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Everyone knows what hunger feels like, right?
An empty, rumbling stomach, low energy, sometimes dizziness or even nausea…
And then that amazing feeling when you finally dig into your delicious meal…
But maybe this isn’t the case for you. Maybe you find yourself wondering “why am I not hungry?” a little too often.
In this case, this article is for you!
What is hunger?
You feel hunger for a very specific purpose: in order to help you stay alive! When your body is running low on energy, it sends signals of wanting to eat by increasing your hunger (physiological need) and appetite (psychological desire).
Your hunger levels are regulated by factors like communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system . Ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger , comes into play as well.
In your brain, the hypothalamus has neurons that work in conjunction with certain hormones, like ghrelin, to stimulate appetite. When you start eating and your stomach fills up, other hormones, like leptin (the satiety hormone), come into play to make you stop eating.
Your hunger and satiety mechanisms are closely regulated and seem very effective— so why is it that sometimes you are just not hungry?
Why am I not hungry?
You aren’t physically hungry
The first and most obvious reason why you may not be feeling hunger is that you just aren’t physically hungry.
If it’s time to eat and you aren’t hungry, it’s possible that you actually have enough energy and don’t need any more right away. Maybe your breakfast was a bit heavier than usual, maybe you exercised less than normal, or maybe you are just less hungry for no reason.
Try waiting a little before tuning in with your hunger cues again. It could be that you just need to wait a little bit longer before feeling that desire to eat.
Unless you absolutely need to eat at a specific time for practical reasons, don’t hesitate to listen to your body when it is telling you that it isn’t hungry right away.
However, make sure that you aren’t skipping entire meals and going from full to starving without even realizing it— if the hunger still isn’t coming after a while, it may be for one of the reasons below.
You’re not in tune with your hunger cues
A very common reason for not being able to feel hunger is not being in tune with your hunger cues.
As children, we were great at listening to our bodies’ natural signals and were able to regulate our energy intake easily. We ate when we felt hunger. We stopped when we were full.
But as we were exposed to diet culture, outside rules and regulations, and the opinions of others on our food intake, being in tune with these cues became more difficult.
We started to eat even when we weren’t hungry, and prevented ourselves from eating when we needed to. So for our body, what’s the point in giving us hunger and fullness signals that we are just going to disregard?
After a while, you are so used to overlooking these signals that you become unable to listen to them, and your body just stops giving them.
This happens a lot to people who go on drastic diets. When they want to go back to a less radical way of eating, their hunger and fullness cues are far gone.
For some people, this manifests in the form of extreme hunger: they are always starving and never feel like they are satisfied, no matter how big their food intake is. Here’s an article I wrote on extreme hunger if you’re interested in the subject.
For others, the hunger cues are just gone and they feel like they are never hungry. The best way to get out of this situation is to get into intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach that frees you from food rules and restrictions and promotes a healthy relationship with food. It involves many principles, such as honoring your hunger and fullness cues, making peace with food, respecting your body, and putting your health first.
It is not a diet or food plan, but rather a way of life that aims to free you from diet culture.
Here are a few articles I wrote on the subject if you are interested:
You have a health condition
Hunger can give us some insight on our health. If your appetite doesn’t seem to be what it usually is, it could be because of an underlying health condition.
Certain conditions that cause a lot of continuous pain, like migraines, fibromyalgia, or gastro-intestinal issues, could wear your body out and interfere with your hunger cues. Hypothyroidism, kidney or heart disease, and certain cancers can also induce a lack of hunger.
Check in with your doctor if you feel like this could be your case.
You’re experiencing strong emotions
Another very common reason for your lack of hunger could be that you are experiencing some strong emotions. I have memories of feeling absolutely no hunger before an important test even though I knew that I should be eating— stress can totally obliterate hunger!
It’s also very common not to feel hunger for a while after experiencing a difficult life moment, like a rough break-up, being fired from your job, losing someone, etc. Sadness and grief can really take a toll on your hunger.
But being very happy and excited can also mess with your hunger cues— hunger can easily be put on the back burner when you’re caught up in extremely joyful moments.
In short, any strong emotions, whether good or bad, can make you feel like you aren’t hungry. It’s fine if it’s for a short period of time, but it should be addressed if it drags on.
You changed your schedule
I guess this one is pretty easy to figure out, but a change of schedule may be the reason why you aren’t hungry! This could be something as major as traveling to a country that has a totally different timezone, or as minor as having breakfast one hour later than usual and not feeling hungry at lunchtime.
Whatever the reason, it’s totally normal to need some time to adjust to your new schedule before you start to feel hungry again. In the meantime, try to honor your practical hunger cues, meaning that you should still have light, balanced meals at a convenient time.
If not, you’re never going to adapt to your new schedule and you risk not getting adequate nutrients.
Should I eat when I’m not hungry?
While I often say that you should only eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, there certainly are some exceptions. If you are experiencing strong emotions, have a health condition, or are trying to adapt to a new routine, it’s important to eat for practical reasons.
Under any of these circumstances, it may be pretty hard to feel hunger, but your body still needs nourishment, and not having food for a while can have some unpleasant consequences. In a case like this, eating even if you aren’t hungry can be important.
You can try to eat foods like smoothies, soups, or balanced snacks, which often go down easier than a full meal. It’s also a good idea to have some easy and nutritious meal options on hand at all times, because cooking a long and elaborate meal when you aren’t hungry but need to eat is not the most pleasant task.
I also wrote an article on what to eat when nothing sounds good which goes more into detail about all of these tips.
If, on the other hand, you aren’t hungry but want to eat, the answer isn’t as simple as yes or no. Eating isn’t always about physical hunger.
You can have dessert when you aren’t hungry anymore because it’s comforting and delicious.
You can have lunch with your family even if you don’t feel hunger because the social interaction and bond over food is important.
You can have that bag of chips in front of the TV even if you aren’t hungry to relax after a difficult work day.
Of course, it’s important not to let this happen too often, because honoring your hunger and fullness cues should still be your main goal. But once in a while, eating just because you feel like it and not necessarily because you feel physical hunger is absolutely normal.
Why am I not hungry in conclusion.
While it’s important to listen to your hunger cues by eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, it sometimes isn’t that easy.
From time to time, because of strong emotions, a schedule change, health issues, or other reasons, you may feel that you aren’t hungry, but your body still needs nutrition.
In this case, try to have a smoothie, a soup, or a healthy snack in order to sneak in some nutrients without having to go through a full-on meal.
If you aren’t able to feel hunger because you are too out of tune with your hunger cues, focus on learning how to eat intuitively in order to reconnect with these signals.