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You may be gawking at the refrigerator wondering what to eat or you may feel like a criminal for eating an entire bag of potato chips and can't understand why. There is a difference between wanting to eat and needing to eat. We may feel hungry because there's food in front of us, we're bored, tired, mentally disturbed or when we feel happy. Our brain is a powerful machine and it can send signals alerting us that we're starving when we're not. A study described certain neurons in our brains may drive us into a place of feeling hunger. Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus found cells called AGRP neurons send a signal to the brain to eat more. “We suspect that these neurons are a very old motivational system to force an animal to satisfy its physiological needs. Part of the motivation for seeking food is to shut these neurons off,” Scott Sternson, a group leader at Janelia, said in a statement. The problem is we simply can't mute these neurons and the cycle merely replicates itself. According to the Center for Disease and Control Percent, 37.9 percent of American adults struggle with obesity and getting to the roots of our hunger could resolve the predicament. Let's look into why you're hungry when in reality, you should feel satisfied.

It could be dehydration.

Researchers believe dehydration can drive you to eat and the confusion starts with the hypothalamus gland. The hypothalamus regulates hunger and thirst. When dehydration is involved, we want to have a snack instead of drinking more fluids. Dehydration may prod people to seek out sweets since the body can’t produce enough glycogen as well. Alissa Rumsey, RD, represents the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told health.com what can be done to combat this problem. "If you feel hungry, and you haven't drunk much that day, try drinking a glass of water and waiting 15 to 20 minutes to see if your hunger subsides." Dehydration can make you feel sluggish, can weaken the immune system and as discussed make you gain weight since you feel hungry. To make matters worse, dehydration can cause kidney failure, a coma and cause the brain to swell in extreme cases.

The brain is drained.

Canada’s Université Laval found strenuous mental activity may lead people to consume more calories than they burn during a given task. When the brain is overburdened it demands more fuel from the body and in order to replace glucose being used--it wants the body to eat more sweets. Sugar is what fuels the brain and since it can't do this alone it needs the body to maintain the necessary sugar levels. Glucose fluctuations in the bloodstream may trigger episodes of hunger and higher food consumption, the study found. "In order to re-establish the balance of glucose in the bloodstream and keep it from rapidly increasing and decreasing," lead researcher Dr. Jean-Philippe Chapu said. They also proposed the roller coaster of glucose levels can lead to obesity.

Certain foods make you hungry.

Foods and drinks loaded with salt, sugar, caffeine, refined flour and artificial sweeteners can make you feel ravenous. The average American consumes over 50 pounds of sugar and this adds up to 400 extra calories a day. Since sugar is an empty calorie, it makes you want to snack more often. Consuming white bread and pasta can become another offender since the blood sugar spikes and leads to hunger later on. Artificial sweeteners may also increase the appetite and mimic a deprivation state in the brain. A study showed when fruit flies were fed synthetic sweetener sucralose, they consumed more calories than those on sugar. "When sucralose was removed from their diet, calorie consumption in the formerly sugar-free group fell back to normal," University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Center and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research found.

Emotions play a role.

The American Psychological Association did a survey and asked people to rate their stress level as an 8 or more on a 10-point scale. There is a connection between the mood and the sensation of hunger. Emotional eating works to aid negative emotions, boredom, anxiety, tension and fear. If the body senses these feelings, the adrenal glands start to release the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. When the episode is over, the person's response to stress remains stuck and they continue to feel hungry. They may be drawn to sweets and fats like ice cream, cookies, cakes, chips and other unhealthy items. Sugar and foods high in fat light up the pleasure reward center in the brain and this feeling keeps people seeking out the same junk foods. Some people become physically dependent on junk food for emotional support.

It could be a lack of sleep.

Having a sleep debt can make people feel hungry when all they need is solid rest. When there is fatigue, people start snacking more and gaining more weight in the process. Sleep deprivation can alter the ghrelin and leptin hormone levels which can upset the balance in the body and make you feel hungry. If you experience shorten or disturb sleep, "You increase your appetite for high-calorie dense foods," Charles Samuels, MD, shared with health.com. Poor sleeping habits will do more than make you feel famished. You could be at risk for a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, heart failure and high blood pressure. Your body is working hard during the day and sleep is the body’s chance to repair itself. It lowers blood pressure, gives the heart a break, allows the immune system to create cytokines, a protein that can fight infections in the body.

When you feel hungry ask yourself "Am I drinking enough water?," "Am I overly stressed?," or "Am I getting enough sleep?" Once you answer these questions you can get a better handle on what is causing the hunger. Choose healthier habits and eating foods like leafy greens, nuts, fish and tofu to help sustain you through the day.
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