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I am constantly hungry. How can I eat well?

Asked by Chuck, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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I find myself constantly hungry. On a typical day, I eat a small breakfast (one egg plus two strips of bacon, or a bagel, or leftovers from the night before). But I am hungry by 11 a.m. Usually, I can eat a whole Chipotle burrito for lunch and be hungry by the time I go home at 4 p.m. Am I overeating? Today I had a whole 12-inch pizza to myself, regular crust with three toppings! I am a 5-foot-7 dude and I weigh 140 pounds but I don't think I am healthy. Should I eat less? (I don't drink sodas and I avoid things with high sugar/fructose corn syrup content.)

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Chuck. Without knowing more about you -- particularly how active you are -- and more details about what you eat, it is hard to give you a precise answer to your question, but I will try to help. Based on your height and weight, your BMI (a ratio of your height to your weight) is 21.9 which is well within the healthy range of 18.5-24.9.

So the short answer to the question of whether you are overeating is no, since you are not overweight. As far as your issue of always being hungry, depending on how much you eat, how quickly the foods you eat are digested, and how active you are, it is not abnormal to be hungry every three to four hours. I find that most of my patients find themselves hungry between 3 and 5 p.m. and need to eat a little something to take the edge off hunger until dinner.

For optimal health, it sounds like you might be eating a bit too much saturated fat (bacon, eggs, cheese and toppings on your pizza and perhaps in your burrito), so I would limit those foods, but as long as your portions don't contribute to weight gain, they are probably the right amount for you.

To control hunger better, there are two key dietary components that you should try to incorporate into most meals.

The first is protein (lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs/egg whites, cottage cheese), which can help you feel more full by triggering the release of hormones in your gut and brain. So if you just had a bagel for breakfast without having any protein, you might be hungry sooner, especially since a bagel is made of refined carbohydrates that are digested more quickly and cause a spike in your blood sugar, which is followed by a subsequent crash, which can lead to hunger.

The second critical factor for fullness is fiber. Both soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water) play a role in fullness, so including fiber in most meals can help keep hunger at bay for longer. One of the best sources of fiber is whole grains so I would recommend including more whole grains (at least three servings per day) in your diet. Beans are also an excellent source of fiber so order your burrito with whole beans and lean protein to keep you fuller longer. Fruits and vegetables are also very good sources of fiber and contain valuable disease-fighting nutrients too, so I would highly recommend adding more of these to your diet as well.

And finally, in addition to limiting high-sugar items, which can cause a spike and crash in blood sugar, make sure to limit processed "white" carbohydrates, too, which have the same effect.

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