What Causes Hunger?

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Hunger is simply your body’s way of telling you that it needs food. However, hunger is much more complicated than the growling and rumbling in your stomach. Hunger is both physical and emotional and may be caused by any (or any combination) of the following:

Cellular hunger occurs at the most basic level when your body signals what it needs. These signals are transmitted as cravings, examples include cravings often experienced during pregnancy. Essential elements satisfy cellular hunger – water, salt, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and trace minerals such as iron or zinc. Sugar cravings fall into this category, however these cravings are often a result of addiction rather than of necessity.

Emotional hunger causes us to eat when we feel sad or lonely, and use food for comfort. We are conditioned from childhood to see food as a reward. From birthday cake and ice cream to dessert after you finish your meal. Comfort foods are often emotionally linked to warm feelings. Unfortunately, the foods we turn to for comfort are often filled with fat, sugar or salt.

Stress eating is similar to emotional hunger. You eat when you are stressed and often pay little attention to what you are eating. A 2015 study found that people experiencing stress due to unhappy marriages had higher levels of ghrelin and a poorer-quality diet than those in more stable marriages. [1] Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” increases your appetite and stimulates the release of growth hormone.

Dehydration may be the cause of your hunger. Your thirst may be indistinguishable from a feeling of hunger. If you continue eating instead of drinking water when you are water hungry (dehydrated) you may find yourself continually eating. This type of hunger is easily countered by drinking water throughout the day.

Medications may be causing your hunger as they affect your body’s metabolism and confuse hunger signals. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and steroids may cause you to feel constantly hungry. If you experience significant weight gain when taking a new medication you should speak with your doctor.

Artificial sweeteners may increase your hunger and appetite. Non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose cause a “sweet/energy imbalance” and metabolic dysregulation which promote hunger. [2]

Alcoholic beverages can make you hungry. Alcohol is a calorie-dense nutrient which suppresses brain appetite signals, the link between alcohol and overeating. [3] Additionally, alcohol reduces inhibitions and causes you to eat more of the unhealthy and fattening foods that you would normally avoid.

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