We've all been there: You're sitting at your desk, work is dragging on a bit, and your mind starts wandering towards that pack of cookies you spotted in the staff kitchen earlier or the half a cereal bar that's smushed up in your bag.
You can almost guarantee that by the time your post-lunch slump kicks in, around 3 p.m or 4 p.m., you'll find yourself in front of an open fridge, mindlessly picking at a block of cheese, a bunch of grapes, or the remains of last night's dinner.
If you're nodding along in recognition of yourselves here, you're not alone! But are you really always hungry or is there something more complicated behind your constant desire for food? We asked some experts, "Why am I always hungry?"
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"There are lots of different reasons that a person may feel hungry," says dietician Chloe Miles from the British Dietetics Association. "These include your body actually needing fuel, emotional issues, boredom, dehydration, lack of sleep, as well as many other reasons," she says.
So hunger can either be physical, emotional, or a mixture of the two — and, according to Frida Harju, the in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum, "It's not easy to distinguish between them as they feel pretty much the same."
Despite this, both experts agree that it's important to ask yourself questions to identify why you're craving food. Does your stomach actually feel empty and rumbly — which suggests true hunger — or are you tired, bored, anxious, or in need of comfort?
"Food is also often linked to certain occasions or celebrations — for example, associating ice cream with hot weather — or used as a reward," Miles says.
"Finding non-food rewards can be a good idea, and some people also find it helpful to rate their hunger on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is extremely hungry and 10 is extremely full. Only eat when your hunger is around 5 or less," she suggests.
If you're not sure how hungry you actually are, Harju says: "Try waiting for 5-10 minutes and see if the urge to snack is still there." Get yourself a cup of tea or glass of water to drink as well, she suggests, "as a lot of the time when we feel hunger, we are actually thirsty."
As a general rule, Miles says you can avoid feeling hungry throughout the day by making sure you eat regular, balanced meals. "These meals should include protein, starchy carbohydrates, and some fruit or vegetables," she says.
"Protein can help us to feel fuller, and including whole grains, such as whole meal pasta, gives our bodies a slow release of energy to use throughout the day," she adds. "Protein-rich snacks, such as nuts or rice cakes with hummus, can help you to feel full if you do need a snack."
Harju also recommends eating regularly, and at around the same time each day if possible. "Start with a good healthy breakfast, followed by a light snack — some fruit or a handful of almonds or other nuts. Then a filling lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner," she suggests.
Eating on the go can be another big problem, Miles says. "A lot of us eat on the run or pick while we're cooking. This doesn't really give our mind time to acknowledge that we've eaten, so we may not feel as full as if we had sat down and taken our time over a meal," she explains.
"I wouldn't encourage people to write down what they're eating all of the time, however it can help you identify reasons for eating and moments where you're eating without thinking," she adds.
Naturally, Harju recommends using health apps like Lifesum to track your eating and drinking habits. "Tracking can help you to keep a routine, see when you haven't eaten enough, and what you should be eating more of. This can be really handy if you're trying to obtain a healthy lifestyle," she says.
"Remember that we all have different habits, and snacking doesn’t have to be bad as long as you keep it under control and try to opt for healthier options," Harju adds.
This post was written by Sarah Graham. For more, check out our sister site The Debrief.