You've just consumed an amazing meal at your favorite restaurant, and you couldn't be happier. Good food can really do that to you, am I right? But then, you start to realize... you're still hungry. Obviously, this makes no sense. After a meal like that, you should be left feeling full and satisfied. But instead, you're thinking about swinging by a grocery store on the way home to pick up a snack.
But before you order another entrée or grab a bag of Goldfish at CVS, read this. There may be another reason your stomach is rumbling.
Your plate might not be balanced
"Most likely you did not consume a balanced meal," says Mascha Davis, RDN, founder of Nomadista Nutrition and author of upcoming book Eat Your Vitamins (out January 2020). It may have included too few calories, or a shortage of high-fiber foods like whole grains and vegetables, healthy fats like avocado or nuts, or protein like beans or lean meat. All of these nutrients play a different role in keeping you full, so if you skimp on any one of them your stomach may still be wondering, "What's next?"
According to Davis, a balanced plate looks like this: half of the surface is covered in vegetables, one-quarter in protein, and one-quarter in whole grains, plus one serving of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil).
You ate quick-digesting foods
Davis says that some foods are digested rapidly, like refined carbohydrates (think white bread, pizza dough, pasta, white rice). They make your blood sugar rise fast, and drop fast — and the fall-off can make you feel hungry, even though you've eaten enough, Davis says.
To avoid this, you'll want to add in foods that digest more slowly. That includes whole grains and vegetables (since they're rich in fiber, which stays in your stomach for longer), lean protein, and healthy fats. These foods won't cause the same spike and crash in your blood sugar that causes faux hunger pangs.
You're falling short on protein
We've said it a couple times already, but it bears repeating: When it comes to satiety, protein is essential. Davis say that one of the main reasons her clients are still feeling hungry is because they didn't eat enough protein. Protein-rich foods help reduce your levels of the hormone ghrelin, which is what makes you feel hungry, studies show.
To fix this, you should make sure to follow the rule above: Cover a quarter of your plate with a healthy protein — it should come out to about three to four ounces of it — at each meal. Things like hummus, beans, nuts, tofu, and chicken are good sources of it. For breakfast foods you can also add in some peanut butter and yogurt to get your filling protein fix.
You ignored your water glass
Maybe you've heard this before: Dehydration can cause many of the same symptoms as hunger. It's true. Fifty people were asked to drink 0.5 liters (about 17 ounces) of water 30 minutes before every meal. After eight weeks, the participants reported feeling less hungry overall, reports Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine. Drink up!
You're dreaming about dessert
Let's get real — your hunger may be caused by that phenomenal-looking, six-layered chocolate cake you saw on the back of the menu. There's some truth to that old joke that we all have a second stomach specifically designated for sweets. So, if you find yourself craving some after-meal sweets, go ahead and treat yourself.