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What Causes Hunger? How To Control The Hunger Hormones & Lose Weight

Written by Liz Brown

Have you ever wondered what causes hunger? Discover the two hormones responsible for regulating your appetite and how to control them to lose weight!

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Picture this—you’re in the middle of an important meeting when all of a sudden your stomach starts to make a strange sound…🤨At first, it’s not so bad. But then, the gurgling and squealing of your empty stomach bellows throughout the conference room and echoes off the walls. As you switch to the next slide of your presentation, your colleagues begin to snicker silently and you think to yourself, “not now, stomach! You just ate!” But your stomach has other plans. Eventually, the sounds are impossible to ignore. You are hungry and everyone knows it. So, what do you do? You eat. You eat out of hunger (and possibly out of embarrassment), but you eat nonetheless. Any of this sound familiar? If you’re someone who has an uncontrollable urge to eat all the time or rarely feels full (despite how often you eat) you may have asked yourself the question, “why am I always hungry?” and wondered what causes hunger in the first place.

Feeling hungry can affect us all in different ways, but most people who suffer from constant hunger pains are often prone to picking up unhealthy habits that can lead to weight gain. For example, serial snacking, excessive portions, and even binge eating are all side effects of feeling hungry. Hunger pains are common, but sometimes our bodies can tell us that we’re hungry even when we aren’t! But good news! Did you know that there is a scientific explanation for hunger pains and that they can actually be controlled and reduced? Now, I’m not saying that you’ll be able to manifest any hunger-fighting superpowers, but learning to control your hunger can be a huge breakthrough for people who struggle with constant hunger pains. In this article, we’ll discuss what causes hunger and how to stop hunger pains.

What causes hunger?

What Causes Hunger?

Believe it or not, hunger is far more complex than simply feeling the urge to eat. When you think about it, people eat for all sorts of reasons outside of “feeling hungry”. People eat out of boredom, peer pressure, feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, and even because food is simply there for the taking. But, what causes hunger? You know, that growling you get deep down in your stomach. Well, hunger is actually caused by a chemical reaction that occurs in your brain and brought on by a hormone called ghrelin. The entire chemical process generates the hunger pains we feel when we are really hungry. But, (surprise!) ghrelin is only released when your stomach is empty, which means that hunger pains are the only true indicator of when your body needs food. Not when you’re bored and looking for something to do. 

What Are The Hunger Hormones?

When it comes to weight management, there are a lot of factors at play. There are your lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, for example (all of which are factors you have complete control over), and then there are other factors that you have very little control over, like your hormones. Hormones play a huge role in how your body not only digests food, but how your body uses and stores the energy you get from food as well. There are several hormones that can affect your weight, but there are two important hormones that can affect your eating patterns: ghrelin and leptin.

What is ghrelin

Ghrelin is often referred to as the “hunger hormone” as its primary function is to increase your hunger, It’s is a type of growth hormone that is produced in the stomach and small intestine and released into the pancreas and brain when the stomach is empty. [1] Once it’s released into the bloodstream, it stimulates the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that contains the highest density of ghrelin receptors) and activates the neurons involved in appetite regulation. [2] This process can increase your food intake by up to 30% and signals your body to start storing fat. [3] Ghrelin is activated anytime the stomach is empty and is responsible for regulating your food intake from one meal to the next. 

What is leptin

Leptin is often referred to as the “starvation hormone” because it’s primary function is to decrease hunger. It’s released from the fat cells located in adipose tissue (the fat on your body) and in charge of regulating and altering long-term food intake and energy expenditure, not just from one meal to the next. [4] Because leptin is released from your fat cells, the more fat cells you have, the more leptin you produce. Leptin travels through your bloodstream and into your brain where it sends a signal to the hypothalamus. Your fat cells use leptin as a way to tell your brain how much fat is available and can be used for energy. High levels of leptin indicate that there is enough fat stored, whereas low levels of leptin indicate that your fat stores are low and you need to eat. [5

what causes hunger

What is the difference between leptin and ghrelin?

In short, leptin is responsible for decreasing hunger, while ghrelin increases it. Both hormones respond to how well-fed you are, but unlike ghrelin, leptin is correlated to fat mass—the more fat you have, the more leptin you produce. 

How Do Leptin And Ghrelin Affect Your Weight?

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering how these hormones actually affect your weight. We know that ghrelin is released from the stomach and pancreas and triggers the hypothalamus to let your brain know that your stomach is empty. We also know that leptin is released from your fat mass to let the brain know if you have the energy to spare or not. Together, they’re both responsible for whether or not you choose to eat and ultimately play a role in how much food and how many calories will consume. People with struggle with constant hunger pains will typically consume more calories than they need, resulting in weight gain.

Your hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, also assist with other metabolic processes that contribute to weight gain or weight loss as well. Studies suggest that ghrelin can regulate energy balance (calories used) in addition to energy intake (calories consumed). You see, ghrelin also plays a role in suppressing glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. [4] Insulin is a type of hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin also affects other metabolic processes, such as the breakdown of fat and protein. [5] Too much insulin in the bloodstream causes the cells in your body to absorb too much glucose (sugar) and causes the liver to release less glucose, ultimately causing weight gain.

