Celebrity Trainer Harley Pasternak: The Reason You're Always Hungry, and How to Fix It

It's not your stomach — it's your eating habits

Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also aNew York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

Are you ravenous all the time? Even after finishing a meal or a snack? I needn’t remind you of the weighty consequences.

Why is this happening when you’re eating plenty of food? You may well be making some missteps, some of which are likely to surprise you. To explore the possible reasons, ask yourself the six questions below. The good news is that all of them are easy to rectify once you identify the culprit(s).

1. What Are You Eating?
If your diet is heavy on white bread, chips, soda and other high-carb, high-sugar foods and snacks, chances are you aren’t getting enough lean protein or fiber. Both are key to satiety, that feeling of being comfortably full.

Appetite tamer: Eat lean protein at every meal (and snack) and see that your carbs come primarily from fiber-rich vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Ditch the sugary, starchy junk foods and concentrate on real whole foods and you’ll curb your appetite.

2. When Are You Eating?
If breakfast consists of a cuppa joe or a glass of OJ, you’re setting the stage for hunger throughout the day. Not only is it important to both eat breakfast and protein, but specifically consuming protein at breakfast mitigates food cravings and therefore caloric intake all day long. Eating late at night interferes with deep sleep, and to compound matters, being starved for sleep makes people more apt to skip breakfast than those who get a minimum of seven hours of quality shut-eye. (We’ll talk more about the role of sleep in appetite below.)

Appetite tamer: Make protein an integral component of your morning meal. Try a quick egg white omelet or a smoothie with protein like yogurt (I like skyr like Siggi’s) or protein powder. And don’t eat after dinner; instead, have a cup of herbal tea to fill your tummy and aid sleep.

3. How Often Are You Eating?
It may sound counterintuitive, but eating five smaller meals helps moderate hunger better than three larger meals. This “grazing rather than gorging” approach is effective because it moderates your blood sugar levels, eliminating the spikes and dips that can follow a larger intake of carbohydrates. When your blood sugar level dips, your body’s natural reaction is to crave something that gives you a quick sugar high, and that something is likely to be a doughnut, candy bar or potato chips; the very foods that perpetuate sugar highs and lows and make you want to keep noshing.

Appetite tamer: Try spacing out your intake over the day—don’t increase the amount of foods, just how much you eat at one sitting—by interspersing your three regular meals with a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack composed of lean protein and fiber.

4. Where Are You Eating?
If the answer is in front of the TV or any other screen, you’re asking for trouble. When you’re focused on the movie, sitcom or baseball game, it’s all too easy to chow down mindlessly, losing track of how much you’ve consumed. How often do you find yourself saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” whether “it” is a bag of chips, a package of red licorice a pint of rocky road ice cream or whatever your favorite comfort food? In addition, food ads are seductive—and typically they feature the very worst foods you could choose—and have been shown to stimulate appetite.

Appetite tamer: Ideally, never eat meals or snacks in front of the TV or computer, or while using any electronic device. Pay attention to every bite you take. In a social situation, such as watching a sports event with friends, prepare or bring a “real” food alternative such as hummus with veggies to dip. Even at the dinner table, eat slowly and deliberately, rather than racing to the finish line.

5. Are You Mistaking Thirst for Hunger?
It’s all too easy to confuse the two, so stay well hydrated and your apparent hunger may vanish.

Appetite tamer: When you feel hungry after a meal or snack, have a glass of water, herbal tea, coffee or another unsweetened beverage. I keep a bottle of Smartwater with me at all times and sip on it throughout the day so I’m never blindsided by nagging thirst.

6. Are You Getting Enough Sleep?
Your response may well be, “Huh?” Bear with me. There are two hormones that play a major role in regulating appetite: ghrelin, which is made in your GI tract, stimulates appetite, so the more of it in your system, the more food you crave; leptin is produced in your fat cells, and its job is to send a signal to your brain to indicate that you’re full. But when levels of leptin are low, it transmits starvation signals. When you’re sleep-deprived, leptin levels plummet, meaning you don’t feel satisfied, even right after a meal. At the same time, lack of sleep causes your ghrelin levels to soar, stimulating your appetite even if you just finished a huge meal. Not a good combination!

Appetite tamer: Get at least seven hours of shut-eye a night to properly regulate your ghrelin and leptin levels. Just in case you need reminding, being physically active during the day makes it easier to enjoy restorative sleep at night.

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