Extreme hunger happens to some people when they always feel hungry, and sometimes feel excessively hungry. In general, we’re supposed to feel hungry when our body needs more energy, so it’s frustrating to always feel hungry, even when you’ve had enough food.
A growling stomach or a desire for food should be an indication you need to refuel and top up your calorie resources. However, a genuine need for food isn’t the only reason you might feel hunger. We also regularly feel compelled to eat for reasons other than hunger, from medical conditions to emotional distress.
For some people, extreme hunger can be a constant part of their day-to-day experience. No matter how much they eat, or how carefully they plan their meals, they could still always be hungry, wanting more and more food.
Understanding the reasons for extreme hunger, and understanding why you might want food more often than others could help you to gain more control over your appetite.
People with extreme hunger likely need to develop a healthier relationship with food, and address the underlying causes of their extreme hunger.
Causes and Symptoms of Extreme Hunger
There are many reasons why you might feel extreme hunger more often than you should. Keep in mind there are different types of hunger, such as:
- Physical hunger: This is the sensation you feel when you genuinely need to eat. The stomach expands and contracts throughout the day. When you eat, a hormone called leptin lets you know when you’re full. When your stomach is empty, it contracts, and produces a hormone called ghrelin, which is the hormone that makes you hungry and encourages you to eat.
- Psychological hunger: Emotional or psychological hunger isn’t a result of an empty stomach. Instead, you associate another feeling of emptiness with a need to eat. Psychological hunger is often a result of high levels of stress or sadness.
- Medical hunger: Medical reasons can also leave you feeling hungrier than you should be. Hyperthyroidism causes issues with the metabolism in the body, causing excessive hunger due to an overall lack of energy. Hypoglycaemia, on the other hand, is caused when you don’t have enough blood sugar, which leads to feelings of hunger.
The symptoms of extreme hunger can vary depending on what’s causing the desire to eat. If you’re genuinely hungry, you’re likely to suffer from stomach pains, excessive sweating, dizziness, and fatigue. You may even notice changes to your mood. If your hunger is caused by other reasons, it can lead to additional symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, nervousness, and irritability.
People suffering from constant and extreme hunger are often described as having “Polyphagia”. This is the scientific term for hunger which doesn’t go away when you’ve eaten a meal. The common symptoms of polyphagia are:
- Extreme hunger and feeling a strong or obsessive desire to eat
- Eating more calories than most, or binge-eating
- Never feeling satisfied after a meal
- Weight gain
- Constantly thinking about food
- Irritability, anxiety, or stress
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Faster heart rate
- Changes in your menstrual cycle
- Issues with concentration and focus
Left unaddressed, extreme hunger can lead to a range of other problems, including weight gain and obesity, which increase your chances of diabetes, heart failure, and stroke.
Reasons Some People are Always Hungry
Feeling constantly hungry can be a sign of a number of internal issues, from problems with your dietary choices, to issues with your emotional health. The important thing to remember is if your hunger isn’t caused by an actual need for food, eating won’t necessarily solve the problem, and could cause other issues, such as weight gain and reduced self-esteem.
Here are some of the most common reasons why you’re always hungry:
1. Your Appetite Control is Poor
We all have a certain ability to control our appetite, which is partially influenced by our genetics. Some people can easily detect when they genuinely need more food, while others feel a constant demand for energy. The hormones in your body responsible for controlling hunger are insulin, ghrelin, and leptin. An imbalance in these hormones makes it hard to manage your energy intake and expenditure.
Your genetics play an important role in how effectively your hunger hormones work, so it’s worth getting a DNA test for insights into possible genetic appetite control issues. Your DNA test could also indicate whether you may have lower leptin levels than normal (meaning you have a harder time feeling ‘full’), or higher ghrelin levels which make you hungrier.
Hunger hormones are also influenced by diet and lifestyle. For instance, eating too many refined carbohydrates will give you spikes of blood sugar, but your satiety levels will likely drop quite quickly, leading to another demand for food.
2. You Mistake Thirst for Hunger
One of the most common reasons people feel constantly hungry, is they don’t know how to distinguish a need for food from dehydration. We all need a consistent intake of water to keep us as healthy as possible. Drinking enough water promotes brain and heart health, but it also keeps your digestive system healthy, so you can manage your food intake and appetite appropriately.
