Hunger pangs at meal and snack times may be familiar. When your body is in balance, these hunger signals are your body’s way of letting you know that it needs more fuel.
However, there are times when hunger seems constant or insatiable. This is known as polyphagia, or “excessive hunger” according to WebMd. If that happens, there may be something you can do about it, depending on the cause.
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These are some possible reasons for excessive hunger:
In hyperthyroidism, there is an excess activity of thyroid hormones, which are involved in many processes in the body, including metabolism as defined by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Symptoms include increased hunger and weight loss without changing dietary habits. Your doctor can test for hyperthyroidism with a simple blood test.
2. Certain medications
Certain medications can increase hunger. Some types of antipsychotics, steroids, antidepressants, and antihistamines can have the side effect of increasing hunger. If this is a possibility for you, it is best to talk to your healthcare provider to be sure you are on the best possible medications for your condition.
3. Not enough sleep
Getting enough sleep suppresses your body’s production of a hunger hormone called ghrelin. When you do not get enough sleep, you may feel extra hungry due to high levels of ghrelin. Something as simple as getting more shut-eye can get hunger back in check.
It can also help you make smarter decisions when it comes time to select your foods, since sleep deprivation can increase cravings for high-carb, fatty foods. Another reason to get enough sleep? It lowers risk for prediabetes.
4. Increased physical activity.
If you have recently increased your physical activity levels, congratulations! But be warned: exercise increases hunger, and it is easy to overcompensate and eat more calories than you burned. Being aware of what you take in, and sticking to a small snack after working out, can help keep hunger down without adding pounds.
5. Not enough fiber.
High-fiber foods tend to be relatively filling for the number of calories they contain for a few reasons. First, fiber slows digestion, so the food stays in your system for longer. Second, fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce hunger-inducing dips in blood sugar. Third, many foods with fiber, such as vegetables and fruits, are low in calories for a large serving size.
Adding more fiber to your diet can help reduce hunger. Along with adding vegetables and fruit, you can get more fiber by choosing whole grains instead of refined grains, and including plant-based proteins These swaps can also help lower blood sugar and risk for diabetes.
6. Emotional eating
Sometimes, hunger isn’t really hunger. The perception of hunger is just a response to emotions, such as stress, loneliness, or boredom. Eating when your body does not need fuel will just cause weight gain and raise risk for chronic conditions.
Some ways to reduce emotion-induced “hunger” include facing emotions, engaging in other activities, such as walking or checking social media, and limiting yourself to low-calorie foods, such as celery or green beans.
7. Too many simple carbohydrates
Sugars and starches are simple carbohydrates. They can increase hunger because they spike blood sugar and then let it fall, so your body signals that you need fuel. Simple carbs may also lead to more carb cravings, causing a vicious cycle.
Goals can include reducing simple carbs, choosing high-fiber carbohydrates, and making sure to have some protein and/or healthy fat when you eat carbohydrates. So, swap white bread and jam for whole-wheat bread and peanut butter!
8. Low blood sugar
The American Diabetes Association defines low blood sugar can cause dizziness, shakiness, weakness, and hunger (also called hypoglycemia). It is often linked to diabetes. Eating a small, high-carbohydrate snack can raise blood sugar quickly, but avoiding low blood sugar in the first place is even better.
One strategy is to avoid meals and snacks that are high in simple carbs, and low in protein and fiber, because these patterns can lead to spikes and then dips in blood sugar.
In types 1 and 2 diabetes, the body does not use carbohydrates properly. Sugar can stay in the blood instead of being used as fuel, so your body continues to ask for fuel (food) even if you have eaten what should be enough. This is especially common in type 1 diabetes in a statement from the ADA.
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If your stomach is rumbling before meal and snack times, it is important to figure out why. It is possible that a few minor changes to your food choices and lifestyle can solve the problem, but there is a chance that an underlying condition, such as diabetes, needs to be addressed.
Be sure to contact your healthcare provider whenever you have a health concern and before changing your diet in a significant way.