Reasons You’re Not Full after a Meal

image of a young woman looking inside her refrigerator because she is hungry and not full after a meal

Have you ever eaten a decent-sized meal and felt like you hadn’t eaten at all? What causes you to feel not full after a meal even when you eat a lot of food.

Not Full after a Meal? Could it Be Leptin Resistance

Could leptin resistance explain why you aren’t full after a meal even after eating a large meal? Leptin is an appetite hormone produced by fat tissue that tells your brain that you’re full. It’s one of the main cut-off switches that tells your brain you’ve had enough to eat. Unfortunately, you can become resistant to the messages that leptin sends so your appetite stays on even after eating. Leptin resistance not only makes it harder to get full, but it also promotes fat storage. What’s worse, higher leptin is linked with other health problems, including high blood pressure, heart, disease, obesity, and stroke.

If you suspect you have leptin resistance, what can you do? Eliminate sugary foods, refined carbs, and other forms of rapidly absorbed carbohydrates. Add more healthy fats to your diet in place of carbohydrates, especially monounsaturated fat from sources like olive oil, nuts, and avocado. These foods have satiety benefit independently of their impact on leptin.

The Composition of Your Meals is Wrong

What’s on your dinner plate? To maximize satiety, it should contain a source of lean protein and most of the carbs should be non-starchy ones. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and the one that helps curb calorie consumption. Non-starchy vegetables have minimal impact on blood sugar due to their high fiber content. That’s beneficial since less of a blood sugar rise is healthier metabolically and helps with appetite control. Add a source of healthy fat, like monounsaturated fat in avocado or olive oil. Fat slows movement of food through the digestive tract and this helps curb hunger and the desire to eat. Of course, you also want to avoid added sugar and soft drinks since these can trigger a sharp rise in blood sugar.

You Have an Undiagnosed Medical Problem

A less likely cause of persistent hunger, even after a meal, is an undiagnosed medical problem. For example, excessive thirst and hunger can be a symptom of diabetes. With diabetes, glucose can’t get into cells as easily and, instead, stays in the bloodstream. So, blood glucose levels rise, but the cells are still starved of glucose. Your body tries to make up for the glucose shortfall by causing you to feel hungry. Some psychiatric issues are also linked with changes in appetite, including anxiety and depression. Another condition linked with increased hunger is an overactive thyroid gland. In addition, some medications, particularly corticosteroids, cause an increase in appetite. Best to check with your physician if you’re persistently hungry, even after eating a meal.

You’re Not Sleeping Enough

How are your sleep habits? If you’re burning the midnight oil too often, this may explain why you’re always hungry. Studies show that inadequate sleep disrupts two key hormones that regulate your appetite, leptin, and ghrelin. It increases ghrelin, causing increased appetite and cravings for fatty and sugary foods. It also suppresses leptin, which also causes you to feel hungry. Plus, as leptin drops, so does your resting metabolic rate. If you feel like you’re hungrier when you don’t sleep enough, it’s not your imagination. The way to break this cycle is to schedule more sleep time and make sure you’re getting high-quality sleep. One common cause of poor-quality sleep is bringing electronic devices into the bedroom. Shut off electronics that give off blue light two hours before bedtime to maximize sleep quality. You can even set your computer monitor to display warmer, less blue, tones at night. Google online to get instructions on how to do this.

You’re Not Really Hungry

Keep in mind, not all hunger is physiological hunger. Sometimes, the desire to eat is motivated by emotions or by boredom. If you still feel hungry after a meal, question that hunger. Are you really hungry or just want to prolong the experience of eating? Sometimes, we use food as a way to deal with other problems. Before heading back to the kitchen for another plate of food, ask yourself whether you’d be satisfied with a less appealing food like an apple. If you don’t want the apple, you’re probably not truly hungry. The apple test is a good way to distinguish real hunger from hunger that arises out of boredom. It’s important to stay in touch with your body so you won’t be fooled by false hunger.

You’re Stressed Out

Stress, too, can disrupt your body’s normal hunger signals. Normally, you get hunger signals when your energy stores run low, but chronic, ongoing stress can activate reward-seeking pathways, so you crave foods high in fat and sugar, the so-called comfort foods. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life but have strategies for managing it. Exercise is a natural stress reliever, but you may also benefit from mind-body exercises, such as Tai-chi or yoga. Meditation and deep breathing exercises also help tame an overactive stress response.

The Bottom Line

Ongoing hunger, even after a meal, is a real problem for some people and it has various etiologies. The five listed above are among the most common causes of not feeling full even after eating a substantial meal. The problem can often be solved by upgrading the quality of your diet and by managing stress. If not, check with your physician to make sure you don’t have a medical reason why you always feel not full after a meal.



Diabetes. 2004 May;53(5):1253-60.
Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Jan-Mar; 15(1): 18–22.
Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep; 38(3): 255–267.
IFT.com. “Olive Oil May Increase Satiety”


Related Articles:

What Is Leptin Resistance and How Does It Affect Your Ability to Lose Weight?

What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Hungry

5 Ways to Naturally Curb Your Appetite That Are Backed by Science

Can Consuming More Dietary Micronutrients Curb Hunger?

Does the Order in Which You Eat Your Macronutrients Matter?

Winter Weight Gain: Why You Eat More in the Winter and How to Avoid It

Two Types of Hunger, One of Which Can Make You Fat


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