- People with diabetes can experience excessive hunger, also called hyperphagia, because of insulin dysfunction.
- If you want to prevent the constant feeling of hunger caused by diabetes, consider focusing on a balanced diet, including meals with high-fiber carbohydrates, protein, and non-starchy vegetables.
- It may be helpful to talk to your doctor about adjusting your diabetes medications if the insatiable hunger doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes.
If you have diabetes and always feel hungry, you may be experiencing hyperphagia, a term used to describe excessive hunger that persists even after eating. Excessive hunger can occur in people with diabetes due to changes in insulin function, making it difficult for your body to utilize glucose for energy. It can leave you thinking constantly about food and cause extreme cravings.
There are ways to manage excessive hunger in diabetes, including proper medication therapy, managing blood sugar levels, and eating a balanced diet. Read below to learn more about hyperphagia in diabetes and strategies for managing an insatiable appetite.
Why Does Diabetes Cause Excessive Hunger?
Excessive hunger, also known as hyperphagia or polyphagia, is when a person always feels hungry and is not satisfied by eating.
Hyperphagia is a common symptom of diabetes because of issues with insulin production and function. It can occur in type 1 and type 2 diabetes and often involves cravings for sugary and high-carbohydrate foods, leading to overeating.
Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that helps transport the glucose or sugar from the food you eat from your bloodstream into your cells to be used for energy. Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, means the insulin is not working well to deliver glucose.
This leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, also known as high blood sugar. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin, which also results in high blood sugar.
When your cells receive insufficient amounts of glucose, your body doesn’t have enough energy, which increases your drive to eat. In unmanaged diabetes, this can turn into hyperphagia.
The hunger does not go away with eating because only a small amount of glucose can get into your cells.
If you haven't received a diagnosis of diabetes but often experience excessive hunger, thirst, and urination, these can be early signs of diabetes.
However, keep in mind that different conditions can cause extreme hunger, like hyperthyroidism, making it essential to talk to your doctor about what might be going on.
Though hyperphagia is not considered an eating disorder because it is related to an insatiable hunger and not psychological factors, its characteristics can overlap with certain eating disorder behaviors.
Binge eating disorder, or frequent episodes of overeating accompanied by emotional distress, occur more frequently in people with type 2 diabetes than in the general population.
It may be helpful to talk to your doctor about a simple screening, so you can be sure your psychological health is great.
Tips for Managing Hunger Cravings with Diabetes
When you’re always hungry with diabetes, it might feel like you can’t stop thinking about food. Manage your cravings by keeping quick and easy, balanced meals and snacks accessible.
Planning your meals for the week can also help prevent impulsive eating when you don't have healthy options available when you’re hungry.
Try mindful eating strategies, like eating slowly and without distractions. Notice the taste and texture of your food during meals.
Research shows mindful eating is beneficial for diabetes management because it helps with awareness of eating habits in relation to internal hunger and fullness cues.
It’s also important to stay well hydrated throughout the day. In the context of eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day, adequate water intake can help reduce hunger levels.
Some medications used for diabetes can increase your hydration needs, making it important to be aware of your fluid intake.
Monitor your blood sugar levels at the frequency recommended by your doctor.
Sometimes, when treating high blood sugar, the blood sugar levels can get too low, a condition called hypoglyemia.
You may be able to treat hypoglycemia episodes by eating a small amount of refined carbohydrates, such as candy or fruit juice. You can also prevent hypoglycemia by regularly eating throughout the day, avoiding skipped meals, and adequately fueling exercise.
If you frequently experience high or low blood sugar levels despite taking your medications and eating a balanced diet, talk to your doctor about other strategies.
Foods to Decrease Hunger
If you’re always hungry with diabetes, the best foods to eat are those that help prevent large spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
Try choosing minimally processed, high-fiber and whole-grain carbohydrates most of the time. Fiber helps slow down digestion, keeping you full longer.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults eat 22–34 grams of fiber daily, which over 90% of people in the U.S. don’t meet.
Some of the top high-fiber carbohydrates are:
- Beans, like pinto, garbanzo, and kidney beans
- Lentils and peas
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato
Eating carbohydrates with foods containing protein and fat can also help with satiety.
Research shows that balancing these macronutrients with every meal helps keep you full and also gives you stable energy throughout the day.
Try using the diabetes plate method to make it simple to balance your meals. Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, one-fourth with starchy carbohydrates, and one-fourth with protein.
Other Ways to Control Appetite
Food choices are not the only factor in appetite management.
If you are on medications for diabetes, make sure you take them as prescribed.
Sometimes your doctor will adjust your medication doses to better manage your blood sugar levels and help your body utilize the food you consume. You can help your doctor understand what is happening by regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels at home.
Some medications have the side effect of increasing appetite, while others can reduce hunger levels.
Review your medication list with your doctor to identify possible alternatives to appetite-boosting drugs.
Some medications used for treating type 2 diabetes, like GLP-1 agonists, can help reduce appetite as a side effect.
Focusing on other healthy lifestyle habits can also help manage an excessive appetite.
Research shows that inadequate sleep is associated with increased insulin resistance and is related to a stronger appetite and cravings for highly palatable foods. Experts recommend getting between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.
Psychological stress has also been linked to hyperphagia, making stress management an important tool for appetite control.
Regular cardiovascular exercise may also be beneficial for appetite control.
A 2020 study found that people with type 2 diabetes reported less hunger and increased satiety after six months of regular aerobic exercise. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.
Hyperphagia, or always feeling hungry, is a common symptom of diabetes.
Reduced insulin production and function can cause glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream, unable to reach your cells for energy use.
You can take steps to manage your appetite by choosing high-fiber carbohydrates, following the balanced plate method, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress levels.
Talk to your doctor about adjusting your diabetes medications if your hunger remains excessive despite making healthy diet and lifestyle changes.
How a Dietitian Can Help
If you have diabetes, medical nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian has been shown to be beneficial for managing the condition. A dietitian will make evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle recommendations to help you optimize your diet for blood sugar and appetite control.
Frequently Asked Questions
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