Yesterday I noticed that I was “hungry after eating but not before.”
Before eating I was working and wasn’t actually that hungry at all – perhaps partially because my brain was occupied, but I think there’s more to the story.
This wasn’t the first time that I became seemingly hungrier after eating – relative to before I took my first bite of dinner… and it made me think that if I’m experiencing this – others must be as well.
Hungry after eating but not before… (True vs. False Hunger?)
I am not really certain why some individuals (like myself) experience or perceive greater hunger after eating than before – as this doesn’t make much logical sense.
Hunger semantics: True hunger vs. false hunger (head hunger) vs. mixed (true & head hunger).
I’ve seen people describe 2 different types of hunger online – and I hypothesize a third exists (“mixed”).
The body signaling for “fuel” to function healthily. The stomach may be rumbling or growling for food.
For example: Your body has been without food for a while and you’ve been physically active such that you’ll be functioning suboptimally without food intake.
False hunger (head hunger)
False hunger in that you want to eat but the body doesn’t need additional calories to healthily function.
Stomach usually feels full. May be fueled by emotions, boredom, or “cravings” (desire to eat for a hedonic effect).
A combination of genuine hunger (the body would benefit from supplying additional calories for healthy functioning) + head hunger (desire to eat for emotional reasons or for hedonic/pleasure effect).
Note #1: These are not scientific terms… I don’t particularly love the term “head hunger” because true hunger can signal to your brain (i.e. head) that you’d benefit from eating. However, because it’s popularized online I’m rolling with it.
Note #2: I could probably get more “nuanced” with hunger subtypes but am going to stick with these 3 for now.
Why hunger after eating but not before or “hungrier after eating than before”? (My hypotheses)
Included below are some hypotheses regarding why some individuals feel hungry after eating but not before.
Keep in mind I just brainstormed these while thinking about this – not sure whether any are rooted in science.
Neural priming effect (preprandial, intra-prandial, postprandial)
Brain activation before, during, and after eating likely influences the degree to which someone feels hungry after eating.
I suspect this is influenced by: (A) macronutrient intakes; (B) total calories consumed; (C) low vs. high palatability; (D) rate of food intake; (E) baseline neurochemistry & hormones; and (F) genetics/epigenetics.
Essentially the way a specific meal interacts with your entire neurobiology will determine how you feel after eating it.
Right before eating (preprandial) certain smells may activate a region of your brain associated with hunger – while eating (intra-prandial) tastes may further activate various brain regions associated with hunger/eating reward – and after eating you may be left with some degree of continued activation (or activational momentum) such that you’re left even hungrier than before you ate.
Hormones & neurotransmitter responses
The hormones and neurotransmitter production generated by your body in response to the food that you ate might explain why you experience hunger after eating but not before.
Below are just a subset of hormones and neurotransmitters that may change in signaling/concentrations following consumption of a meal.
The specific composition (macronutrient, micronutrient, fiber, etc.) of the meal that you consume – could cause an increase in hunger via these hormones/neurotransmitters.
“Meal A” (high protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, bland, low hyperpalatability) may cause fullness because of the way these neurotransmitters/hormones react to its composition.
“Meal B” (low protein, highly-refined carbs, unhealthy fats, flavorful, and highly hyperpalatable) – may not cause fullness and instead might actually cause increased hunger because of the body’s reaction to its composition.
Blood sugar level & fluctuations (R)
I’m not sure if this is scientifically validated, but it has been suggested that blood sugar level and the magnitude and/or speed of blood glucose fluctuations (e.g. rapid spike, rapid crash) may cause certain individuals to feel hungry after eating – even if they weren’t hungry before.
Some individuals claim to experience lower levels of “false hunger” (e.g. cravings when full) during intermittent fasts relative to after eating – whereas others claim that hunger is more manageable when meals are consumed more frequently (such as to provide stable energy).
Note: Although the referenced study indicates that higher carbs cause a “return of hunger” resulting from earlier glucose peak & nadir – this isn’t necessarily the same as being hungrier immediately after eating.
- Moreover, I’m not suggesting that higher carbs are worse than higher fats for hunger – this study used refined/process carbs which is a significant limitation.
