“I’ve been having a smoothie for breakfast and find that I’m hungry shortly after. Any idea why and what I can do about it?”
I get this question a lot from clients, so I thought it would be a good one to address here. This doesn’t just apply to smoothies though. It can occur with any meal, so let’s discuss some of the more common reasons why you might find you’re hungry shortly after eating.
Reason 1: You didn’t eat enough calories at that meal. Period.
Many of us have been taught to “save” our calories (especially in the morning!) so we end up eating these tiny meals that in no way would make us full.
I say this with love, but 300 calories at a meal is not going to cut it if you don’t want to find yourself hungry shortly after. It’s completely reasonable to still be hungry if all you’ve had is a granola bar or a latte. The solution here is pretty straight forward. Try eating a bigger meal and see if that helps you stay full.
With the smoothie example, you can try adding more things to the smoothie (e.g. some nut butter, more protein, avocado, seeds, ect) OR you can have something alongside it, such as eggs or nut butter on toast or some oatmeal with toppings.
Reason 2: You ate enough calories, but it was light on protein, fat, or fiber.
I don’t believe in food rules, but we do know that certain macronutrient pairings promote satiety and help you stay full longer.
You don’t have to ride or die by this rule, but it helps to include the following in a meal if you want to stay full longer – in addition to eating enough food at that meal!
- Protein (meat, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese) ~ 25 to 40 grams / meal
- Starchy Carb (whole grains, potatoes)
- Fibrous Carb (fruits & vegetables)
- Fat (avocado, butter, oil, dips)
If we were to apply this to the smoothie example, this might look like protein power or greek yogurt (protein) + oat milk (this will be closest to starchy carb ::shrug::), fruit and spinach (fibrous carbs), chia seeds (fiber and fat), nut butter (fat).
If you prefer a protein powder + fruit smoothie, you could have some eggs on the side (protein + fat) on toast (starchy carb)
In summary, if you feel like you ate a pretty good sized meal, just consider what was in it. Most of us end up eating more carbs and / or fat, which isn’t a problem, but adding some fiber or protein will help you stay full longer and promote balanced blood sugar.
Reason 3: That meal just didn’t do for it or you didn’t eat what you actually WANTED.
There is no perfect meal or macronutrient pairing. Sometimes we can eat something we like that has all of the elements I listed above, but that meal just doesn’t satisfy us. That’s fine. Note it and try something else!
Personally, I will never feel satisfied on a smoothie alone – even though I like them. I will always have to add something on the side and that’s okay!
Regarding not eating what you like or really want, this is where the idea of “cravings” come in. If you have a totally psychologically unsatisfying meal, it’s pretty normal to find yourself looking for something you do want even if you’re not hungry.
Lots of ways to address this. For starters, eat food you actually LIKE or if the thing you really want won’t be very balanced, eat that thing for enjoyment and then eat some other things with it, so you are actually satiated.
For example, sometimes I will eat a cookie with breakfast, because I like something a little sweet with coffee. Does that cookie have many nutrients? No. Is it an issue when I pair it with more nutrient dense satiating foods? Nope!
There’s no one size fits all approach here.
Some people do better on higher protein + fat and a little lower on carbs
Other people feel best on moderate protein and fat + higher carbs.
The best way to find out is to experiment with these ideas and meals and notice what works really well for you and what doesn’t. If you struggle with this, it makes sense! Even though we eat every day, our culture has taught us to avoid certain foods and focus more on external methods like calorie counting versus internal methods like sensing our hunger signals.
We’ve also been taught to skip meals or our schedules are so crammed + our lives are so stressful that it makes meal planning hard!
So if this obvious sounding thing seems a bit daunting, know that you’re not alone. Years of dieting or internalizing weird messages about we should and shouldn’t do makes eating much harder than it needs to be.
And if you need some support sorting this out and applying it to your goals be it having more muscle, better energy, improved strength + endurance, or fat loss, I’d love to help you. This is among the things I work on with my nutrition coaching clients.