There are a few factors that contribute to a feeling of fullness after a meal. After all, you don’t just eat with your mouth — eating should be an sensory experience that uses not only your mouth but also your eyes, ears, and nose. A good dish can bring back memories, and bring an almost indescribable joy to those who share in it.
In this article, we’ll talk about the ways that your body processes food, and why sometimes you don’t feel full, even after indulging in a huge three-course meal. There are plenty of factors involved — and its not just about the type of food you eat.
Your glucagon levels are low
Hunger is a result of many different chemical impulses in your body that pass between the stomach, intestines, brain, pancreas, and bloodstream. It’s not that difficult to disrupt the flow of messages on that circuit and cause your body to believe that it’s full even when it isn’t.
There has been research showing that the hormone glucagon, which regulates our feeling of fullness, may be lower in some people with obesity issues. This causes people with low glucagon levels to overeat, even if they’ve already gotten enough food to physically satisfy them.
Although scientists originally thought of glucagon as primarily a hormone controlling glucose output, it has recently been shown to also affect the levels of ghrelin, a hormone which controls the appetite. Scientists think possible future studies on glucagon could yield a workable treatment for people with chronic overeating problems.
You have leptin resistance
Leptin resistance is another kind of hormonal imbalance that can cause people to feel hungry even when their body is actually full. If your brain has become resistant to the hormone leptin, it loses its ability to distinguish being full from being hungry.
In a normal person, when leptin levels are low, food is rewarding and satisfying to eat (like if you’re really, really hungry), and when leptin levels are high (which happens to most people after they’ve eaten a reasonable amount of food) you cease to find enjoyment from your food. For someone who is leptin resistant, this never happens, and can cause obesity and other weight issues.
You’re eating foods that are low in fiber
Eating foods that are low in fiber can be rewarding and enjoyable, but usually they’re the type of foods that leave you hungry an hour later. Fiber-rich foods are easy to identify because they take a little bit more work to eat — think kale, rather than iceberg lettuce.
There’s just a little catch: a kale salad complete with nuts, seeds, and berries might look like a large meal, but could potentially lead to you not feeling as full immediately after. That’s OK! Fiber-rich food often takes a little bit longer to digest than foods that aren’t as high in fiber, and so it may take a while to process them and reach the point of feeling full. This means that you should listen to your body, and eat slowly, maybe taking a half-hour between dinner and dessert to let your body adjust. You may find you don’t need as large a serving of cake after all!
You’re used to a simpler diet
Sometimes, trying to make the switch to a healthier diet can be frustrating because we’ve trained our bodies to accept a large amount of food that doesn’t fill us up, rather than a small amount of food that does.
Think about how you feel when you go to McDonalds, versus how you feel when you eat a big bowl of quinoa topped with roasted veggies. If you eat McDonalds you may feel full for a while, but quickly the empty calories burn away, and since there are barely any nutrients in the food, you’re rapidly hungry again. If your body is used to this, it starts to require more and more food because it’s used to not getting what it needs from just one meal.
Starting to eat more nutrient-rich food will help your body learn to absorb the nutrients gradually, and it won’t be long before your cravings for McDonalds are a thing of the past.
You eat too much sugar
There’s a reason why you feel so good after downing an entire can of soda, or eating a chocolate bar. Sugar triggers a release of dopamine, which is the hormone that controls the reward/pleasure center of your brain. Humans are conditioned to continually seek out pleasurable experiences, and so we’re drawn to sugar almost as much as other addictive substances like alcohol or drugs, because it just feels so good to eat!
Next time you want a little bit of a sugar rush without the guilt, pick up a piece of fruit and chow down. The fiber in the fruit helps fill you up so you don’t have to eat more than one to feel satisfied.
You don’t eat enough protein or fat
Protein takes longer to process, and so it stays in the stomach longer, helping you to feel full. Fat behaves in the same way. Both protein and fat have a somewhat bad rap in the health community, but you can make sure that you’re eating responsibly by sticking to lean proteins like chicken and fish, and healthy fats that you can find in foods like avocado, peanut butter, and seeds.
A lot of times, people confuse hunger with thirst because both are governed by the brain’s hypothalamus, and so the impulses are often confused. If you’re still hungry after you’ve eaten a reasonably-sized meal, drink a big glass of water and wait for 20 minutes before you dig into dessert. Maybe it’s just your body telling you that it’s parched, and you needed some fluids.
People have even used this tactic to lose weight — drinking two big glasses of water before meals can help some people feel fuller, so they don’t need to eat as much food.
You eat too fast
Although our nerve impulses trigger our brain at an incredibly fast speed, sometimes even the brain needs time to process information. That’s why if you eat too fast, or eat while you’re distracted by something else, often you consume way more than you originally intended — the brain just hasn’t realized that it’s full yet.
To avoid this, just eat slower. Chew your food fully, and pause between bites.
You’ve been juicing
A lot of people swear by the juice cleanse, claiming that juice contains all of the nutrients with none of the calories. Actually, the only thing it does is it strips fiber from the fruit and veggies, leaving a sugary liquid that doesn’t actually contain anything that will make you full. The blood sugar spike that follows drinking a juice leaves you feeling great for a little bit, but then the inevitable crash leaves you feeling hungrier than ever.
Next time you’re craving a juice, even if it’s the healthiest kale-filled smoothie you can find, just eat a piece of fruit and drink a glass of water.
Foods to Avoid
Certain foods that are low in fiber and high in sugar will usually leave you unsatisfied after eating. Common culprits are white bread, salty snacks, and pasta — these things are heavily processed, and are almost totally lacking in any nutritional value other than carbs and salt.
White bread especially is to be avoided, because it’s just so easy to load up on other kinds of bread (think whole-grain) that are chock-full of fiber and real nutrients. A recent study showed that people who ate more than two servings of white bread a day were almost 40% more likely to become overweight than people who ate it only once or twice a week. This means you can still enjoy a classic grilled cheese or fresh tomato sandwich on Wonderbread once in a while, but don’t make it an everyday indulgence.
Foods to Enjoy
Typically, any kind food that’s high in fiber and protein will both fill you up, and leave you feeling full for longer. Some great examples are a kale salad tossed with some well-seasoned slices of steak, or Greek yogurt with homemade granola, sweetened with a bit of honey or maple syrup.
For some extra protein with any meal, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, throw in a small handful of nuts. Most nuts are super high in both protein and healthy fats, which will help you stay full all day.