Feeling Hungry? Here’s why. – Dr Wendy Davis ND

Feeling Hungry? Here’s why.

Multiple factors control your food intake as well as your energy balance. Here is a summary of a few factors that can lead to excess feelings of hunger (aka hyperphagia).

1) Prediabetes/Diabetes

Hormones such as insulin help to inhibit feelings of hunger. So, when your body experiences an insulin deficiency (like in people with diabetes), it can contribute to an excessive food intake. At the same time, hypoglycemia can stimulate the secretion of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone that promotes food intake.

Insulin is the  hormone that suppresses appetite and may lead to a reduction of food intake. It helps to transport glucose into your cells to provide you with energy. If glucose levels are high and insulin levels low, your body will not use glucose for energy efficiently, which means your cells will require more nutrients, and you end up eating more. Due to these low insulin levels, people can suffer from increased hunger.

The most common symptoms of diabetic hyperphagia are feelings of uncontrolled hunger (despite eating regularly), extreme food cravings, fluctuations in blood glucose levels, digestive issues, and weight gain.

Tips and Hints

  • Reduce your sugar intake to improve and support insulin levels. 
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). 

2) Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

After every meal, glucose will enter your bloodstream, which then travels to the cells with the help of insulin. You can have low blood sugar levels if you don’t eat enough glucose, or don’t eat often enough throughout the day. Blood sugar can also dip if your body secretes excess insulin or you have diabetes and take insulin on an empty stomach. 

Hypoglycemia promotes the secretion of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates food intake and regulates blood glucose. It can increase feelings of hunger and lead to hyperphagia.

Tips and Hints

  • Try to eat at regular times of the day, and try including some satiety-friendly foods like dairy, and high-fiber but low-carbohydrate foods like starchy vegetables in your diet, which may help with more stable blood glucose levels.
  • Eat before and after physical exercise.

3) High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)

Hyperglycemia occurs when your body is unable to produce or use insulin efficiently. If your insulin levels are low, glucose can’t enter your cells to provide them with energy efficiently. So it remains in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar. 

Since your cells can’t get enough energy, your body requests more food, even if you already had a meal. Creating a cycle that can continue on, illustrated by - high blood sugar impacting insulin efficacy, and insulin issues causing excessive hunger, leading to a rise in blood sugar.

Tips and Hints

  • Try to eat fewer foods with added sugars, and focus on whole fruits, vegetables, proteins, and low glycemic carbs. 
  • Work on improving your glucose levels by staying well hydrated

4) Thyroid Issues

Thyroid dysfunctions have significant effects on body weight and appetite. Thyroid hormones have access to a part of the hypothalamus called the arcuate nucleus, which controls your appetite. Hyperphagia can result from thyroid hormones directly acting on the appetite circuits, which results in excessive hunger.

One of the primary roles of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If your thyroid produces more hormones than usual, it can cause issues like hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disorder that may lead to increased feelings of hunger.

Tips and Hints

  • Reduce the levels of thyroid hormones in your system—remember not to attempt to do this without asking a doctor for help. 
  • Reduce your intake of salty food since salt contains high iodine levels, which your body needs in order to produce thyroid hormone, but that in excess may result in overproduction. 

5) Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome refers to a range of symptoms that you can experience a week before your menstrual cycle. These include mood swings, fatigue, irritability, tender breasts, and food cravings. 

PMS usually occurs because of hormonal imbalances, such as estrogen, progesterone, and serotonin, which is a hormone that affects moods, emotions, and thoughts. Changes in progesterone levels can cause cravings for carbs or sweet foods. Eating these foods can lead to a rise in serotonin levels, increasing excessive hunger and food cravings.

Tips and Hints

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the month to stay hydrated. It’s especially important around the time you usually get your period, as it may help with pain reduction. 
  • Minimize dairy the week before your period to reduce exogenous hormones
  • Supplement your diet with adequate amounts of Magnesium and B6 for healthy hormone production.
  • Work with a Naturopathic Doctor or a Holistic Nutritionist to enhance nutrient intake and improve glucose levels at different phases of your menstrual cycle, depending on your body’s specific needs.

7) Too Much Stress

We have all heard of or more likely experienced emotional eating, when we draw emotional comfort from eating, often foods that are not overly healthy. . It can occur when you deal with high levels of stress, because stress causes cortisol secretion. This hormone increases appetite and food cravings.

Tips and Hints

  • Try to maintain a healthy moderate level of activity that will promote the reduction of cortisol. 
  • Try yoga classes or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
  • Avoid consuming too many processed foods and added sugars.
  • Limit how much of your day involves stressful activities. If you have a high-pressure job, consider maintaining a better work-life balance to lower your stress levels. 

8) Not Enough Sleep

Getting enough good quality sleep is crucial to maintaining good health. A lack of sleep can cause the rise of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone. This leads to increased feelings of hunger, so it is important to prioritize getting enough sleep. Everyone’s body is different, but most experts recommend at least seven or more hours a night for adults. 

Tips and Hints

  • Make sure to aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Ensure that the sleep you get is of good quality—aim for as much uninterrupted, restful sleep as possible. 
  • Limit daytime naps, and stick to the same sleep schedule every day to improve your sleeping habits.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine to help you sleep better at night.

9) Poor Diet 

A poor diet can be the cause of many health issues. Nutrients provide energy for your body to perform daily activities, from breathing to running. Over time, poor diets may lead to hormonal imbalances, slow metabolism, and the risk of diabetes. All these health issues can affect hunger and encourage instances of hyperphagia.

Tips and Hints

  • Eat a diet rich in fiber and low glycemic carbohydrates.  
  • Drink plenty of water to increase hydration. 
  • Include more protein and healthy fats in your diet.