Updated: Jun 9
We often experience a rumbling noise in our stomach which is a simple reminder by our body that it needs food to eat. But have you ever wondered why this happens?
Imagine this; you had a busy day which made you skip your meals. When back home, you were filled with a set of unpleasant emotions which have been triggered due to hunger. On consuming a meal, you get a nice pleasant feeling of being satisfied. How did this happen?
Well, your appetite is controlled by “hunger hormones” that tell the body when to eat and when to stop eating.
Let us talk about the hunger hormones, leptin, and ghrelin.
Leptin is a hormone, made by the fat cells, that manages the appetite. Obese people tend to have more stored fat, hence they have high leptin levels, but many times the body does not respond to the levels leading to leptin resistance which makes a person go on eating making it tough to lose weight. The reason for leptin resistance is still unknown.
Ghrelin on the other hand is a hormone that increases appetite which is produced by the stomach.
A hormone called cholecystokinin, is produced by the upper small intestine in response to having a meal. This hormone travels to the hypothalamus in the brain and starts to give the signal of being full. It also helps to slow down the food from traveling to the small intestine thus making the stomach full for a longer period of time.
Here are some factors that are found to be contributing towards constant hunger:
Nutrient deficiencies and hunger
Deficiency of various nutrients can result in cravings for specific foods or overeating tendencies, depending on that particular nutrient. In the vitamins category, a deficiency of vitamin b6,b9 can increase stress levels and stress hormones. This leads to blood sugar fluctuations giving rise to overeating tendencies.
People low on magnesium can crave chocolates and sweets or desserts.
Zinc deficiency can cause an over intake of salty and sugary foods which can lead to other medical issues later. Basically, Zinc deficiency causes the taste buds to dull, decreasing the taste sensitivity due to which people can reach out for excess sugar and salt consumption as compensation
Iron deficiency is commonly known for increased cravings for meat and its products.
Sodium deficiency can cause a person to crave salty foods like chips, pickles, namkeen, etc., but since sodium deficiency is not very common it needs to be observed and validated using a blood test to determine the particular nutrient deficiency and not treated arbitrarily.
Calcium deficiency can cause an increased craving for cheese and milk products in general.
B complex vitamins: they are extra important for various biochemical reactions and hormone regulators in the human body. The vitamins B1 and B5 are adrenal function regulators and B6 and B9 are useful for making certain neurotransmitters that aid in mood elevation and lower stress levels. Any problem with these can lead to severe mood and hormone imbalance leading to overeating and cravings.
Omega 3 fatty acids: A deficiency can cause cravings for eating fatty foods.
How to identify and treat?
A detailed blood test can be very insightful to provide in-depth information regarding deficiency and can be immediately corrected through proper nutrition.
Careful diet recall and monitoring every week or fortnight and carefully improving meal patterns and quality will help.
Stress and hunger
Stress has a profound impact on appetite. The cause, in this case, is usually due to an increase in stress hormones like cortisol which can trigger hunger pangs to increase blood sugar levels. Many studies have shown that in the long run stress in any form leads to overeating and hence weight gain. Studies have proved that stress causes the body to burn fewer calories than non-stressed people. Any form of stress can cause a drop in the metabolic rate which can lead to weight gain.
What's the solution?
Dealing with the type of stress, developing a hobby, meditation, good physical activity
To improve the quality of the present diet and eat a balanced, nutritious meal.
Hormonal imbalances and hunger
The feeling of hunger is a complex mechanism that involves hormones controlling the process.
Chronically elevated insulin can lead to hunger cravings, especially late-night hunger pangs. An imbalance in this intricate mechanism due to eating disorders or brain damage can lead to severe excess or suppressed hunger. Careful diet planning by reducing overall carbohydrates intake, especially fructose can specifically help with insulin resistance. Another big culprit is cortisol, when stress levels increase, cortisol triggers the brain to slow down the leptin secretion and appetite control is temporarily lost. This leads to overeating and cravings even after a full meal.
How to fix this?
Psychological treatment is needed to fix this problem.
Reducing overall carbs intake, especially fructose and simple sugars like sugar,sweets, cool drinks, bakery items, highly processed ready to eat foods can help alleviate the problem
Extremely important to get a hormone blood test evaluation to find the root cause and start treating it accordingly.
Hunger also has an emotional and mental component. It is often observed that some people eat more when they are sad, depressed, stressed, or anxious. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, sedatives, and birth control pills, are also associated with increased appetite.
Excess hunger can be caused due to endocrine dysfunction, low sugar in blood or a psychological factor.
Here are some endocrine dysfunctions that cause excess hunger:
When there are constant high blood sugar levels, the glucose from the blood is not taken up by the cells due to lack of insulin or insulin resistance (body unable to use the produced insulin), this makes the body unable to convert the food to energy making a person feel constant hunger. This is called polyphagia.
It is a condition where the body overproduces the thyroid hormones. This makes the body have a high basal metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories) making a person feel hungry often. If you’re taking in a lot more calories, you can gain weight even if your body is burning more energy.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
During the monthly cycle, a woman is going through a set of hormonal changes. One hormone called the cortisol aka stress hormone is up when a woman is PMSing this puts the body in a fight or flight mode, leading to stimulating the appetite. This relation can help a person realize the intense food craving happening during the initial days.
Other dietary reasons that go unnoticed for causing excessive hunger
A high sugar diet
Being indulged in simple carbs and added sugars get quickly converted to energy making a person crave more food within a shorter time. If your diet majorly comprises processed foods, bread, rice, and junky meals you may be having constant hunger pangs.
Low fiber diet
Fiber is known for giving a feeling of fullness as it stays in the gut for a longer time reducing the food emptying time. If your diet lacks fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains well there are chances your low on fiber, which makes you constantly hungry post meals.
High salt diet
Salt is hydrophilic i.e it loves water, when you consume a meal high in salt it retains water in the body leading to decreased thirst and enhanced hunger. Hence no matter how much junk food you eat, one will always crave more.
Hunger and thirst often are misunderstood. Many times your body is craving for water, and we mislead it with hunger and end up grabbing quick bites. So if you are someone who constantly wants to munch on food, maybe you're just thirsty.
Hunger can be managed very effectively with proper diet and lifestyle modifications. Here are simple tips for the same.
Eat enough protein as it increases the feeling of fullness making one eat less. Foods like lean meat, eggs, dairy products, pulses, soy, nuts & seeds are some good sources of protein.
Have fiber-rich foods as it slows down the food's emptying rate and gives a feeling of satiety. A good serving of salads before each meal can do wonders.
We often get confused between hunger and thirst, so keep a glass of water handy each time you get a craving, maybe it was just thirst.
Eat mindfully, as eating quickly or being distracted while eating sends off signals to the brain making it difficult for it to realize that you are already full.
Get good sound sleep for a minimum of 6-7 hours daily.
De-stress yourself, practice yoga, or any other form of physical activity that will help manage these levels.
Opt for a nourishing snack over a sugar fat snack, this will not only help manage hunger but in the long term keeps one healthy too.
Hunger is a natural phenomenon that occurs in our bodies. It should not be avoided, but if it persists even after following all the above points, it will be advisable to see your physician get their advice over the same.