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Why Does My Stomach Feel Empty Even Though I Ate?

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a woman is holding her stomach due to hunger_Why does my stomach feel empty even though I ate
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

Have you experienced the phenomenon of feeling hungry two hours after eating a meal or even feeling hungry and full at the same time? Let’s talk about why this may happen and what to do about it. 

Understanding Hunger: More Than Just an Empty Stomach

Let’s start with defining physical hunger.

Hunger is a signal (aka sensation) your body sends you when there is a physical need to consume food. It’s a complex physiological and psychological process that aims to regulate our food intake to maintain energy levels.

This process involves two main hormones: ghrelin and leptin

  • Ghrelin is often referred to as the “hunger hormone.” When your stomach is empty or when your body anticipates the need for food, ghrelin levels typically increase. This stimulates the feeling of hunger and prompts you to seek out food. After you eat, ghrelin levels drop, and that’s where leptin comes to the forefront.
  • Leptin is known as the “satiety hormone” as it regulates energy balance in the body and sends signals when there is enough stored energy in the body. When it does its job, the result is reduced hunger and increased fullness.

Deciphering Hunger: Differentiating Between Appetite and Cravings:

  • Appetite is often confused with hunger. Unlike hunger, appetite is your desire to eat but is not a physiological process. In other words, it can be a want to eat but not necessarily a need. Appetite can result from hunger, but also from other causes like poor emotional state or just boredom. 
  • Cravings are often connected to appetite but are usually directed at a particular food, flavor, or texture. Cravings have nothing to do with physical hunger and develop for psychological reasons such as stress, sadness, or anxiety.

Understanding the difference between hunger, appetite, and cravings can help you identify emotional eating from physical hunger and better understand why your stomach feels empty even after meals.

Why Do I Feel Hungry After Eating? 8 Causes & Solutions

There are several potential causes of feeling hungry after eating. They can be related to dietary, physical, psychological, and behavioral factors. Let’s discuss each one. 

An infographic titled '10 Reasons Your Stomach Feels Empty After Meals' with a purple background. Each reason is depicted with a corresponding image and text in individual squares. 1. 'You had a very small meal' shows a plate with a few lettuce leaves. 2. 'Your meal is missing a major food group' shows a plate with a green salad. 3. 'You are bored' displays a woman resting her head on her hand, looking uninterested. 4. 'You eat to console certain emotions' pairs with colorful macarons. 5. 'Imbalanced hormones' is represented by a molecule structure. 6. 'Certain medical conditions' has an image of a hand holding a glucometer. 7. 'You eat too fast' shows a plate with a few bites of food left. 8. 'You are distracted while eating' features a smartphone displaying a video of a dog. 9. 'You're constantly stressed' is illustrated by a stressed woman with her hands on her head. 10. 'You take meds that promote weight gain' shows a plate with red capsules. The logo 'welltech' is at the bottom right.

1. Meal Was Too Small

One of the biggest reasons why you may feel hungry after eating is because you didn’t eat enough. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and cutting down on portions, or you only had 10 minutes to eat. So, you had a smaller meal. 

But if that meal didn’t contain enough calories to fill you up, you’ll probably find your stomach rumbling shortly after.

Severely limiting your intake like this can not only lead to lingering feelings of hunger, but it can also contribute to nutritional deficiencies that can hinder weight loss and impact overall health.

If you want to follow a sustainable diet and lose weight in a healthy way, try Omo, a weight-loss app that can help you track your meals and ensure you meet your nutritional goals by eating just the right amount for your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. 

2. Meal Is Missing A Major Food Group

Another reason you may feel hungry two hours after eating – or even sooner – is because your meal was lacking certain food groups such as protein and whole grains.

With that said, it’s not always easy to know exactly how much of each food group you should have to fill you up. For starters, you can use the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) My Plate food model recommendations as a reference. [1]

  • Aim for about a palm-sized serving of protein and a serving or two of whole grains at each meal, such as a slice of bread or one half-cup of rice. 
  • Make sure at least half of the grains you consume daily are whole grains. Whole-grain examples are brown rice, wheat bread, and whole-grain pasta. Compared to their refined flour alternative, whole grains are higher in fiber, which helps you feel full longer!
  • Fill up the rest of your plate with fruits and vegetables, such as a side salad, raw or cooked veggies, sliced fruit, or unsweetened applesauce — the options are endless! 
  • Vary the fruits and vegetables you consume rather than eating the same ones every day. As many experts say, “Eat the Rainbow!” 
  • Include a healthy fat source with your meal, such as olive oil or avocado, which can contribute to satiety. 
  • Consume three cups of dairy each day. One way to do this is by adding an eight-ounce glass of low-fat, non-fat, or non-dairy alternatives to each meal to bump up the protein, calcium, and vitamin D in your diet. 

