We’ve all experienced hunger pangs at one time or another. Hunger pangs, often called hunger pains, are that empty, gnawing feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re hungry. They can be a real obstacle when you’re dieting for weight loss, not to mention the embarrassing growling in your tummy that often accompanies them. But, what causes hunger pangs? Could they signal a potential health problem? And, how can you relieve them?
What are hunger pangs?
Hunger pangs are caused by strong stomach contractions that occur when the stomach is empty, and they’re often accompanied by an almost uncontrollable desire to eat.
You might be surprised to hear that these pains don’t necessarily mean that you need to eat. They can also occur when you’re body becomes used to eating certain amounts of food or on a specific schedule each day.
Not only that but everyone’s body is different. While some people will experience hunger pains fairly quickly on an empty stomach, others can go all day before they kick in. Either way, almost everyone experiences them eventually.
What causes hunger pangs?
Of course, being hungry is the general cause, but sometimes it goes deeper than that. They could be your body’s way of letting you know it needs nutrition. Or, your stomach could just be used to being fed at certain times.
Whenever the stomach is stretched with a meal, snack, or even a drink, it feels full. But if you go a while without eating or drinking, the stomach flattens and contracts, which is what causes the growling and hunger pains in your stomach.
While the amount and quality of the food you eat play a key role in how often you feel hungry, there are many other things that cause you to experience hunger pangs, too. These include:
Stress and anxiety
Sights and smells in your environment
Deficiencies in essential nutrients
Your brain may simply be urging you to eat a certain food for a pleasant experience.
The hunger hormone, ghrelin, can also trigger hunger. This hormone is released by the brain when it’s time to eat. Ghrelin levels control the release of the stomach acids that digest food, and these acids can trigger hunger pains if you don’t eat.
Low blood sugar levels/fluctuating insulin levels
Lack of sleep
Overeating or being overweight can trigger more frequent hunger pains
Leptin is another hunger hormone. When levels are low, your appetite increases and your tummy pains will be stronger.
You’ll be happy to know that they are not usually related to a medical condition. However, if you experience abdominal pain that never really goes away or seems severe you should consult with your doctor just in case.
Although it is rare, diabetes and other medical conditions can trigger hunger pains. Hunger pangs that are accompanied by headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, or fever could signal a more serious issue. In this case, seek medical attention right away.
Common Symptoms of Hunger Pains
Not sure if you’re experiencing hunger pangs or something more? Here are the most common symptoms of hunger pains to help you decide:
Mild abdominal pain/discomfort
A gnawing feeling and growling in the stomach
An empty feeling in the pit of your stomach
Painful stomach contractions
Feelings of fatigue or lightheadedness
An almost uncontrollable urge to eat
These symptoms should resolve right away if you eat something. Your tummy is also capable of adapting to eating less, such as when you’re dieting for weight loss. Over time, the stomach will adapt to eating less. However, if you’re eating a lot of junk food and not consuming enough essential vitamins and minerals, your hunger pains may never fully subside.
Minimizing Hunger Pangs When Dieting
Hunger pangs can be a huge obstacle when you’re dieting for weight loss. Here are some tips and tricks to help you minimize stomach pains so you can achieve your weight loss goals.
Eat six small meals a day instead of three big ones. Remember, weight loss depends on your caloric intake not how often you eat. You can eat more frequently to control your hunger pains, just keep track of your caloric intake at mealtimes.
Protein improves satiety, so be sure to eat a serving of protein every four hours. Lean meat, nuts, peanut butter, and legumes are all good sources of protein.
Choose nutrient-dense foods to satisfy your nutritional needs. Be sure to include plenty of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (like avocado), and low-fat dairy products.
Avoid snacking on junk food, empty carbs, and sugars that can contribute to fluctuating blood sugar, insulin levels, and weight gain.
High volume, low-calorie foods with lots of fiber are a dieters best friend. Go for leafy green veggies, smoothies, and foods with a high water content like soup to improve satiety.
It’s easy to mistake dehydration for hunger pains, so be sure to drink lots of water.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep plays a major role in hormone levels which can affect how often you feel hungry.
Spicy aromas can trick the brain into feeling satiated, even if you’re eating smaller meals. Try including spices like chili, cayenne, turmeric, ginger, and curry in your cooking. As an added bonus, these spices may also boost your metabolism!
Enjoy and savor every meal. Be intentional when you eat and chew your food thoroughly. This simple trick can help trick your brain and reduce how often you feel hungry.
Boredom can make hunger pains seem worse. Staying busy will keep your hunger pangs to a minimum.
Take a personalized multivitamin every day. This will fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet and prevent hunger pangs caused by nutritional deficiencies.
Although hunger pangs can be uncomfortable, they are usually nothing more than the body’s natural response to an empty stomach. They are generally triggered by the brain when you’re hungry, but they can also signal nutrient deficiencies or a medical condition. If you are dieting for weight loss, there are several tips and tricks you can incorporate into your daily routine to keep hunger pains to a minimum.