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10 Causes of Excessive Hunger [Aka Polyphagia or Hyperphagia]

February 4, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense

Are you hungry all the time, even after you’ve just eaten? Do you feel hunger cravings that no type or amount of food can ever fulfill? For most of us, it’s pretty normal to feel hungrier than usual in certain situations, like after extensive periods of physical activity. For others, this extreme hunger is due to other underlying issues that need addressing. 

And, there’s actually a medical term for it! Known as hyperphagia or polyphagia, it’s more common among those with diabetes and thyroid issues. However, it can affect anyone due to various underlying causes, including a lack of sleep, stress, premenstrual syndrome, and prediabetes. Here’s more about the condition, potential causes, and tips to address each one.  

Defining Hyperphagia and What Causes It

Hyperphagia (or polyphagia) is a central feature of inherited disorders associated with excessive energy intake. Your body transforms food into energy with the help of metabolism and the digestive system. However, if your food intake is excessive for too long, your digestive system may not be able to process it. If left unaddressed, it can lead to weight gain and obesity issues.

While you can use hyperphagia and polyphagia interchangeably as terms for excessive hunger, there are minor differences. Polyphagia is associated with either weight loss, maintenance, or gain, and hyperphagia is always associated with weight gain. 

Common Causes of Excessive Hunger

A person cutting vegetables in a breakfast plate with a glass of fruit juice and bread alongside

Multiple factors control your food intake as well as your energy balance. After every meal, satiety signals that your hormones control are responsible for inhibiting feelings of excessive hunger. Hormonal signals provide feedback to the hypothalamus, a small part of the brain that controls the appetite and lets your body know when you’re full. It helps reduce the desire for food. 

Hormones such as insulin may also help to inhibit feelings of hunger. So, when your body experiences an insulin deficiency (like in people with diabetes), it can contribute to an excessive food intake. At the same time, hypoglycemia can stimulate the secretion of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone that promotes food intake. Read on to learn more about the 10 leading causes of hyperphagia.

1) Prediabetes/Diabetes

Diabetes is a common ailment where the body may not produce enough insulin, develop insulin resistance, or doesn’t utilize the insulin that already exists efficiently. Insulin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and may lead to a reduction of food intake. It helps to transport glucose into your cells to provide you with energy. If glucose levels are high and insulin levels low, your body will not use glucose for energy efficiently, which means your cells will require more nutrients, and you end up eating more. Due to these low insulin levels, people hyperphagia is quite common among people with diabetes.

The most common symptoms of diabetic hyperphagia are feelings of uncontrolled hunger (despite eating regularly), extreme food cravings, fluctuations in blood glucose levels, digestive issues, and weight gain.

Tips and Treatment

  • Follow whatever diabetes treatment you’re given, including taking your diabetes medication correctly. 
  • Reduce your sugar intake to improve and support insulin levels. 
  • Learn more about your condition and your risk factors for hyperphagia by consulting a healthcare professional. 
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). 

2) Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

a person using finger prick method to test their glucose level

After every meal, glucose will enter your bloodstream, which then travels to the cells with the help of insulin. You can have low blood sugar levels if you don’t eat enough glucose, or don’t eat often enough throughout the day. Blood sugar can also dip if your body secretes excess insulin or you have diabetes and take insulin on an empty stomach. 

Hypoglycemia promotes the secretion of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates food intake and regulates blood glucose. It can increase feelings of hunger and lead to hyperphagia in the presence of an underlying condition.

Tips and Treatment

  • Try to eat at specific times of the day, and try including some satiety-friendly foods like dairy, and high-fiber but low-carbohydrate foods like starchy vegetables in your diet, which may help with more stable blood glucose levels.
  • Eat before and after physical exercise.
  • If you have diabetes and require insulin, take the prescribed amount correctly and on time to avoid crashes. 

3) High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)

Hyperglycemia occurs when your body is unable to produce or use insulin efficiently. If your insulin levels are low, glucose can’t enter your cells to provide them with energy efficiently. So it remains in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar. 

Since your cells can’t get enough energy, your body requests more food, even if you already had a meal. Creating a cycle that can continue on, illustrated by - high blood sugar impacting insulin efficacy, and insulin issues causing excessive hunger, leading to a rise in blood sugar.

Tips and Treatment 

  • Try to eat fewer foods with added sugars, and focus on whole fruits, vegetables, proteins, and low glycemic carbs. 
  • You can ask a doctor or a nutritionist how to manage feelings of excessive hunger without adverse effects on your system, especially if you think you have prediabetes symptoms.
  • Work on improving your glucose levels by staying hydrated

4) Thyroid Issues, Specifically Hyperthyroidism

a person holding their throat

Thyroid dysfunctions have significant effects on body weight and appetite. The hypothalamus interprets the hormonal and neuronal signals and sends responses that regulate food intake and energy output. 

Thyroid hormones have access to a part of the hypothalamus called the arcuate nucleus, controlling your appetite. Hyperphagia can result from thyroid hormones directly acting on the appetite circuits, which results in excessive hunger.

One of the primary roles of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If your thyroid produces more hormones than usual, it can cause issues like hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disorder that may lead to increased feelings of hunger.

