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Why Does My Stomach Hurt After Not Eating for Awhile and Then Eating?

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Why Does My Stomach Hurt After Not Eating for Awhile and Then Eating?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • There are many potential causes of stomach pain after not eating for a while and then eating, such as hunger hormones, constipation, stress, certain medications, and overeating.
  • Several strategies exist for managing this kind of stomach pain, such as eating small, frequent meals, ensuring your meals are nutrient-dense, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and eating slowly.
  • If your stomach pain is due to meal skipping or dieting, healing your relationship with food could be a good first step in reducing stomach pain.

If your stomach hurts after not eating for a while and then eating, you’re not alone.

Luckily, there are many potential remedies for this kind of stomach pain.

Overeating is one of the main causes of stomach pain after not eating for a while.

Skipping meals or eating significantly less than usual can also contribute to stomach pain.

Many people engaging in these behaviors are stuck in the diet mentality. Healing your relationship with food and eating more frequently could help reduce your stomach pain.

Read on to learn more about the causes of stomach pain, tips for managing it, plus tips for creating an individualized meal plan that nourishes and sustains you.

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Why Does My Stomach Hurt After Not Eating for Awhile Then Eating?

If you’re experiencing stomach pain after not eating for a while and then eating, there are many potential causes.

These include hunger hormones, constipation, stress, certain medications, and overeating.

Hunger Hormones

If you’re experiencing stomach pain after not eating, there’s a good chance that hunger hormones are involved.

Ghrelin is a hunger hormone produced by the stomach that tells your brain it’s time to eat.

This results in increased stomach contractions and stomach acid production, which can contribute to stomach pain.

You may experience hunger pangs for many reasons, such as:

  • Your meal timing has changed.
  • You’re eating less than usual.
  • You skipped a meal.
  • Your last meal didn’t fill you up enough.
  • You’re exercising more.
  • You’re not getting enough sleep, which can cause your body to produce more ghrelin.

Constipation

If you’re struggling with stomach pain after not eating for a while, you may have constipation.

Constipation can be caused by numerous factors, such as not getting enough physical activity, not eating enough fiber, and not drinking enough fluids. 

Stress

Stress is another common cause of stomach pain. Interestingly, stress can both speed up and slow down the passage of food through the digestive tract.

It also increases fluid secretion by the gut. 

The combination of altered gut transit speed and increased secretions can lead to stomach pain and changes in bowel habits (like diarrhea or constipation).

Plus, stress can reduce your pain tolerance, making you more sensitive to what’s going on in your digestive tract.

Medications

Another cause of stomach pain when you haven’t eaten for a while is medications.

Certain medications can mimic gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

These medications include metformin, antipsychotic medications, antidepressant medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and certain antibiotics.

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Overeating

Stomach pain after not eating for a while and then eating could be due to overeating.

This can happen if you’ve gone a long time without food, as the human body has mechanisms to protect against starvation

If you’re following a calorie-restricted diet, the body sends signals to promote increased food intake.

This happens acutely (such as when your blood sugar drops too low) and chronically (when your body runs out of stored fuel).

This drive to eat can be strong and can lead to overeating, which can put additional strain on your digestive system and lead to stomach pain.

Tips for Managing Stomach Pain After Not Eating

If your stomach hurts after not eating for a while and then eating, there are several strategies you can use to manage the pain. 

Eat Small, Frequent Meals

Eating small, frequent meals is often recommended for people experiencing gut-related symptoms like stomach pain and bloating.

Smaller portions can make digestion easier.

Plus, eating smaller portions reduces the risk of overeating, which could also reduce stomach pain.

Gastroparesis is a chronic disease causing delayed stomach emptying.

If you suffer from this condition, eating smaller, frequent meals will become critical to give your body time to move stomach contents to the small intestine, avoiding feelings of excessive fullness or bloating

Eat Nutrient-Dense Meals

Eating balanced, nutrient-dense meals is another important method of managing stomach pain.

Studies show that protein and fiber promote satiety, which can reduce hunger pangs.

To ensure your meal is satisfying, incorporate lean proteins like chicken, fish, and beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

Stay Hydrated

Studies show that water consumption throughout the day or with a meal increases satiety.

If you feel like you’re eating enough but are still struggling with stomach pain, you may be dehydrated.

Keep a water bottle with you or set regular reminders on your phone to ensure you drink enough fluids throughout the day.