- I merely cited the study to demonstrate that specific blood sugar changes may cause hunger after eating.
This technically falls under all 3 of the aforementioned mechanisms but I think it warrants a distinct mention.
Hyperpalatable foods generally contain high concentrations of salt, sugar, and fat – combined with addicting textures (e.g. crunchy outer shell, ultra-soft inner filling, etc.).
When hyperpalatable foods are consumed for a meal – most will lack healthy macronutrient/micronutrient composition and fiber.
As a result, they may significantly increase hunger via modulation of: brain activity, hormones, neurotransmitters, and blood sugar.
Note: These mechanisms assume that you don’t have a specific medical condition or aren’t under the influence of a medication – that influences hunger.
Causes of “hungry after eating” feeling… (My thoughts)
There are many possible causes of feeling hungry after eating.
Keep in mind that the cause(s) of feeling hungry after eating are likely nuanced and individual-specific.
For one person there might be just one major reason for hunger after eating (e.g. untreated sleep apnea) and for another person there might be multiple synergistic reasons (e.g. severe calorie restriction, insufficient protein intake, and an anxiety disorder).
Therefore, you should not necessarily assume that the reason you feel hungry after eating is the same as another individual.
Caloric restriction (hypocaloric diet)
Restricting calories (i.e. calorie deficit) can cause hunger even after eating.
If the caloric restriction is significant and/or occurs for a prolonged duration – it’ll alter both neurotransmission, hormones, and autonomic activation to promote hunger.
Some people who feel hungry after eating what seems to be a “big meal” may be hungry because they ate far below calorie maintenance needs.
Most people don’t track calories – so many people probably aren’t aware when they’re consuming too few calories (e.g. eating a large amount of plain spinach will seem like a lot of food volume-wise – but it’s very low in calories) – and this could explain the hunger.
Suboptimal macronutrient partitioning
Macronutrient partitioning for maximal satiety is highly individualized. Some individuals do better with high fat, others with higher carbohydrates.
Nearly everyone feels more satiated with high protein.
However, protein beyond a certain threshold can increase hunger for some individuals (unclear as to whether this results from the incredibly high protein amount OR the lower intakes of carbohydrates and/or fats).
Some individuals may feel excessively hungry after eating due to lack of dietary fiber intake.
While lack of fiber doesn’t cause hunger in everyone – most people experience higher satiation when consuming more fiber.
There are 2 types of fiber (soluble & insoluble) and specific intakes of each may matter in some cases.
Hyperpalatable foods (salt, sugar, fat)
Hyperpalatable foods are addictive and cause overconsumption in most people.
If you’re eating small amounts of hyperpalatable foods for a meal – these may trigger cravings for more (within the brain).
The neural correlates of craving may somehow stimulate or connect with neural correlates associated with hunger – such that increased hunger occurs after eating.
Certain medical conditions can increase feelings of hunger. For this reason, it is recommended that you get a full in-person examination from a medical doctor if these feelings persist.
- Graves’ disease
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Anxiety disorders
- Autoimmune conditions
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Hormonal imbalances
- Eating disorders: Binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, etc.
Drugs, medications, supplements
Certain drugs, medications, and supplements may significantly increase hunger throughout the day and cause you to feel hungry even after eating sufficient calories for your body/brain to properly function.
Many substances alter both neurochemistry AND hormones simultaneously – making it extra difficult to stop eating.
- Anabolic steroids (e.g. nandrolone)
- Anticonvulsants (e.g. gabapentin, pregabalin, etc.)
- Antidepressants (SSRIs, MAOIs, TCAs)
- Antihistamines (e.g. diphenhydramine)
- Beta Blockers
- Vitamins: Some studies show that excessive intake of various vitamins (particularly B-vitamins) via fortification of foods and/or supplementation may promote weight gain. (R)
Note: Even if a medication you take isn’t conventionally known to cause increased hunger – if you notice a correlation between the time you started taking it and feeling hungry, you should probably assume it’s the med unless proven otherwise.
