Top 5 Reasons You May Not Actually Be Hungry

August 28, 2017

Dr John Day offers a simple test we can all use on ourselves to check in and confirm if we are actually hungry or compensating for some other need. He calls it the “broccoli test.” Put simply: If I’m hungry enough to eat broccoli, then my body really needs food.

Here are the top five reasons we eat when we are not really hungry:

1. Thirst

There is a danger of mistaking thirst for hunger. Your body’s drive to stay hydrated may actually push you to eat, and eat more than you need to, when really you should be drinking. The best way to prevent signal misinterpretation is to drink water consistently throughout the day. At the very least, adults should be aiming for eight 250 ml glasses of water per day — more if you’re above average height, moderately to highly active, or sweating due to heat/working out.

2. It could be a metabolism problem

Studies show that added sugars and processed carbohydrates can make us feel hungry all the time. People who regularly feel they need to snack between every meal are usually suffering from a corrupted metabolism.   Joy Post, one of the dietitians for BistroMD explains it this way. “Eating certain foods can actually make you hungrier later. When you eat certain foods that contain a lot of sugar and carbohydrates, which get broken down into sugar, this sugar gets dumped quite quickly into your bloodstream.” As a result of this massive intake of carbs, your blood sugar will skyrocket. Your body will then release insulin to help get this sugar inside your cells. Insulin works so effectively it can push more sugar into your cells than it needs to. Your blood sugar spikes, then plummets to below normal levels, because there is now not enough blood sugar left in the blood stream so your body sends urgent signals to your brain that screams that you’re hungry again to boost blood sugar. So suddenly you can’t resist a chocolate bar.

Avoid sugary high carbohydrate foods to break this vicious cycle.  By simply eliminating added sugars and processed carbohydrates from your diet, you may find you no longer need to snack.

3. Micronutrient deficiency

Medical studies now show that misplaced hunger or being overweight could be a sign that we’re simply running low on one specific kind of nutrient.  In other words, something as simple as not getting enough magnesium in your diet could cause you to feel hungry all the time.

Most people crave chocolate and perhaps this science could explain why as chocolate is so high in magnesium, a chocolate craving could really just be our bodies trying to tell us we need more magnesium.  Fortunately, nuts, seeds, and especially greens are also very high in magnesium. Other deficiencies could also be at play. Consulting a naturopath or dietitian that can test or assess for these deficiencies could turn off your misplaced hunger.

4. Lack of fibre

Studies show that protein and fibre are the two best things to keep you feeling full for longer.  While most of us don't have any problem getting enough protein, very few get enough fibre.  So, feeling hungry could really just be a sign that you are not getting enough fibre.  Most fruit and Vegetables are packed with fibre. Switching to wholegrain breads and cereals is also an excellent way to boost your daily intake. 

5. Psychological Hunger

If you have kids you’ll have worked this one out. When they claim they are hungry shortly after a main meal, they are most likely bored, sad, or are just procrastinating something, doing homework or house hold chores most likely. However, adults do exactly the same things, yet often miss it. This is why studies now show that our moods are directly tied to our weight.  After all, it is easy to rationalise eating more than we should when feelings of sadness are misinterpreted as hunger. Take the broccoli test to safe guard against boredom, sadness and procrastination hunger. 


Remember, feeling hungry is healthy and should be normal before every meal. Break the overeating cycle; if you’re not hungry, don’t eat, especially in the evenings.  If you’re between meals and feeling especially hungry, the best bet is almost always to start with water.  Wait 20 minutes and if still hungry reach for some vegetables. You really can’t get too many of those.