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How to stop being always hungry through physical activity and the right diet

Edited by Elena Casiraghi, Ph.D. Specialist in Nutrition and Sports Integration - Enervit Team Contract lecturer at the University of Pavia
  • Chronic hunger, or the feeling of being always hungry, usually arises from a situation of emotional imbalance given by various personal reasons.
  • It has been shown that physical activity, both aerobic and endurance, if practiced for at least 30 minutes continuously, decreases the sense of being always hungry.
  • Likewise, the right diet including protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of fat, if eaten in the correct order, allows the body to feel full and reduce the sensation of being always hungry.
  • Diet and exercise are essential for maintaining a good mood, the real responsible for the stress that causes chronic hunger .
The search for pleasure and gratification is a natural part of human existence. Eating tasty and highly caloric foods is one of the strategies to achieve a feeling of global well-being. It can therefore be said that gluttony, or the desire and consequent search for food to quench our hunger, is a completely physiological and understandable event.

The situation, however, becomes more complicated when gluttony turns into chronic hunger.

So how to avoid chronic hunger, or the feeling of being always hungry, coming from stress and to break its vicious circle once grafted? Let's find it out.

How stress affects appetite in chronic hunger

First, let's make it clear that not all people are inclined to develop chronic hunger behaviours. There are, in fact, genetic predispositions. However, some stages of life may predispose to the development of chronic hunger or the desire to consume appetizing foods.
This is the case, for example, with periods of stress. These moments are characterized by high emotional or physical challenges that involve an alteration of the psychophysical stability of the organism, which must then be followed by an adaptive response.

Every source of stress, in practice, requires an opposite and stabilising action. Examples of these moments are periods of greater demand in daily tasks (such as work), situations of relational conflict, grief, or injury for athletes. From a physiological standpoint, the body can respond with chronic hunger or, on the contrary, with deprivation of food, insomnia, extreme levels of hypothermia or hyperthermia.

Physical activity: a real chronic hunger breaker

The common cliché is that physical activity will make you hungry. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It all depends on the type of exercise you do: one is not like the other. Exercise scholars have long since discovered that in aerobic activity sessions levels of ghrelin, the hormone of hunger, decrease and increase those of peptide YY, the hormone of satiety.

This leads to a reduction in appetite. On the contrary, the exercises other than aerobic activity, involve only a reduction of the ghrelin but not of the peptide YY. In practice, satiety is stimulated but appetite is not reduced. A further benefit, therefore, to practice aerobic activities at moderate intensity and especially with constancy.

It is already known, in fact, to what extent this type of activity is valuable to slow down the physiological aging of the brain, seems to promote the synthesis of new neurons and stimulate problem-solving skills and the emergence of new ideas.

This is true as long as the exercise is prolonged for at least 30 minutes. In any case, it must be stressed that even the activity against resistance, that is, the training for muscle strength is essential for the well-being of the body.

What to eat to satisfy your chronic hunger

To stimulate satiety and combat chronic hunger, both while eating and in the following hours, the composition of your diet also counts. The quality of the nutrients and their quantity can make a real difference. Food association is essential for optimal glycaemic control. From here, in fact, we promote satiety, the one that lasts in the hours after a meal. The balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats (yes also fats) is essential to generate satiety and reduce the feeling of chronic hunger.

It is important to do this in every meal and snack, in practice, every time you eat. Proteins, in fact, promote satiety. Furthermore, if you also want to lose weight, this is one more reason to take them every time you eat in the right quantities, because they promote the maintenance of muscle mass and raise energy costs.

Afterwards, foods containing carbohydrates also work with proteins (and fats) to reduce chronic hunger. It is necessary, however, to know how to choose the most advantageous ones and in adequate quantities, without excesses. Their intake stimulates the synthesis of the hormone insulin, also known as the storage hormone.

A rapid increase in blood insulin causes a decrease in blood sugar levels (blood sugar concentration) with an early onset of hunger. However, a certain amount of insulin is essential to stimulate it because only when it enters the brain does it prevent the stimulation of hunger neurons.

Not too much, not too little. Also for this reason, it is important to insert the right amount of carbohydrates, avoiding meals without this nutrient.

In practice: here's how to fight chronic hunger

Some experiments have shown that if you eat vegetables in the meal first, then the source of protein and finally the food concentrated in carbohydrates (such as rice, pasta, cereals), the glycaemic response is better than the typical order that provides the first dish and to follow the second. Succession in the consumption of nutrients but also their quantity - and therefore balance - in the dish.

Start your meal with season vegetables, either raw or cooked. Salad, celery and fennel, but also zucchini, can almost be eaten without any limit, because they provide such a derisory amount of carbohydrates that they can hardly be taken into account. At this point, put on your plate the lean sources of proteins such as bresaola, white meat, fish, eggs or even just egg whites.

Avoid cheese as a source of proteins in your meal. To take the right amount you would include an excessive amount of saturated fats, those that ignite the body. For this reason, their intake should be limited. Your hand can be useful in understanding the amount of food suitable for you: it must occupy the surface of the palm of the hand and be as thick as its thickness.

It's now time for carbohydrates. If you exercise regularly, add two handfuls of foods that can provide this nutrient, such as rice. If it's a time when your life is dynamic but not active, then just eat a handful and add a portion of seasonal fruit. Prefer the one with the lowest glycaemic index such as berries, cherries, strawberries, kiwis or apricots just to name a few.

If you have problems with abdominal swelling, as can happen in certain periods of stress, eat fruit before starting the meal so as to prevent it from fermenting in the intestine. The FODMAPs food table can help you in choosing foods to reduce intestinal stress. Remember fats: they also help to reduce chronic hunger and slow down the glycaemic response. It is essential to choose those that are beneficial to your health, such as extra virgin olive oil.

In conclusion: a matter of balance

It is always a question of hormones: in order to reduce chronic hunger and stimulate satiety, it is good that these are in balance. Where? In the blood, intestines and brain. Physical activity and balanced nutrition are two powerful tools, two allies to feel good, regain physical shape and maintain the well-being achieved.

Make them part of your daily habits.

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