Insufficient sleep quantity and/or quality can induce significantly more hunger than when a person gets sufficient, quality sleep.
In fact, extra sleep has been linked to improved ability to lose body fat.
If you’re not sleeping long enough (e.g. 7-8+ hours) and the quality is poor (e.g. broken, frequently waking up, etc.) – this can massively increase hunger via hormone signaling and impair self-control (via the prefrontal cortex) such that you cave and eat more junk food.
Conditions such as sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) commonly cause increased hunger and weight gain.
The specific times at which you eat, how often you eat (frequency), and sizing/macro combos of each meal – might determine whether you end up hungry after eating.
- Timing (circadian): The timing of your meals (and macronutrients) may interact with your circadian rhythm and influence the degree to which you feel hungry after eating.
- Frequency: How often you eat may influence whether you experience significant hunger after eating.
- Size & macros: Total calories consumed with each meal and at specific times (circadian interaction) or in specific combinations (e.g. more carbs/less protein) might affect hunger throughout the day.
- Chews before swallowing (?): There’s some evidence that chewing food slowly tends to enhance digestion (via increasing blood flow to the stomach and gut) and induces satiety more quickly (relative to calories consumed).
- Rate of food intake: The speed at which you eat could influence how hungry you feel after. People who eat slowly tend to eat less on average. This is because there’s latency between the stomach filling up and the brain detecting “fullness.” Rapid food intake can cause the stomach to fill up before “fullness” is felt – hence feeling hungry immediately after eating quickly.
Prior weight loss
If you ever lost a significant amount of weight – it makes sense that you’d experience significant hunger after meals.
- Hormones & neurochemistry: Some studies indicate that it takes 6-12 months for hormones and neurochemistry to acclimate to the new, lower body weight. Until this acclimation occurs – hunger hormones remain high.
- Fat cells: Individuals who were previously overweight/obese gained many fat cells in the process. Fat cells are never actually lost (they just shrink) but they can still emit hunger signals via the periphery – making formerly fat individuals more likely to feel hungry after weight loss.
- Gut signaling: Microbiome, vagus nerve, etc.
- Epigenetics: There may be signaling changes in the epigenome following weight loss that promote greater hunger. DNA methylation changes occur in animal models of calorie restriction and in humans undergoing behavioral weight loss interventions.
Note: This assumes the weight loss was not via bariatric surgery or surgical removal of adiposity (in these cases hormones do not typically induce significant hunger post-surgery).
Genetics & epigenetics
There are both genetic and epigenetic links to hunger/appetite regulation.
It is likely that some individuals are less satiated as a result of genetic influence.
Gut microbiome & vagal nerve
Because the gut microbiome can influence the vagal nerve – and all can interact with the brain/CNS, it’s possible that these inputs could influence hunger to some extent after eating (possibly as a result of hormones/neurotransmitter production).
Type, amount, frequency, etc. – especially in the context of your total calorie intake.
For some individuals, exercise may increase hunger to a greater extent and/or cause overeating – whereas for others it may suppress appetite.
Low body fat (%)
Some individuals may reach low levels of body fat wherein the body ramps up hunger more substantially as a survival mechanism.
That said, most individuals with extremely low body fat will feel just as hungry before eating as after.
Autonomic nervous system (stress vs. relaxation)
Stress and relaxation affect people differently.
Some people lose more weight when highly stressed and don’t feel hungry because stress blunts their appetite.
Others gain a significant amount of weight when stressed.
Relaxation can have similar unpredictable effects: some feel lazier and eat more – others feel satiated sooner.
Your circadian rhythm relative to meal timing/specifics may have subtle or significant effects on overall hunger.
If your circadian rhythm is out of sync, this could be a reason for a hunger surge despite the fact that you just ate.
Ambient temperature & body temperature
Your ambient temperature and body temperature may have some influence on your level of hunger.
Cold environments seem to increase appetite and heat seems to decrease appetite and food intake.
High food & flavor variety
There’s evidence suggesting that the greater the variety in one’s diet in both foods and flavors – the more likely the individual is to overeat.
Why is this? This is because variety likely activates specific parts of the brain in susceptible individuals wherein “hunger” is experienced if they don’t consume more.