There are other simple ways to make your diet healthier, such as adding greens to each meal, prioritizing whole foods, and eating slowly and mindfully. For more healthy eating tips, check out this article on tips to improve your nutrition.

3. Eating as Emotional Response

Many people who feel hungry after eating are actually just emotionally hungry rather than physically in need of more food. Intuitive eating is an evidence-based practice for reducing boredom eating or emotional eating associated with this. 

Intuitive eating is defined as eating based on hunger and satiety cues. 

It benefits psychological well-being and reduces eating disorder symptoms. It has also been associated with a lower body mass index (BMI). Even more promising, intuitive eating has been associated with a more nutritious and well-balanced diet with healthy eating behaviors. [2]

4. Cortisol and Cravings: How Stress Alters Your Appetite

Stress, and particularly high cortisol levels, may mess up your hunger hormones. It does this by making you less responsive to hunger and satiety cues, which leads to emotional eating. [3] [4]

Chronic stress also promotes the desire and seeking of high-fat and energy-dense foods, making it easier to overeat and exceed your caloric requirements. [5]

5. Hormones Are Imbalanced 

An underlying hormonal imbalance may also prevent you from feeling full or satisfied after a meal. Leptin is one of the most important hormones associated with appetite, signaling the brain to stop eating when you feel full. 

However, those with leptin resistance may not feel full after eating.

Research has suggested that certain types of sugars, such as fructose and sucrose, as well as dietary fats, may contribute to leptin resistance. [6]

While you should primarily discuss leptin resistance with your physician or health care provider, modifying your diet to reduce excess sugar and fat may have potential benefits for leptin resistance. 

6. Medical Conditions That Affect Satiety

Medical conditions like diabetes and insulin resistance can also contribute to symptoms such as hunger after eating. 

Diabetes can potentially cause extreme hunger even after eating. This may be because those with type 2 diabetes experience insulin resistance, where the insulin fails to transport the sugar you eat to your body’s cells for energy. 

Therefore, your blood sugar will stay high, and you will continue to feel hungry even after eating. [6]

Insulin resistance can also be caused by conditions other than diabetes, such as obesity and heart disease. 

Whether your hunger pangs had a sudden onset or developed slowly over time, it is essential to discuss it with a physician, especially if it is severe. 

7. Medications That Can Promote Weight Gain

Some medications can inhibit weight loss and actually promote fat accumulation. [7] [8] [9] [10]

These medications include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics,
  • Diabetes medications,
  • Drugs for managing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease 
  • Hormonal therapies
  • Corticosteroids.

If you are taking any of these medications and often feel hungry after eating, consult with your doctor for guidance.

8. Rapid Eating, Distractions, and Persistent Hunger

Finally, eating too quickly or eating while distracted can contribute to those pesky feelings of hunger even after a meal. As mentioned above, intuitive eating (also sometimes referred to as mindful eating) means listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues to know when to start and stop eating.

Eating too fast does not allow you to tune into these cues. Additionally, when you are distracted by your work, phone, television, or to-do list, you tend to eat fast and ignore these natural cues of satisfaction and fullness.

A key benefit of mindful eating is a more clear sense of hunger and fullness. [11]

Do You Have Hunger Pains After Eating? Consult A Doctor

We just discussed some common reasons why you may feel hungry after eating or why you may be feeling hungry and full at the same time. However, some people experience hunger pains after eating. It is not normal to have regular and consistent pain after eating, especially if it is severe.

If you suffer from hunger pains after eating, it is crucial that you immediately consult a medical professional or health care provider. Other than one-off situations such as eating too much too fast or eating something you cannot tolerate well, consistently having pain after eating is concerning and a cause for attention. 

Bottom Line

Regardless of whether you feel hungry right after eating, two hours later, or even feel both hungry and full simultaneously, it’s important to explore a broad range of possible reasons.

These symptoms and hunger pains after eating could be due to a diet that is not balanced, eating too fast, or emotional eating. It could also be due to hormonal imbalances or underlying health conditions.

These concerns should be addressed with your physician to screen for underlying health conditions. Additionally, discuss these issues with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you address any eating behaviors or patterns that could be contributing and help to resolve them.  

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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