Constant hunger can have medical and psychological triggers. Here’s how to get it under control.
It’s hard to ignore hunger, a powerful drive designed to get your attention and keep the body from starving.
Regular meals that fill the stomach and intestines should calm it down, but what if you’re always ravenous for another bite of food, no matter how much you eat?
Hunger is complicated and can have many different triggers
One is hormonal, so people’s hormones — in particular ghrelin, a gut hormone — can have a stimulating effect on the sensation of hunger and appetite.
Other signals are more psychological, and these are very commonly the trigger for people’s hunger.”
First, it’s important to rule out any medical issues. Anybody who is feeling very hungry all of the time and isn’t able to gain weight or is losing weight should see a doctor.
Conditions that could cause constant or excessive hunger, also called polyphagia, include:
Hyperthyroidism: When the thyroid is overactive, a person’s body and metabolism are “all revved up noted. Besides being hungry, patients feel jittery, shaky and their heart may be racing.
Diabetes: People with type 1 diabetes lose the ability to make insulin so their body can’t process sugar. “They’re usually telling me: I’m eating and eating, I’m losing weight and I feel terrible. Hunger can also be a symptom of type 2 diabetes, where the body is resistant to insulin.
Damage to the hypothalamus: This part of the brain helps regulate feelings of appetite and satiety. If it’s damaged because of a tumor or head trauma, it can cause uncontrollable hunger and hypothalamic obesity.
Drugs like prednisone — a corticosteroid steroid commonly used as an anti-inflammatory or an immunosuppressant medication — can also increase hunger, said Beth Kitchin, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. So can some hormone therapies for women going through menopause.
She always asks people who complain they’re constantly hungry whether they have started taking any new medicines or changed their doses.
If there isn’t an underlying medical issue, the problem could be in the head.
It’s reasonable to be hungry every three to five hours given how the human digestive system works. But ever-present food marketing on TV and the constant stream of “food porn” on social media can trigger people to eat often and a lot.
There are also deeply ingrained cultural triggers, like the idea of eating three meals a day plus snacks. She hates the “myth of breakfast” — or the notion people have to eat as soon as they wake up.
The more people eat, the larger the stomach gets. The stomach can stretch to accommodate large amounts of food — it’s a distensible organ. Then if it’s empty, it signals hunger. Well, if you’ve got a huge stomach from eating so much so often, the minute your stomach is empty, it’s signaling you to eat and you’re going to eat more.”
A person’s state of mind can play a role, too. Stress can increase levels of ghrelin, research has shown, and being sleep deprived is associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone.
Boredom, anxiety and depression can also send people looking into the refrigerator when they’re not truly hungry.
Sometimes the best answer to the question “Why am I always hungry?” is the simplest one: You’re eating too little, exercising too much, or both.
“When people tell me ‘I’m so hungry,’ I look at their food diaries and I can see why they’re hungry. They’re just not eating enough sometimes,” she said.
Don’t make yourself hungrier than you need to be: Limit your exposure to TV and social media. Try to watch your favorite shows without being exposed to advertising. So you can gets your groceries delivered so you can avoid being bombarded by food marketing in the grocery store.
Get honest: Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Or am I bored?” Remove yourself from any food temptations if it’s the latter. Get help to deal with anxiety or depression rather than self-medicating with food.
Consider intermittent fasting: It can reconnect you with true, biological hunger; make it easier to recognize feeling full; provide daily structure and break the habit of snacking.
Going without food for a while can help the stomach to shrink, and help people to eat less and experience hunger less.
Feel fuller by adjusting the quality of your diet: Avoid processed carbohydrates and sugars found in foods like white bread, baked goods and cereal. Aim for a satiating diet higher in fiber, protein and healthy fats. Dip carrots into some peanut butter, enjoy a hard-boiled egg or munch on an apple. Such choices will keep you more satisfied, longer.
Foods that naturally contain a lot of water — cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes and so on — are more satiating than other options even though they have fewer calories.
These “higher-volume” options take longer to eat, which seems to signal the brain that you’re filling up.
Watch your alcohol intake: Alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions and self-discipline, which can make you eat more.