#220 The Top 5 Causes of Fake Hunger

The Top 5 Causes of Fake Hunger

If you’re like most people, you think that feeling hungry is a signal that you need to eat.  And you likely try to quell it by eating something right away, regardless of whether it’s something you really need or even want.  Would you believe me if I told you that your sensation of hunger may not even be real physical hunger?  In this article, I will show you how to stop the top 5 causes of fake hunger.

The 5 Fake Causes of Hunger

Hunger doesn’t just mean you need food.  It can mean all sorts of things.  Below are the top five causes of what I like to call, “fake hunger.”

1. It could be a micronutrient deficiency.

Medical studies show that 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.

Perhaps this could explain why most people crave chocolate.  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.

2. It could be a metabolism problem.

Hunger can be a sign your metabolism is off.  Studies show that added sugars and processed carbohydrates can make us feel hungry all the time.

I know this was definitely the case for me.  At one point, I had snack between every meal.  By simply eliminating all added sugars and processed carbohydrates from my diet, I no longer need to snack.

3. It could be because you are dehydrated.

Interestingly, studies show that many people actually mistake a need for hydration as a need for food.  Thus, it is always a good idea to try a glass of water before reaching for a snack.

4. It could be a lack of fiber.

Studies show that protein and fiber are the two best things to keep you feeling full.  While most Americans don’t have any problem getting enough protein, very few get enough fiber.  Thus, feeling hungry could really just be a sign that you are not getting enough fiber.

5. It could be psychological.

Many people feel hungry when they are bored, sad, or are just procrastinating something.  This is why studies show that our moods are directly tied to our weight.  After all, it is easy to rationalize eating more than we should when feelings of sadness are misinterpreted as hunger.

I also struggle with emotional overeating.  For me, it is not due to boredom or sadness.  Rather, it is to procrastinate doing something that I really should be doing.

For example, if I have a big report to write, I’ll convince myself that I’m hungry.  This will mean that I get to procrastinate writing the report as I now get to eat first.

What hunger almost never is, though, is a sign that you need any kind of food at all as quickly as possible. And yet far too many people think that the way to “solve” their hunger is to run to the nearest fast food restaurant, race to the fridge to grab the quickest thing to eat, or dip into their junk food stash for a fast snack.

Most People Don’t Know When They Are Really Hungry

Because so many of us live in an exceptionally privileged world in which the subtlest sensations of hunger can be quickly placated, most of us have lost the ability to truly understand what our bodies are actually asking from us. That’s a serious health problem — and one I’m worried might prove to be epigenetically aggravated, meaning that each generation of people who have lost touch with what hunger really means will be even more likely to produce subsequent generations that are even further removed from this vital connection to their bodies.

Tip: Reconnect yourself to healthy hunger.

I firmly believe there’s still time to reconnect humanity to healthy hunger. We don’t need to suffer from fake hunger.  And it all starts with broccoli.

Or, at least that’s where it started for me. I’ve really come to love broccoli, but it took some time and effort for me to develop a taste for it.

We live in a world of such abundance when it comes to healthy food that my advice to many of my patients is similar to what I tell them about exercise: Don’t waste time forcing yourself to eat healthy foods you don’t actually enjoy. Thus, if broccoli is not your thing, then feel free to substitute in kale, spinach, or cauliflower for this tip.  This tip is what I like to call the broccoli test.

The Broccoli Test

When I was trying to reacquaint myself with healthy hunger, I applied “the broccoli test.” Put simply: If I was hungry enough to eat broccoli, then my body really needed food. Thus, if you are wondering how to tell if you are really hungry or not, broccoli will make everything clear for you.

Water and Vegetables Can Get You to the Next Meal

If you’re between meals and feeling hungry, the best bet is almost always to start with water. It’s often the fastest and easiest way to stop fake hunger and help you get to a scheduled meal. If water doesn’t completely satisfy your hunger then go for the vegetables.  You really can’t get too many of those.

If you want to minimize hunger between meals, studies show that protein and fiber are the most filling foods.  While everyone knows vegetables are loaded with fiber, few people know that calorie for calorie, many vegetables have more protein than a burger or a steak.

If you don’t believe me, just look it up.  One hundred calories of spinach has 13 grams of protein.  However, that same 100 calorie serving of a T-bone steak only has 9 grams of protein.

As you ponder on how to tell if you are really hungry or not, spend as much time as possible being mindful about what your body is telling you. What you’ll also find — I can promise you — is that there is no specific real hunger signal for sugar and processed carbohydrates.  Sugar and processed carbs just trigger fake hunger signals.

One of the keys to health and longevity is that every unique feeling of hunger we get can be addressed with something natural and healthy.  Simply put, if you eat right you never have to feel hungry again.

Have you overcome any of the five causes of fake hunger?  If so, please share your experiences below so that all may benefit.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. Hi Dr John,
    I’ve heard people complain they get headaches if they don’t eat meals/snacks regularly. Could that be related to sugar and metabolism?

    • Hi Brent,

      A great question. It is certainly possible that is the case. However, in my experience, the top 3 causes of headaches are as follows:

      1. Not drinking enough water (dehydration)
      2. Stress
      3. Caffeine related (caffeine withdrawal or the artificial sweeteners of diet sodas)

      Hope this helps!


  2. Thanks for the great article Dr John. I have swapped my 3pm sugary snack for a container of chopped up veges!