Consuming the same bland foods every day is less likely to have this effect.
Calorie dense foods (?)
Calorie dense foods are great for gaining weight but might be suboptimal for promoting satiety (i.e. fullness).
If you consume many calorie-dense foods like butter, oil, nuts – these may fill up your stomach less due to lower fiber content and cause you to experience increased hunger after eating.
Ultra-processed/refined foods (?)
Any ultra-processed, refined foods are likely hyperpalatable – containing preservatives like high salt, sugar, oils, etc. – all of which may spike hunger after eating relative to before.
Note: Many of these variables can be synergistic in promoting increased hunger after eating.
How can you fix the “hungry after eating” feeling? (Strategies)
If you feel hungrier after eating than before, you’ll need to identify the specific reason(s) this is occurring – and then address those reasons by any means necessary.
Medical conditions (rule out and/or treat)
It is important to consult a medical condor to rule out medical conditions that may be causing significant hunger.
If any medical conditions are found – treat them appropriately and the hunger might improve (e.g. CPAP for sleep apnea, psychiatric meds for binge eating disorder, etc.).
In the event that no significant medical conditions are discovered by a medical doctor – below are some strategies that might work to prevent you from feeling hungrier after eating than before.
Adjust calories, macros, fiber
Realize that if you’re consistently feeling hungrier after eating than before, it might be due to your total calories (not enough) or macronutrient partitioning.
High protein is usually one effective way to quell hunger for most, however, going too high in protein can sometimes increase hunger for a subset of individuals (it is unclear as to whether this is due to the high protein itself OR the lower amounts of fats/carbs).
Fiber intake generally reduces hunger – so consider evaluating and tinkering with fiber intake.
Adjust meals (size & timing)
After you’ve tinkered with calories, macros, and fiber – you may want to experiment with meal sizes and timing.
For example, if you typically eat just 2 large meals in the evening, perhaps try eating smaller meals throughout the day (morning until evening).
Evaluate drugs, meds, supps
Reflect upon the drugs, medications, and supplements you take.
Consider that these may be modulating your internal level of hunger such as to make you hungrier than usual after eating via neurochemical and/or hormonal mechanisms.
Many substances that significantly reduce inflammatory mediators (e.g. TNF-alpha) may cause increased hunger.
Improve sleep quality
One component of lifestyle that can have a massive impact on hunger is sleep quality.
If your sleep cycles aren’t in sync with your natural circadian rhythm and/or you aren’t getting enough total sleep – or good sleep quality – then this could be a driver of increased hunger.
Plan your day
This will help occupy your brain after eating such as to avoid eating out of boredom or pleasure.
If you’re engaged in something (e.g. working, reading, exercising, etc.) you won’t be thinking as much about the hunger.
If you have diabetes, this medication can help blunt hunger significantly such that you won’t think about food as often.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, this may be a highly-effective intervention for hunger/weight control. (Liraglutide can have similar effects here.)
Whole foods (unprocessed) NOT hyperpalatable (ultra-processed)
Most people have a much easier time managing hunger by consuming whole foods that are relatively “bland” rather than ultra-processed foods with a variety of flavors.
Some individuals can handle ultra-processed foods without binging – but many cannot. Know thyself here.
Exercise more (?)
This can actually backfire for some people and cause increased hunger in some cases. Know thyself.
The general consensus seems to be that exercise: (1) modifies hormones; (2) reduces appetite; (3) improves body composition; and (4) serves as a distraction from food (difficult to think about food when you’re doing something challenging).
If deemed medically necessary – these may help control appetite.
Phentermine; amphetamine/lisdexamfetamine (Adderall & Vyvanse); methylphenidate; modafinil/armodafinil; caffeine; bupropion; topiramate; naltrexone; etc.
Most of these are psychostimulants which substantially reduce appetite.
Risks: Poor sleep, cardiovascular events, mood changes, anxiety.
Meditation & relaxation
A combination of self-regulation & relaxation helps most people with abnormally high hunger after eating.
Stress and negative emotions can alter neurochemistry & hormones such as to promote binge eating and/or overeating.