Get Enough Sleep 

Studies show that not getting enough sleep increases ghrelin levels and reduces leptin, a hormone that signals that you’re full.

Since elevated ghrelin levels can cause stomach contractions and increase stomach acid production, they can lead to hunger pangs that may feel like stomach pain.

Ensure you get at least seven hours of sleep every night—it may help reduce hunger pangs during the day.

Eat Slowly

Eating slowly can be beneficial for several reasons. First, digestion starts in the mouth.

By chewing your food properly, you reduce the work your stomach needs to do to break down the food.

Plus, efficient chewing sends signals to the gut to start the process of digestion and absorption. 

More efficient chewing is associated with fewer gastrointestinal complaints, and studies show that people who cannot chew properly are more likely to use medications for gastrointestinal disorders or digestive issues.

If you’re struggling with stomach pain after not eating for a while, try eating more slowly to give your body a chance to digest properly and avoid overeating.

The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Relationship With Food

Many people skip meals or restrict certain foods to lose weight.

In some cases, this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Over time, this can profoundly impact your physical and mental health.

If you’re struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food, here are some tips for rebuilding trust with your body and food:

  • Stop restricting your diet.
  • Learn to listen to hunger and fullness cues.
  • Foster a flexible relationship with food (there are no “good” or “bad” foods).
  • Break free from an “all-or-nothing” approach to food.

If you continue to struggle with your relationship with food, seek professional support.

A registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders can help you understand what is driving your desire to skip meals or restrict foods.

Creating an Individualized Meal Plan

One of the best ways to manage gastrointestinal symptoms is to create an individualized meal plan.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Set aside time each week to meal plan.
  • Check which ingredients you already have.
  • Make a list of recipes you enjoy cooking.
  • Plan meals that can be refrigerated or frozen so you don’t have to cook daily.
  • Make a grocery list of the ingredients you need.
  • Include a variety of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy products.
  • Consider your taste preferences and time constraints when planning your meals—build a meal plan that works for you.
  • Consider working with a registered dietitian who can help you create a meal plan tailored to your needs and digestive symptoms.

Finding Balance Between Nutrition and Enjoyment

While following dietary guidelines for overall health is important, having a flexible attitude towards nutrition is also beneficial.

Food should sustain and enhance your life, not be a source of stress. 

Food is an important part of our culture and how we connect with others.

When you have a flexible attitude towards food, you allow yourself to eat for nutrition and pleasure.

Remember, your relationship with food is just as important as the nutritional value of your food. 

Some people find it helpful to take an 80-20 approach to nutrition.

This approach encourages 80% of your food intake from nutrient-dense foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy.

The other 20% can be whatever foods bring you joy, regardless of their nutrient content.

This is just a guideline—only you can decide what works best for you.

When to See a Medical Provider

If you regularly have stomach pain after you eat, it’s important to see a medical provider to help determine and treat the cause.

Additionally, speaking with a registered dietitian or therapist could be beneficial if you’re struggling with your relationship with food and find yourself skipping meals frequently. 

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Takeaway

There are many reasons your stomach hurts after not eating for a while and then eating.

Luckily, there are several strategies you can use to overcome this, such as eating small, frequent meals, choosing nutrient-dense foods, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and eating slowly.

If you continue to have stomach pain after eating, seek medical attention. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

A dietitian can help you manage stomach pain after eating by helping you identify which foods are triggering your symptoms.

A gut health dietitian can also help you heal your relationship with food by helping you understand what drives the food rules you may have.

Find a dietitian that accepts insurance through Nourish. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you eat food after not eating for a long time?

If you’ve gone a long time without eating, your body will send strong signals to encourage you to eat, like a grumbling stomach or hunger pangs.

These signals can lead to overeating, which can cause stomach pain.

Why does my stomach hurt if I wait too long to eat?

When you wait too long to eat, your body produces ghrelin, the hunger hormone.

This signals to your brain that it’s time to eat and leads to increased stomach contractions and production of stomach acid.

Combined, these physiological responses can lead to stomach pain.

Why does my stomach hurt after eating on an empty stomach?

If your stomach hurts after eating on an empty stomach, it may be because you ate too quickly or too much.

This is a common response to food deprivation.

Try not to let yourself become too hungry between meals.

This can make it easier to eat slowly and mindfully.

References

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