When we’re thirsty, we can often mistake this desire for liquid for a need for food. A need for water can send similar signals to our brain as a desire for calories. To ensure you’re not eating food when you’re actually just thirsty, it’s worth grabbing a glass or two of water before you eat anything. You can also try eating more water-rich foods such as watermelon and cucumber.
3. Your Protein Levels are Low
Is it possible you’re feeling extreme hunger because you’re not getting enough protein in your diet? The body needs a certain combination of macronutrients. These include fats, protein, and carbohydrates. A lack of protein in your diet is one of the most common causes of poor appetite control. Protein doesn’t just give us energy, it also helps to reduce our feelings of hunger, and increase the production of leptin.
For vegetarians and vegans, consuming enough protein can be difficult, as many sources of protein come from animals. However, it is possible to increase your protein intake with soya, grains and pulses, and various dairy products. Studies show people who eat higher portions of protein are more likely to report better “fullness” and fewer obsessions with food.
4. You’re Missing out on Fat and Fiber
Protein isn’t the only nutrient which has a direct impact on how full we feel. Fat and fiber are also crucial tools in appetite control. While you might want to avoid fat in your diet if you’re worried about weight gain, eating enough healthy fats can help to reduce your hunger levels.
One study found adults following a low-fat diet had a higher craving for carbs and high-sugar foods. These participants also had greater feelings of hunger than people on a low-carb diet. The key to eating enough fat, is focusing on high-quality fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides, and fatty acids such as omega 3 and omega 6.
Alongside fat, fiber is also crucial to keeping hunger under control. High-fiber foods slow the rate at which your stomach empties itself, as they take longer to digest. Fiber also influences the release of leptin to reduce your appetite, so you feel fuller for longer. Try eating more fiber-rich foods such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and flaxseeds.
5. Your Diet is Full of Refined Carbs
Carbohydrates come in a variety of different forms. Complex carbohydrates can help to improve your feelings of satiety because they’re often full of fiber. However, simple carbs, or “refined carbs”, can have the opposite effect. Refined carbs don’t have the same fiber content as their complex counterparts, so your body is more likely to digest them very quickly.
Eating refined carbs also leads to spikes in blood sugar, which leads to higher levels of insulin. When a large amount of insulin is released into the body at once, it removes sugar from your blood, leading to hypoglycemia, which prompts your body to seek out additional food. Replacing refined carbs such as white flour and baked goods with whole foods such as legumes and vegetables can assist in managing your appetite.
6. You’re Not Sleeping Enough
Good sleeping patterns are essential to anyone’s health. Sleep keeps your brain working as it should, as well as playing an important role in your metabolism and appetite control. When you’re not sleeping well, you may experience higher levels of “ghrelin”, which causes you to feel hungrier.
One study found people who were sleep deprived for just one night reported feeling a lot hungrier. These participants also chose portion sizes up to 14% larger than a group who had 8 hours of sleep. To manage your leptin production and keep your appetite under control, you should be getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
7. You’re Dealing with Too Much Stress
Stress is a natural response in the body, and can even be beneficial in some situations. However, people dealing with higher than usual levels of stress can often feel hungrier than most. This is because when you’re stressed, your body increases its cortisol levels, which can also promote food cravings and hunger.
In one study, women who experienced higher levels of stress were found to consume more calories than people who weren’t stressed. They also chose foods which were less nutritious than their counterparts, often opting for sugar-rich products. Exercising, meditating, or even practicing yoga can help to reduce stress levels, and keep hunger in check.
8. Your Medications are Influencing Your Hunger
There are many medications which, though beneficial, can increase your appetite as a side effect. The most common culprits are medicines used to treat depression and mood. Antipsychotics and anti-seizure drugs, as well as corticosteroids, can also have an impact on hunger.
Excessive or extreme hunger is often common among people with diabetes because insulin-based products can promote ghrelin and increase your appetite. It’s worth checking the information included with your prescription to determine whether your medications may be influencing your feelings of hunger. Your doctor may be able to move you onto an alternative medication if necessary.
In general, extreme hunger is considered a medical issue which should absolutely be addressed with your doctor.