Optimize circadian rhythm
Circadian optimization is associated with lower levels of hunger for many people.
Morning sunlight exposure, meals at specific times, and appropriate sleep/wake times – may reduce hunger for some.
Blocking out bright artificial lights after sunset and/or during the middle of the night may also prove beneficial.
Zero calorie beverages
Certain individuals benefit significantly from the consumption of zero calorie beverages when hunger strikes.
These give the brain a little “dopaminergic” jolt via strong flavorings and the liquid may fill up the stomach to some extent – which may induce some degree of fullness.
(That said, these can have the opposite effect for others – so know how you react.)
Chew zero calorie gum
Chewing gum can improve digestion and in some cases help with weight loss.
Similar to zero calorie beverages, zero calorie gum may give you a little dopamine jolt via flavorings – which help reduce junk food cravings for some.
(Not everyone responds well to gum – so experiment on yourself.)
Avoid trigger foods
Assuming you have any “trigger” foods (that’ll make you want to binge eat) such as cookies, pizza, etc.
Many people should NOT even have these foods in the house – as just knowing they are around can result in poorer self-control and “binging.”
Reduce TV watching
TV watching may increase likelihood of “bored” eating – many people have learned to associate watching TV with eating delicious/hyperpalatable food.
TV watching also “lulls” the brain into a bored, relaxed state wherein self-control can diminish for some.
Drink more water
Drinking more water before and after meals may help induce greater satiety and fullness than less water – for some people.
(Personally I’ve never noticed increased satiety from water consumption – but some people do.)
Talk to yourself. Like: “Oh you’re hungry? Keep pushing through it – you’ll be fine.”
(Or something like that… use whatever gets the job done for you to stay psychologically disciplined.)
Don’t think about food
Don’t watch YouTube videos of people eating foods, don’t look up food recipes, stay out of the grocery store, etc.
Focus on something completely different like cleaning the house, exercising, making a new playlist, reading a book/article, etc.
Set a timer
Go for at least 1-2 hours without food after the hunger feeling and see how you feel.
This is probably the most helpful one for me when I’m “hungrier after eating” than before…
I tell myself that if I can make it 1 hour, I can probably make it 2… by the time the second hour rolls around I usually am not hungry anymore or way less hungry.
Blood glucose monitoring
There are preliminary studies suggesting continuous blood glucose monitoring may provide “biofeedback” such that individuals can learn to distinguish “true” hunger from “false” hunger – which should help with weight loss. (R)
What do I think caused me to be hungrier after eating?
Let’s analyze what I ate, the macronutrients, and a few more things.
Food log (Yesterday)
- Black beans (1.75 cup)
- Almonds (3/4 cup)
- Banana (5 oz)
- Chicken breast (6.75 oz)
- Carrots (3.5 oz)
- Egg whites (14.5 oz)
- Graintastic bread (4 slices)
- Broccoli (8 oz)
- Pretzels sticks (16)
Note: I’m consuming a low-acid diet specifically to manage a health condition called LPR – so all of my food is consumed plain (zero seasonings). Boring but necessary.
Total calories = ~1915
- Protein: 143 grams
- Carbs: 211 grams
- Fat: 55 grams
- Fiber: 42 grams
- Sugar: 41 grams
- Saturated fat: 5 grams
- Sodium: 2849 mg
Note: All micronutrients were on point as a result of food and/or modest supplementation. Moreover, I’m currently in a calorie deficit for fat loss (have been for the past ~2 months).
Possible causes of my hunger after eating (self-assessment)
Included below are the potential causes my subjective “hunger” after eating that I experienced yesterday.
Keep in mind I do NOT typically experience hunger after eating every day – or after every meal.
For me it generally occurs intermittently and usually most commonly after dinner.
I attempted to list causes in order from most likely to least likely.
I suspect my “hunger” is a combination of ~75% “false hunger” (head hunger) wherein I crave junk food AND ~25% “true hunger” (stomach hunger) due to being in a calorie deficit.
