Hunger pains are those uncomfortable feelings you get in your stomach due to hunger.
You wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that hunger pains are food consumption-related–like fasting, eating too little, overeating, eating too late at night, or the intake of unhealthy foods.
But did you know that there are reasons, besides food consumption, that cause hunger pains?
Let’s look at two of them–not drinking enough fluids (or dehydration) and stress.
Fight Hunger Pains With Plenty of Fluids
Dehydration refers to the loss of water in any form, including through sweat, urine, and feces. Thirst will clue you in to the need to drink more fluids. If you are dehydrated, your body needs more fluid than usual.
“I get it,” you may be thinking to yourself, “but what does that have to do with hunger pains?”
Dehydration causes hunger pains by stimulating the release of ghrelin, a hormone that increases hunger. Ghrelin stimulates appetite and increases stomach acidity. It also speeds up your metabolism, which leads to more energy being burned from food rather than stored as fat.
Lower ghrelin levels make it easier to lose weight or maintain your current weight because less hunger is felt, and there’s less need for energy expenditure from food intake. The best way to combat ghrelin production is by maintaining a healthy weight through exercise, eating a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of fluids.
For those difficult days when you can’t help but think about food, try eating a little high- and low-glycemic carbohydrate and protein to keep your energy levels up and reduce hunger pains.
Dehydration also leads your blood pressure to decrease, which increases your heart rate. Your brain then sends signals that increase hunger, so you’ll eat more food to replenish lost fluids. Your brain thinks it needs more food to get water back in it.
The easy fix?
Drink more water. It will help to avoid cravings and hunger pains caused by dehydration. Drink a glass of water before every meal and snack throughout the day. If you’re hungry between meals, eat some fruit or nuts until your next dinner.
If you’re dehydrated, try drinking 16 ounces of water, then wait 20 minutes. You should feel less hungry for a few hours after drinking water. However, you may still have some cravings for salty or sweet foods, which often pass within an hour or so.
Fighting Hunger Pains By Fighting Stress
Stress also causes hunger pains.
When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. In turn, cortisol triggers hunger pains. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism to ensure that food will be consumed when stress sets in. So controlling stress will control cortisol which is essential for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Stress causes the release of cortisol can leads to developing stress eating habits and overeating which in turn leads to weight gain and obesity. It can start with a single stressful event but can quickly gain momentum over time, especially in periods of difficulty such as unemployment or the loss of a loved one. Several weeks later, you have become accustomed to grabbing food when stressed, and it is not uncommon for people to misinterpret this calorie intake with comfort eating.
People who are chronically stressed often experience stronger cravings than those who aren’t overly stressed. They also report more frequent hunger due to overactive appetite hormones like ghrelin and minor mention of pain or emotions other than feeling hungry as reasons for eating than people not under chronic stress. Between depression causing cravings for unhealthy foods and high cortisol levels causing intense hunger that seems unprovoked, living with chronic stress can cause weight gain or risk overeating without even realizing it until it’s too late.
Stress management techniques such as exercise and meditation reduce stress hormones and should help to suppress the urge to eat when feeling stressed. Participating in healthy activities like yoga or cycling can even be a form of weight loss, especially if you take up swimming. Also, be sure to get enough sleep. Sleep rests the body and reduces cortisol levels. Finally, if you have a stressful job, taking a work break during lunch can also help lower your cortisol levels throughout the day.
Hunger pains can be difficult to deal with, especially when you are trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight. But, as you now know, you can help fight those pesky hunger pangs off without reaching for food by drinking plenty of fluids and reducing stress levels any way you can.