Cravings are a tell-tale sign that our diet isn’t completely working for us. This overwhelming need to eat (usually) fatty or sugar-rich foods can happen to anyone. Whether it’s due to stress, an imbalanced gut microbiome, or simply due to regular hormonal changes that occur in certain time periods, cravings can usually be controlled through keeping an eye on what we ingest. Chocolate can be replaced with magnesium-rich foods such as almonds, while the healthier alternative to sugary drinks is as simple as having sparkling water with a dash of lemon.
But sometimes, the feeling of extreme hunger that’s followed by overeating isn’t just a passing state. For some people, it may be a more serious disorder.
Types of Extreme Hunger
Generally, there are two types of extreme hunger. One is hyperphagia or polyphagia and the other is hypermetabolism. The difference between the two is subtle in terms of their effect on the appetite, but clear when it comes to the symptoms and consequences of overeating.
With polyphagia, overeating happens due to an underlying medical condition. When left untreated, not only can it lead to excessive weight gain, but also to health deterioration. Hypermetabolism, on the other hand, happens due to a traumatic event that pushes the regular metabolic rate into hyperdrive. It’s followed by a number of other symptoms, including anemia, insomnia, elevated heart rate, muscle weakness, and fatigue, and it subsides once the causing illness/trauma has been treated/cured.
There are, of course, other, less serious causes that lead to intense cravings or overeating. In general, these can be addressed with a change in lifestyle, diet, or treating underlying causes leading to the disorder.
Common causes of extreme hunger and overeating:
- Intense fitness regimen
- Recovering from illness
- Lack of sleep
- Poor diet
- Eating disorder recovery
- Worm infestation
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Hyperthyroidism or Grave’s disease
- Genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormality
Detection and Diagnosis
In order to address extreme hunger and overeating, it is important that you first locate their underlying cause. Whether it’s taking things a bit too far at the gym, a particularly stressful period at work, or something more serious such as recovering from an eating disorder or untreated type 2 diabetes, the cause of your symptoms will greatly affect the way in which you’re going to approach them.
It’s important that you work with a doctor who can keep a close eye on your overall health and can prescribe any necessary medication or treatment you require.
Once you have uncovered the reason for the increase in your appetite, you can go on to make changes in your lifestyle that will have a positive effect on your eating habits and weight. For some, these changes can be all they need, especially when dealing with roots such as stress, poor diet, or lack of sleep.
Things You Can Do Immediately
Even if you’re still waiting for your diagnosis, you can take a few big steps towards recovery. While for some people, these will incur significant changes compared to their current lifestyles, for others, they’ll be about listening more closely to what their body needs.
Eating a healthy diet
Firstly, you’ll want to ensure you’re eating a wholesome, balanced diet. Eating varied, freshly prepared, ideally organic foods can be a huge help in allowing your body to heal. Make sure that you’re keeping a close eye on your macronutrients, giving priority to fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats.
While it’s not advisable that you completely eliminate carbs from your meal plan at this point, it is important that you keep an eye on how much you’re ingesting. Most importantly, make sure you opt for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains or beans.
Drinking enough water
As dehydration can be one of the causes of extreme hunger, it’s not a bad idea to pay closer attention to the amount of liquid you consume throughout the day. Women should aim to drink between 2 and 3 liters of water per day, while men require slightly more at around 4 liters. Keep in mind that factors like weather or exercise can influence your daily requirements.
Getting enough sleep
If you’re getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, it might be a good idea to squeeze in some more shuteye in your routine. Scientific research conducted in the past two decades shows a link between the hormones leptin and ghrelin and the amount of sleep we’re getting. Leptin, which signals satiety, increases during sleep, while ghrelin (signaling a need for energy) decreases. If you aren’t getting enough rest, these two can get out of control, causing you to make up for your lack of rest through a higher caloric intake.
Lowering stress levels
When our body is going through stress, its initial reaction is to increase adrenaline production, which can shut down the appetite. However, prolonged exposure to stressful situations does quite the contrary. In these situations, the hormone that is released is cortisol, and it creates cravings for high-sugar and fatty foods. This, in turn, results in higher insulin levels, which then create cravings for these foods.
The solution? Minimizing exposure to stressful situations. While you may not be able to quit your job, you can find ways to decrease stress through hiking, doing yoga, or meditating.
Can Vitamins and Supplements Help?
Quite often, overeating is caused by micronutrient deficiencies in the body. Those consuming a predominantly Western diet or severely restricting their caloric intake/macronutrients, even those following a vegetarian or vegan eating regimen, can greatly benefit from including the right supplement in their daily routine.
The key, however, is not relying on catch-all multivitamins, which tend to be ineffective in the first place, but rather, to take a serious approach to supplementation and provide the body with exactly what it needs.
Although it takes research (and ideally bloodwork to show any micronutrient deficiencies), customizing your supplementation regimen is highly effective in targeting the possible underlying causes of overeating. Furthermore, supplements can help rebuild a compromised gut microbiome (e.g., probiotics and garlic), which often plays a role in sugar and carb cravings.
On the whole, experts agree that there are three crucial micronutrients that can help control the appetite.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In addition to helping promote neurological and cardiovascular health, Omega-3 fatty acids can also have a beneficial effect on appetite control. Some sources state that a daily dose of Omega-3 oils can promote fat loss and increase muscle gain. They can even help promote serotonin production, which, in turn, positively affects the link between psychological wellbeing and appetite.
Vitamin B Complex
Usually, B vitamins are connected to weight gain. However, some sources state that they can have a beneficial effect on thyroid function and metabolism, which results in a controlled appetite. The most important micronutrients here will be B6 (Pyridoxine), B3 (Niacin), and B5 (Pantothenic Acid).
Some research suggests that a diet rich in Vitamin C could contribute to body fat oxidation during moderate exercise, which could have potential benefits for weight loss. But, even more importantly, vitamin C plays a role in strengthening the immune system through increasing white blood cell count. This plays a crucial role in keeping your body infection-free, thus preventing you from overeating due to poor health.
Extreme hunger and overeating are almost always the symptoms of an underlying cause. Thus, in order to address the issue, it is important that you take a closer look at your overall health.
Seeing a doctor will hence be necessary, in order to conduct all the tests needed to screen for serious conditions, but making positive lifestyle changes can also be of great help. On the whole, these changes include taking a mindful approach to nutrition, getting enough sleep, and limiting stress exposure.
Vitamins and supplements can also be a good solution when combined with the abovementioned lifestyle changes. Nonetheless, it is important that all supplementation regimens are approved by your doctor in order to avoid causing damage to your health.