Tips and Treatment 

  • Reduce the levels of thyroid hormones in your system—remember not to attempt to do this without asking a doctor for help. 
  • Reduce your intake of salty food since salt contains high iodine levels, which your body needs in order to produce thyroid hormone, but that in excess may result in overproduction. 

5) Damage to the Part of the Brain That Controls Hunger

Managing your weight after a brain injury of any kind can be a serious issue. Hyperphagia usually occurs because of stress, hormonal changes, and medication. But things like hypothalamus injuries may also be a cause. Since your hypothalamus regulates your appetite, damage from injury or a tumor can lead to an increase in appetite.

Another part of the brain that if damaged, the pituitary gland may lead to increased appetite. The pituitary gland controls your body’s hormone levels. Damage can cause pituitary dysfunction, leading to hormonal imbalances and slowing down your metabolism.

Tips and Treatment 

  • Maintain a healthy activity level to prevent undesired weight gain. 
  • Make sure you eat nutritious foods that may help promote brain health
  • Reduce stress levels with activities like yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation. 

6) Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

a person in bed eating granola and yogurt

Premenstrual syndrome refers to a range of symptoms that you can experience a week before your menstrual cycle. These include mood swings, fatigue, irritability, tender breasts, and food cravings. 

PMS usually occurs because of hormonal imbalances, such as estrogen, progesterone, and serotonin, which is a hormone that affects moods, emotions, and thoughts. Changes in progesterone levels can cause cravings for carbs or sweet foods. Eating these foods can lead to a rise in serotonin levels, increasing excessive hunger and food cravings.

Tips and Treatment

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the month to stay hydrated. It’s especially important around the time you usually get your period, as it may help with pain reduction. 
  • Eat a balanced diet of foods that improve immunity and nutrient intake.
  • Supplement your diet with adequate amounts of iron. 
  • Work with a registered dietitian to enhance nutrient intake and improve glucose levels at different phases of your menstrual cycle, depending on your body’s specific needs.

7) Too Much Stress

You probably already know what emotional eating is. Still, just in case you’ve never experienced it, it’s when you draw emotional comfort from eating. It can occur when you deal with high levels of stress, and the food you pick to satisfy these cravings is, more often than not, pretty unhealthy. Wondering why this is the case? It’s likely because stress causes cortisol secretion. This hormone increases appetite and food cravings.

Tips and Treatment

  • Try to maintain a healthy moderate level of activity that will promote the reduction of cortisol. 
  • Try yoga classes or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
  • Avoid consuming too many processed foods and added sugars.
  • Limit how much of your day involves stressful activities. If you have a high-pressure job, consider maintaining a better work-life balance to lower your stress levels. 

8) Not Enough Sleep

A person asleep at her laptop

Getting enough (good quality) sleep is crucial to maintaining good health. A lack of sleep can cause the rise of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone. This leads to increased feelings of hunger, so it is important to prioritize getting enough sleep. Everyone’s body is different, but most experts recommend at least seven or more hours a night for adults. 

 Tips and Treatment

  • Make sure to aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Ensure that the sleep you get is of good quality—aim for as much uninterrupted, restful sleep as possible. 
  • Limit daytime naps, and stick to the same sleep schedule every day to improve your sleeping habits.
  • Speak to a sleep therapist if you’re having trouble getting restful sleep. 
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine to help you sleep better at night.

9) Poor Diet 

A poor diet can be the cause of many health issues. Nutrients provide energy for your body to perform daily activities, from breathing to running. A poor diet could lead to suboptimal nutrition, resulting in either deficiencies or an excess of certain nutrients. Over time, poor diets may lead to hormonal imbalances, slow metabolism, and the risk of diabetes. All these health issues can affect hunger and encourage instances of hyperphagia.

Tips and Treatment

  • Check your blood glucose levels regularly using a tool like a CGM. 
  • Eat a diet rich in fiber and low glycemic carbohydrates.  
  • Drink plenty of water to increase hydration. 
  • Include more protein and healthy fats in your diet. 
  • Manage your stress levels to help lower cortisol levels. 

10) Hormone Imbalances (Such As Leptin Resistance)    

A person sitting in the kitchen with a laptop, eating a waffle

Hormone imbalances affect your health, metabolism, and weight. Certain hormones can influence body fat distribution, which may lead to weight gain or loss. For example, leptin is the satiety hormone released by the fat cells. It helps regulate food intake and energy expenditure in the long term. If your body has an excess of fat tissue, this could lead to an excessive amount of leptin. Unfortunately, this can cause a resistance to leptin, which means that even though you eat enough food, you will not feel full.

Even low levels of leptin can cause hyperphagia. When your body doesn’t produce any leptin, your brain thinks that your body doesn’t have any fat tissue. It can lead to uncontrolled and excessive hunger, leading to weight gain.

Tips and Treatment

  • Maintain a healthy body fat percentage to keep your hormones balanced. 
  • Eat a balanced diet and try to lead as active a lifestyle as possible. 
  • Reduce excess fat tissue with the proper lifestyle and dietary habits.
  • Discuss any concerning hormone levels with your doctor to determine the need for possible blood work 

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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10 Causes of Excessive Hunger [Aka Polyphagia or Hyperphagia]
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences
Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences

Quickly understand the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, how to recognize the signs, and key prevention tips.

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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.