How To Stop Hunger Pains Associated With Weight Gain

Hormone imbalances are common, but it’s important to keep in mind that your lifestyle choices can affect your hormone behavior. Thankfully, your hormone function can improve, not with medical intervention, but with a few simple behavior modifications. So, if you want to reduce the causes of hunger and lose weight, try making these alterations to your daily routine. 

1. Don’t overly restrict calories

Overly restricting your calories is a common method people use for weight loss. Unfortunately, when you put your body in too much of a calorie deficit, you risk not meeting your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the number of calories each individual would need to eat on a daily basis, in order to sustain life in a resting state while maintaining their current body composition. In other words, consuming fewer calories than your BMR but having an active lifestyle puts your body at risk of not functioning properly and can potentially cause metabolic damage. A drastic calorie deficit sends a signal to your brain that you’re not only hungry, but that you need to start storing your calories as fat!

Instead, you should aim to reduce your calorie intake by 250-500 calories from your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure), or maintenance calories, if you’re trying to lose weight. This way, your body gets the energy and nutrients it needs to function properly but also places your body into enough of a deficit to lose weight. 

RELATED: How To Reset Your Metabolism For Better Health (In 28-Days!)

Why am I always hungry

2. Get quality sleep

Getting quality sleep is one of the most underrated ways to keep your body in tip-top shape! 

What many people don’t realize is how sleep affects your appetite. If you recall, leptin is responsible for regulating your appetite. During sleep, your leptin levels increase, telling your brain that you have enough energy for the time being and there’s no need to trigger a hunger response. But when you’re low on sleep, your leptin levels decrease, which inevitably tells your brain that you need food, even if you don’t. When your body thinks it’s in “starvation mode”, it stores whatever food you do eat as fat (even if you eat carbs or protein). [6] Fat contains twice the number of calories as protein and carbs and this is the quickest way for your body to get the energy it needs to “survive”. The excess fat storage creates a calorie surplus which, again, leads to weight gain.

If you want to learn how to stop hunger pains, one of the most effective ways to do that is to get good quality sleep. Adults need anywhere from 7-10 hours of sleep each night, depending on your age, while children need upwards of 10-14 hours! 

RELATED: How Much Sleep Do I Need? (+ 5 Tips To Improve Sleep Quality)

How to get better sleep

3. Practice stress management

Increased levels of stress and anxiety have a direct effect on your hormone function, your appetite, and your metabolism. [7] Stress can weaken your immune system, cause digestive issues, increase your appetite, and increase your blood pressure—all of which can affect your weight. Exposure to stress can increase the amount of ghrelin released into the bloodstream which sends a signal to your brain to eat. [8]

If you want to control your hunger pains, reducing stress is a simple, yet effective solution. Research shows that meditating as little as 10-minutes each day can significantly reduce stress and anxiety. People often avoid meditation as a viable stress-reliever because they automatically assume that in order to meditate you need to be interested in yoga or something spiritual of that nature when that couldn’t be further than the truth. Anyone can start a meditation practice and it’s actually very easy to do. Check out this beginner’s guide to meditation to help reduce stress and anxiety and control your hunger! 

How to stop hunger pains

4. Take an appetite suppressant

Sometimes, our hormones can be unpredictable and we can feel hunger pains merely hours after we just ate. If you think that your hunger hormones might be a little off, keeping an appetite suppressant, like SkinnyFit Snack Attack, on hand can help curb those cravings until your next meal. Appetite suppressants trick your brain into thinking that you’re not hungry and that your stomach is full, allowing you to reach your weight loss goals more effectively. 

Click here to learn more about SkinnyFit Snack Attack and how appetite suppressants can help stop hunger pains!

SkinnyFit Snack Attack

The Bottom Line

Wondering what causes hunger and not knowing how to control it can become a looming cloud for anyone who struggles with chronic hunger pains. Ghrelin and leptin are the two primary hormones responsible for regulating appetite and creating the hunger pains you feel when your stomach is empty. Hormones that aren’t functioning their best can send the wrong signals to your brain which can trigger your appetite and cause you to start eating, even if you aren’t hungry. However, there are ways to learn how to control your hunger hormones and your appetite and lose weight.

READ NEXT: Desperate To Lose Weight? 8 Things To Try When Your Diet Isn’t Working!

About The Author

Liz Brown

Fitness & Nutrition Expert (CPT., FNS.)

Liz is a health & wellness expert, writer, and editor with over a decade of experience in the fitness & nutrition industry. She emphasizes research and simplifies complex topics to help make healthy living simple and sustainable. When she isn't researching and writing, she's sharing delicious recipes, easy DIYs, and home decor tips on her blog and social media.

More from Liz, visit: Personal Blog, TikTok, Instagram


  • NASM Certified Personal Trainer(since 2012)
  • NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist (since 2014)
  • Credentialed Coach Practitioner, Coach Training Academy
  • B.A. Liberal Studies (Health & Nutrition Sciences)
  • A.A. Liberal Arts (STEM)

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