Why Do I Get Nauseous When I’m Hungry?

Some people can occasionally feel a bit sick when they are very hungry which is perfectly normal. 

These light nausea, or sickness, feelings come from the basic human need to keep our energy stores topped up. It is usually a sensation we feel when the body is telling us that we are due a meal and we need to stop what we are doing and refuel. 

However, it is a  good idea to speak to your doctor about these symptoms, especially if this is a new symptom, it has begun later in your adult life, it occurs more than just occasionally, it is a very strong feeling  or if you have any other symptoms. 

Let's discuss in more detail, the causes, prevention, management and when to speak to your doctor.


There is a close connection between the gut, energy storage areas in the body and the brain when it comes to controlling appetite.1 The complex chemical markers in this system, trigger you to eat, control how much you eat  and know when you have had enough. In some people, when there is a high level of some of these chemical markers telling us to eat, it can induce a mild nausea which is easily and swiftly resolved after  eating. In addition the acid, that is normally present in the stomach for digestion purposes, can build up and irritate the opening of the stomach triggering nausea. 

Management and treatment for nausea when hungry

The most obvious way to manage hunger is to eat. It is best to try to avoid very dense, spicy foods, if you are very hungry, and opt for light and healthier foods. These are great options as they do not trigger much stomach acid production. Consider whole grains, e.g lentils, rice or couscous and root and green vegetables. It goes without saying that it is advisable to defer or avoid alcohol if you are very hungry. 

We all know that being hungry is not pleasurable and a recent study showed that feeling hungry was associated with increased feelings of anger and irritability. This proves the common notion of ‘hangry’. So if you are feeling hangry, consider having a rethink of  your eating patterns to be kinder to yourself! 

How can I prevent being nauseous when hungry?

The best way to prevent mild nausea with hunger is to preempt and avoid situations where you end up being extremely hungry. If possible, eat at regular intervals and experiment with meal management, in your individual daily timetable, to prevent extreme hunger. 

If possible, do try to make time for a significant breakfast. Recent research showed that participants in a study reported that their appetites were better controlled on the days they ate bigger breakfasts and felt less hungry before lunch and dinner.2

Also, a reflection over exactly what you are eating can be helpful.  Eating more high fibre, foods such as certain carbohydrates, fill you up and take longer to digest. These include breakfasts such as whole rolled porridge oats or low sugar muesli, which can provide slow release energy.  Adding healthy fats (nuts, cheese,) and/or a protein (such as eggs)  can also keep you fuller for longer. The NHS website has lots of information about healthy diets for lunch and dinner.  Another simple tip is to keep yourself well hydrated by drinking 8 glasses of water a day.

Another helpful tip is to watch where you eat your meals. A recent study showed that you should not eat in front of a cognitive distraction, such as the TV or computer, as this leads to more food being eaten and can worsen your symptoms.3   

Other possible causes of being nauseous when hungry

If the feelings of nausea and extreme hunger are occasional, mild and you are otherwise completely well, you should try experimenting with your daily meal choices and when you eat. Speak with your doctor if this does not relieve the symptoms.

However, it is very important that you speak with your doctor directly if you have pronounced or frequent/ persistent nausea when hungry or nausea at any other time. Also if you have accompanying signs or symptoms, for example tiredness, discomfort, bloating or pain. Your doctor will perform a health check and will be able to detect any potentially serious underlying causes.

There are numerous other causes of nausea and hunger.4 These include more common causes such as infection and inflammation. 

It can be helpful to take a note of where you are when you feel nauseous as many people feel nauseous when travelling  in certain vehicles or after some fairground rides etc. This is known as motion sickness, but this should be transient and settle quickly after disembarkment.

It is important to note here that pregnancy is a common cause of general nausea (morning sickness) and nausea associated with food. If it is possible that you may be pregnant a pregnancy test should be performed.

Less common and more serious causes include gastrointestinal/ gut related causes or neurological causes. It is also well known that some prescription medicines can induce nausea and your doctor can perform a medication review with you, which might alleviate the problem. 

Nausea can be associated with metabolic problems, the most common of which is diabetes. Your doctor will need to exclude this, if investigating your nausea as the low blood sugars associated with this condition can induce nausea. 

Sometimes nausea can have  psychological causes, including eating disorders and depression which can also be diagnosed and managed with your doctor. 

When should I call a doctor?

If changing your daily meal choices and eating pattern does not relieve your mild nausea accompanying hunger, then speak with your doctor. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, it is important to speak with your doctor if nausea is a new symptom, occurs when you are not hungry, has begun later in your adult life, occurs more than just occasionally, is pronounced or you have any other symptoms/concerns. Your doctor will be happy to discuss any concerns.


Mild nausea, or sickness,  when you are hungry comes from the basic human need to keep our energy stores topped up. It is usually a sensation we feel when the body is telling us that we are due a meal and we need to stop what we are doing and refuel. 

Listen to your body and be kind to it with regard to providing it with regular nutrition and hydration. You burn energy throughout the day and regular refuelling  is essential to your daily life to keep you functioning at optimum level. 

Think ahead about your day and take time to plan how you will keep topped up with healthy regular meals. Please seek medical advice, if symptoms persist or you have any other signs  you should visit your doctor. 


  1. Yeung AY, Tadi P. Physiology, obesity neurohormonal appetite and satiety control. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 26]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555906/
  2. Ruddick-Collins LC, Morgan PJ, Fyfe CL, Filipe JAN, Horgan GW, Westerterp KR, et al. Timing of daily calorie loading affects appetite and hunger responses without changes in energy metabolism in healthy subjects with obesity. Cell Metabolism [Internet]. 2022 Oct 4 [cited 2023 Jan 26];34(10):1472-1485.e6. Available from: https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(22)00344-8
  3. Bellisle F, Dalix AM. Cognitive restraint can be offset by distraction, leading to increased meal intake in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Aug;74(2):197–200. Available from: ​​https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/74/2/197/4739591
  4. Scorza K, Williams A, Phillips JD, Shaw J. Evaluation of nausea and vomiting. afp [Internet]. 2007 Jul 1 [cited 2023 Jan 26];76(1):76–84. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2007/0701/p76.html
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Stephanie Browne

BSc St Andrews, MBcHB Manchester and MRCGP London

Having picked up a wealth of primary and secondary healthcare experience over the years, I am passionate about transferring this knowledge to health education.

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