brain know you’re full. People who are overweight are also more likely to have a leptin resistance – which means you could get caught in a Catch-22.
There are other very rare conditions such as Prader-Willi syndrome or Kleine-Levin syndrome that cause hyperphagia in children.
On a related note, some medications can also cause you to feel hungrier than usual. Some examples include antipsychotics, cannabis-related drugs, and corticosteroids.
If your low satiety could be due to a medical concern, then it’s important you get medical attention. All of these conditions require treatment and won’t go away on their own.
The foods you eat
Certain foods may also be more likely to give you that feeling of satisfaction and fullness than others.
Foods high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats are more likely to keep you feeling full for longer. For example, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are good choices. This is partly because these types of foods take longer to digest. On the other hand, foods that move through your system quickly – like simple carbohydrates – may leave you feeling unsatisfied.
In addition, some studies show that people who eat a diet high in salt tend to eat more. This could be a sign that eating a high-salt diet leaves you feeling hungrier.
Drinking alcohol can also make you feel hungrier. Some research suggests alcohol can affect the hunger signals your stomach sends to your brain, causing you to feel unsatisfied.
Stress and mental health conditions
Many mental health factors can also cause you to feel less satisfied and keep eating after a complete meal. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can affect your appetite and contribute to overeating.
Many people eat when they’re under high levels of stress as well. When you’re stressed, anxious, bored, or lonely, you might feel unsatisfied even when your stomach is actually full. You could be overeating as a coping mechanism, and not because you’re actually hungry.
This is in part because your body’s stress response interacts with hormones, like leptin, which send your brain the signal of fullness. If you’re under too much stress, this interaction could be altered in complex ways that lead you to miss these signals.
Sleep is another mental health factor that can cause you to continue to feel hungry after eating. In one study, men who were sleep deprived had higher levels of ghrelin – a stomach hormone that signals hunger. As a result, they felt hungrier and ate more food, especially carbohydrates.
Lastly, your relationship with food can cause you to feel unsatisfied after a meal, whether that feeling is real or perceived.
First and foremost, you might not be feeling full after you eat simply because you aren’t eating enough. How many calories were in your last meal, and is that enough to truly sustain you? Diet culture can lead us to believe we need less calories than we actually do. Some “fad” diets suggest we should even skip some meals to lose weight. It’s completely natural that you would still feel hungry if you haven’t eaten enough.
Emotional overeating is another situation many people face, and in its severe form can become binge-eating disorder. Binge-eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that requires treatment. Its symptoms include having periods of eating large quantities of food, which are followed by feelings of immense guilt and shame. During a binge period, you might eat a lot of food and still not feel full or satisfied.
Other eating habits that could keep you feeling unsatisfied after meals include eating quickly and distractedly. This is something we can all be guilty of. But research shows that both people who eat while distracted as well as fast eaters tend to consume more calories and report feeling less satisfied after eating.
How to feel more satisfied after eating
If you no longer feel full after you eat, and it’s not due to an underlying medical condition, then you likely need to make some changes in your behavior and lifestyle. The most important thing is to identify what’s really keeping you from feeling satisfied. Once you’ve realized the reasons, then you can start to make healthy changes.
Here are some tips.
- Eat less simple carbohydrates (like pasta or white bread) and instead eat meals that are filled with fiber, healthy fats, and protein. You may also want to stay watchful of your salt intake.
- Practice mindful eating. Eat one bite at a time, and stay present with every time you chew. When you eat, only eat – don’t eat while doing other activities like working or watching TV. Savor the flavors, smells, and textures. Pay close attention to how your stomach is feeling as you eat. This will also help you to eat slower.
- Prioritize restful sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene.
- Learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.
- Stay away from alcohol as a coping mechanism. If you do choose to drink in moderation, pay even closer attention to how drinking affects your appetite.
- Examine your relationship with diet culture, and address any body image concerns. Avoid strict diets that force you to severely restrict your food intake.
- Address any underlying mental health concerns, including eating disorders.
Eating Disorder Treatment
If you’re concerned about your eating habits – whether you feel like you’re eating too much or not enough – our team is waiting to hear from you.
So many factors can contribute to low satiety. The eating disorder treatment center at The Center • A Place of HOPE uses a unique Whole-Person Approach to eating disorder treatment. We know that, although the eating disorder may be what is bringing you the most pain, it’s not the whole story. Our team treats you as the unique person you are, and focuses on healing every area of your life: physical, emotional, nutritional, relational, psychological, and spiritual.
You can start healing your relationship with food today. Please call during opening hours, Mon-Fri 9am-5pm PT, Schedule a Callback or complete the form below.