- Trigger foods (temptations): Various foods that spike my hunger were in my vicinity as family members consume a different diet than me. They ate seasoned chicken, a salad, homemade biscuits, and some really good looking ice cream dessert. Smelling and seeing this made me hungrier than I was before I smelled/saw it.
- Hyperpalatable food: Pretzels sticks. These are like a daily reward for me and I really savor/enjoy them. The problem? They are hyperpalatable. If I didn’t have good self-control I could easily eat the entire bag while dieting. The combination of the salt and crunch is tantalizing. Sometimes I feel “full” before eating these – then feel “hungrier” after…
- Refined carbohydrates (?): The only refined carbs I eat are pretzels sticks. They have negligible fiber, almost no protein, and are not complex carbohydrates – so end up being not-very-filling.
- Calorie deficit: I’m eating in a calorie deficit (below maintenance) – so this could contribute to my hunger to some extent.
- Degree of calorie deficit: For about a month I was eating a pretty substantial calorie deficit (just 1500 calories per day) and the weight loss was relatively rapid. I’ve since increased my intake to 1900 – which is still relatively significant. Interestingly I experience subjectively more hunger on 1900 calories than 1500.
- Term of calorie deficit: I’ve been in a relatively significant calorie deficit now for over 2 months. Although some individuals claim it gets “easier” over time, I think this is debatable. Hormones adjust significantly more over time to promote greater hunger (the longer one has been cutting). Therefore, the term of my calorie deficit could have something to do with hunger levels.
- Suboptimal sleep quality (?): My sleep wasn’t all that great the night before I experienced this – in both quantity (~7 hours) and quality (woke up ~3-4 times throughout the night).
- Antihistamines (?): I used a low dose of an antihistamine (e.g. dimenhydrinate 25 mg) to manage some vertigo that I’d been dealing with. There’s some evidence that antihistamines can affect appetite.
- Liquid calories (?): Although I didn’t have any liquid calories today, some days out of sheer convenience I include 1-2 whey protein shakes in my diet. I’ve noticed that when I consume liquid protein shakes – I’m slightly hungrier than if my calories are from solid foods.
How I cope with hunger after eating…
Let time pass: This is the most effective strategy for coping with increased hunger after meals. For example, I just ate lunch and feel hungrier after lunch than before it… when I let ~1-2 hours of time go by the hunger subsides again.
Bland foods: Although I eat mostly bland foods (zero spices – just plain) – sometimes I have a bit of junk. Keep in mind that if “junk” foods (i.e. ultraprocessed & hyperpalatable) spike your hunger – it may be best to avoid and don’t buy.
Chew plain gum: I chew Falim gum (affiliate link) from Turkey (I believe) and it tastes extremely plain. I’ve found that flavored gum tends to increase appetite. Some individuals may find that flavored sugar-free gum helps cope with the hunger though. Occasionally I’ll chew Juicy Fruit gum (affiliate link).
Drink water: This doesn’t really help my hunger much but doesn’t hurt it either. May have a subtle hunger-reducing effect.
Go on a walk outside: Anywhere. This helps with postprandial digestion, is exercise, and takes my mind off of the hunger to some extent.
Do something: Besides walking – other things to do include: side hustle, reading, writing, calling a friend, etc.
Could you be even hungrier after eating than before eating?
It depends. You shouldn’t be “hungrier” after eating than before if you’re referring to “true hunger” or your body needing calories to function.
However, you may experience “false hunger” wherein a combination of: (A) hormones; (B) blood sugar; (C) brain/neural activation; (D) neurotransmitters – cause your appetite to increase even more after eating relative to before because of the foods you ate (e.g. processed, hyperpalatable).
Assuming you: (1) don’t have a preexisting medical condition that might explain this and (2) aren’t restricting calories substantially – greater “true hunger” is rare after eating relative to before.
Have you experienced hunger after eating?
- Were you able to identify the cause(s) of the hunger? (Examples: Medical condition, medications & drugs, restricting calories too much, etc.).
- Is the hunger occurring immediately after eating or a specific amount of time after eating? (The former is less typical than the latter for most people.)
- If so, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.
- Did you figure out any ways reduce/manage your postprandial hunger? (Mention these in your comment as well.)