Have you been waking up hungry? Like really hungry? So hungry that you’re worried it might be a sign of some nefarious underlying health condition?
Don’t worry. It’s completely normal to wake up hungry.
While a grumbling stomach first thing in the morning might not feel so great, you can easily fix it by eating a nourishing breakfast after hopping out of bed.
Waking up really hungry doesn’t automatically mean that there’s something wrong with your dietary lifestyle or health. (Like, if you’re eating three square meals a day, you’re probably not suffering from malnourishment, if that’s a concern.)
Of course, if you skip dinner or a snack after a nighttime workout, you may be especially ravenous. Or let’s say you ate a lot of high-carb, sugary, greasy foods or didn’t get enough sleep the night before—these factors could also increase cravings and raise your appetite the following morning.
So, you may find yourself especially hungry and rush to the pantry and fridge to get something in your stomach ASAP. These are extreme cases of morning hunger though. You can also just wake up hungry naturally after having a healthy high-protein, high-fiber dinner that’s satiating and good for you.
In fact, many people who do maintain a healthy diet and consume the right number of calories in a day can wake up hungry in general, regardless of what they are eating. It’s your human body’s natural response to feel hunger after hours of not consuming food.
If you’re in a fasting state and not re-fueling, then you’ll be depleted of nutrients and your stomach will begin to have hunger pangs, where you may crave certain foods and feel fatigued and cranky, for example.
That’s why if you don’t eat breakfast soon upon waking up you could end up being irritable, less productive, and lethargic during the day.
Here’s why you may wake up hungry, as well as what it means for your body and health.
Why Do I Always Wake Up Hungry?
Well, you haven’t eaten again for a bit.
“Your body has been fasting overnight, using energy consumed in your last meal, as well as stored energy, to recover, repair, and restore from life’s stressors,” explains says Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., founder of Student Athlete Nutrition.
“Your blood sugar will be at the lower end of normal after some time without food, which itself signals the body to eat, since you need energy,” she says.
On top of that, even if you’ve eaten a filling, calorically adequate and nutritionally dense dinner, food is no longer present in the stomach or the upper intestines after an overnight fast. “So, the lack of pressure in those organs tells your body you’re ready for more food,” she says.
Is Waking Up Hungry a Bad Thing?
Excessive morning hunger, or just waking up hungrier than usual, is also normal every once in a while, such as in the cases mentioned above.
However, if you’re always waking up with extreme hunger, you likely want to change your routine to ensure your body isn’t deprived of energy and critical nutrients.
“If your hunger maintains for the majority of the day rather than just the mornings and you’re also experiencing symptoms such as frequent urination and anxiety, you may also want to be screened for diabetes,” she says.
You may be overly hungry for a variety of reasons, such as inadvertently eating fewer calories the day before or even a few days before or going to bed earlier than usual and missing a typical post-dinner snack. It could also be due to having a higher baseline activity level than normal or from recovering muscle damage and depleted electrolyte sources from an extra intense workout.
“If you ever race or compete, heightened hunger may even strike 2 to 3 days after an event,” she says. “Other reasons may include increases in stress or even adapting to big changes in the environment, such as traveling somewhere where there is a very different climate or altitude,” she adds.
Is Not Waking Up Hungry a Bad Thing?
“If you don’t wake up hungry, it may be that you’re used to an eating pattern where you skip breakfast or eat very little earlier in the day, only to consistently then have very large dinners and large night time snacks,” Jones says.
“My practice works with clients to help them shift their energy intake to earlier in the day, limiting the tendency for overeating at dinner and in the evening,” she says. This may allow for better sleep as well as more consistent energy levels during the day, especially for those with high activity levels.
If you wake up and aren’t hungry, and you also experience the pattern of eating most of your calories during the second half of the day rather than spread out evenly or during the first, then start by eating something small in the morning.
Try eating a piece of fruit or yogurt to get your body used to getting energy in earlier in the day and see how it changes your calorie intake during the second period of the day, as well as those hunger levels the next morning. “This will limit the chances of your body feeling deprived and overeating later,” she says.
Is Waking Up Hungry Good for Weight Loss?
If you wake up hungry, it means your body is ready for food, which is the case at any time of day.
“Weight loss depends on a variety of factors, including total daily energy intake, macronutrient balance at meals and snacks, as well as your genetic and unique gut microbiome (the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract),” says Jones.
No matter the time of day, you want to have enough calories for a day’s worth for optimal weight management and good health.
“If you feed yourself balanced and nourishing foods when hungry, you’ll support a good overall metabolism, while denying your body food when hungry can in the long run slow your resting energy metabolism until adequate food intake is restored,” she says.
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