Nutrition

Why Am I So Hungry? How to make the best food choices to handle hunger.

Megan Dahlman
September 5, 2017

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​We were in a hurry. It was the last morning of our vacation and we had to eat, pack up and go. Cooking eggs in a pan was not an option, so I just grabbed what most moms grab when in a hurry (much to my demise.) I poured a big bowl of Kashi Go-Lean, had a whole banana, and ate two bites of Peter's toast. 
 
There. Breakfast accomplished. 
 
Until my stomach started growling in a way I forgot it was capable of, only two hours later. Man alive, I was hungry!! And 10:30 was terribly inconvenient. By the time lunch arrived, I didn't care about what I was eating...just give me all the things. Lots of it, and now! (Cue the Taco Bell 7-Layer burrito. Yep, it happened.)
 
There's a snowball effect with food choices throughout the day when you have no idea how certain foods affect your hunger cues. Eat the wrong thing at breakfast, and you’ll pay for it at lunch, or more likely that horrible hour before dinnertime when you get hangry.
 
It’s not just about making sure you eat, it’s about what you eat.
 
But why did I get so hungry? I didn’t entirely skip breakfast, after all. And cereal has fiber, which is supposed to make you feel full, right? It was Kashi after all, which is the fancy healthy cereal! And then what if I had oatmeal...that would have been even better, right? 

 
Let’s get sort of science-y for a minute.
 
Cereal, oatmeal, toast and even fruit do almost zilch for satiating your long-term hunger. They are comprised of mostly carbohydrates, albeit complex carbs. Complex carbs take a little longer to digest and have a slower trickle into your bloodstream than straight up sugar (simple carbs). Because of this characteristic, I'm sure you have heard that these complex guys are better for you. And this would be correct...in most scenarios, complex carbs are better for you than simple carbs. Whole wheat bread is better than white processed bread. Quinoa is better than couscous. Whole old fashioned oatmeal is better than Lucky Charms. 
 
So why was I screwed the moment I poured that bowl of “fancy, healthy” cereal?

 
What really keeps you full...

When it comes to keeping you feeling full for longer, protein and fat are the answer. Calorie for calorie, a breakfast that consists of protein and fat will stave off hunger much longer than a breakfast that consists primarily of carbs. Protein and fat take much longer to digest and move into your system for energy use. So instead of getting a big, quick spike of satiation and then a quick dive, it’s more like a steady trickle. Also, as proteins and fats are being digested, they send fullness cues to your brain, telling it that you’re satisfied for a while.
 
So, if I had consumed a breakfast that had some proteins and some fats, in addition to some complex carbs, I would have felt full for much longer, probably right up until lunchtime. And avoiding the ravenous hunger when the next meal approaches leads to more disciplined and wise choices.

(And I’ll admit, my choice at lunch was better than my breakfast, even though it was Taco Bell. It had chicken, cheese, beans, guacamole, sour cream, tomato, lettuce, and rice. That kept me full way longer. Lots of protein and fat, so it filled my belly.)

 
Carbs no more?

So, if proteins and fats are the answer for staying full after every meal, does that mean we should take it a step further and never consume carbohydrates? Nope, although some people are starting to go to this extreme (i.e. the ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, etc.). Your body still needs carbohydrates to function well, and the best source of carbs are fruits and vegetables. Common sense tells us that we are much healthier when we eat plenty of produce! If we delete these foods from our diet, we will be robbing ourselves of the essential vitamins, minerals and even fiber that our body requires. My recommendation is that you turn to fruits and veggies as your primary source of carbohydrates, not breads/rice/pasta and other starchy carb sources.
 

Practical for mom life...

How do we make this practical to keep our hunger in check and to make sure we get all the nutrients our bodies need?

  1. First, with every meal you eat, choose a good protein source and try adding something that has healthy fat. For protein, I recommend eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, fish, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, a good protein powder, or at the very least beans. For fats, I recommend olive oil, nuts, seeds, strong/sharp cheeses (so you don’t need to use as much!), olive oil hummus, flax oil or other unique oils, or nut butters.
  2. Secondly, get your carbs primarily from your produce. At every meal, eat either fruits or veggies, or both. You can’t go wrong with lots and lots of fresh produce. However, keep in mind that if you eat produce by itself, you may still feel hungry.

 
My husband and I have a joke: Hungry? Have an apple. You’ll feel even hungrier!  (Now, if you put peanut butter on that apple, you’d be set.)
 

Making better food choices.

The big looming question is of course this: Can I ever have oatmeal or cereal? Sure, by all means. No food should ever be demonized and rendered completely off limits, even Lucky Charms. But, if you do have oatmeal or cereal, realize that the sugar content is probably high (especially if it's coming out of a package), and the protein/fat content is probably very low. Also, there’s no produce involved. (Special K with freeze-dried strawberries does not count!) You can do much better.

If you manipulate your oatmeal to lower the sugar content and increase the protein/fat/produce content, then it will be a much better option. Click here for one of my favorite oatmeal recipes that makes the cut.

Back to my frantic breakfast. What could I have done differently in such a short amount of time? Keeping the protein/fat/produce guidelines in mind, I could have had the same banana, but with some peanut butter on it. I should have skipped the cereal altogether, and scrounged in the fridge for several slices of deli meat. If there was a hard-boiled egg around, that would have been awesome. Maybe an avocado? Perfect. I could have cut it open, sprinkled a little sea salt on top and scooped out the goodness with a spoon. And I bet there were some cherry tomatoes around. Grab a handful of those for a little extra produce.

Here's what that quick on-the-go breakfast would have looked like:

  • banana 
  • peanut butter 
  • deli meat 
  • avocado 
  • cherry tomatoes 
  • and maybe even a hard-boiled egg


Way, way better than Kashi Go-Lean, a plain banana, and two bites of toast. My stomach would have thanked me!

Woah. Did a bunch of lightbulbs just go off while you were reading this?
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Click here to find out more and to sign up today! 

Hey, guess what? You can start showing up for your body in simple ways, right now.

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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