You take the last bite of your meal, sit back, and expect to feel satisfied after eating. But for some reason, you feel slightly uncomfortable because the hunger is still there. How is that possible?
Eating but still feeling unsatisfied can be confusing, and it can be hard to find a healthy solution. The truth is there are several reasons why you still might have the sensation of an empty stomach after your meals. The possibilities range from the types of foods in your meals and portion sizes, but it also considers medications and possible side effects too.
In this article, you’ll learn why your stomach can still feel empty even though you just ate and how to prevent this in the future!
There are many reasons your stomach can feel empty after eating. Take some time to analyze if your eating opportunities are driven by a schedule or natural hunger cues. If you need help getting back in touch with your hunger cues, consider working with a registered dietitian specializing in hunger and fullness. They can help you achieve sustainable results that should last a lifetime.
How Do I Feel Satisfied After Eating?
There are a lot of factors at play, but focusing on the biological ways your body recognizes fullness and satiety is an important place to start. Your body has two hormones that actively prompt your hunger levels (ghrelin hormone) and your satiety (leptin hormone). Gaining weight and living with obesity can impair the functions of these hormones, making it harder to tell when you feel satisfied after eating.1
Chronically ignoring your signals can also interfere with your ability to tune into your natural hunger and fullness cues. This can happen if your busy schedule doesn’t offer chances to eat when your body is hungry.
Learning how to manage this is tricky because you have to work around a schedule you may not have full control over. Hiring a dietitian to help you navigate these challenges is a great place to start.
Other factors that can interfere with hormone signaling are undiagnosed medical conditions. If you’ve noticed significant swings in your appetite (either increased or completely diminished), it's time to be assessed by a medical professional.
7 Reasons Your Stomach Feels Empty After Eating
Your hunger and fullness hormones are a big part of the equation, but your food choices and meal balancing also influence this. Here are seven reasons why you might still feel hungry after eating.
1. Your meal needed to be bigger.
It happens more often than you think! Many adults eat regular meals throughout the day, but the serving sizes need to be bigger. If you constantly feel hungry after meals, you should be more generous with your portion sizes next time. Diet culture is steeped in shameful messaging about second helpings, but an average adult needs at least 2000 calories a day just to function.
You can also bulk up the calories by adding healthy fats to your meal. Drizzle an extra tablespoon of olive oil over soups, salads, or sandwiches to add more energy to your meals. Olive oil is high in unsaturated fat and polyphenols, a naturally occurring health compound that reduces inflammation in the body.2
2. You were missing a protein.
Protein is a macronutrient and provides your body with energy and essential amino acids that are the building blocks for all tissues in your body. Protein sources are dense and take time to break down. Including them at meals is important to helping you feel satisfied after eating and for hours following too.
More protein options are available on the market now than ever, and there is strong evidence that including more plant-based options can improve your overall health.
You don’t have to eliminate animal products from your diet, but work on building a balanced intake between animal meat and plant proteins. Choose lean meats whenever possible and trim off any visible fat to make it heart-health-friendly. Add legumes or tofu products at least three times a week to help you achieve a balanced diet. This small change can save you money and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer that affect the digestive system.3
3. Did you have enough fiber?
Fiber is an indigestible form of carbohydrate. It doesn’t offer calories, but it can absorb water in your digestive tract, which helps you to feel full, and the bulk also keeps your bathroom habits regular. Many Americans do not get enough fiber because they choose processed or ultra-processed foods more than whole options. Women should aim for 24g of fiber daily, and men should target 35g.
Make these simple swaps at meals to increase the overall fiber content:4
- 50g cooked pasta (approximately ½ cup):
- White flour pasta has 0.9g of fiber, and whole grain pasta has 5g of fiber.
- 1 slice of bread:
- White bread is 0.7g of fiber, and whole-grain brown rice has 1.9g of fiber.
- Choose fresh fruit over juices: 1 cup of pineapple juice has 0.5g of fiber, and 1 cup of fresh pineapple has 2.3 of fiber.
- Add beans to your meals and add protein: 50g of chicken has 0g of fiber, and 50g of kidney beans has 12g of fiber.
4. Did you eat too fast?
After eating, your body will need time to send signals from your gut to your brain to let it know you are full. At a minimum, the entire eating experience should be 20 minutes.
The next time you sit to eat, slow down and focus on chewing every bite properly. You can also add mindful eating practices here, enhancing your appetite and satisfaction with eating. Pick out five elements of your meal that you are observing and enjoying. Start with the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight.
5. There are instances of emotional eating.
Once in a while, having something sweet or salty to make you feel better after a bad day will not influence your overall health. But if you constantly eat after any curveball (small or large), you should work with a dietitian to find alternative coping strategies.
It is hard to feel satisfied with food if you are eating to cope with emotions. Until you deal with the root cause of what is triggering your emotional responses, food and eating will never bring full peace (although it can provide temporary pleasure, which is why we do it repeatedly).
Some prescription medications can reduce appetite, making it harder to eat as much as you are used to. Even though you still eat less, you can still experience the feeling of an empty stomach that can persist throughout the day.
Known medications that can have this side effect include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and Adderall (used to treat attention deficit disorders). Consider consulting your doctor about alternative options if you take a medication with this known side effect.
7. High-Stress Levels.
Your mental health has a significant impact on your appetite levels. Some people will feel hungrier and eat larger portions more frequently throughout the day. Others may notice their appetite declines during bouts of high stress. These are all-natural responses to our fight-or-flight system.
It is hard to feel full after eating if your body is constantly experiencing stress. Learning to cope with daily hurdles is critical for immediate and long-term health. Chronic stress can increase blood pressure and blood sugars if left unmanaged, making it harder to manage weight.
Focus On One Change At a Time
You may feel hungry after eating for many reasons. Appetite levels are sporadic, meaning they change day by day. Your activity levels, your quality of sleep, and even the weather or climate can influence how hungry you feel. Focus on one area of your diet and lifestyle and start making changes there.
The easiest and simplest place to start is to ensure you eat enough throughout the day. The hustle and bustle of work and family can put your body in adrenaline mode, and it’s hard to eat enough while your body is still trying to get through all the tasks in your day.
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