Have you ever experienced the feeling of excessive hunger? No matter how much you eat, you can’t seem to feel full and satisfy your hunger? Excessive hunger (also known as polyphagia) is a sign and symptom of diabetes. Figuring out hunger and fullness with diabetes takes learning, practice, and support. Read on to learn about why diabetes affects hunger and fullness.

How does diabetes affect hunger?

Diabetes makes it more difficult for your body to use food as energy. After eating, the stomach breaks down food and releases glucose into the bloodstream. Because of diabetes, glucose gets stuck there, instead of going where it needs to go.

Why does this happen? There’s either not enough insulin to carry the blood sugar into the cells. Or the cells have become insulin resistant and the cells don’t let insulin do its job. Your body continues to tell your brain it’s hungry, even though there is plenty of glucose available. Hunger from diabetes is from a lack of food for the cells.

Why does hyperglycemia cause excessive hunger?

Blood glucose numbers over 140 mg/dL is hyperglycemia and excessive hunger tends to start when blood sugar rises over 250 mg/dL. It’s not an exact science, yet we know the longer it stays high, the stronger the hunger cravings are.

High blood sugar can cause a vicious cycle because the more you eat, the higher your blood sugar becomes, resulting in unsatisfied cravings.

Hormones, Diabetes, and Hunger

There are several hormones that help regulate hunger cues. With diabetes, abnormal levels and functioning of these hormones can develop. For example, amylin is a hormone that helps lower blood glucose levels. Yet, diabetes destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that makes amylin.

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone because its job it to tell the brain you’re hungry. When there’s too much ghrelin in the blood, this increases the amount of time you feel hungry and speeds up digestion out of the stomach. Without feeling full, you may eat more and not feel satisfied. It’s also suggested that insulin levels affect ghrelin levels.

On the flip side, is leptin. This hormone signals fullness. Fat cells produce leptin and the amount of this hormone is proportional to the amount of body fat someone has. With diabetes and extra body fat, leptin receptors also become resistant to leptin cells. And once again your brain doesn’t get the signal that you’re full.

Figuring out Hunger and Fullness with Diabetes

It’s challenging to know when we’re hungry when our internal systems aren’t functioning the way they should. This isn’t when a diet or eating different foods is going to help. Instead, a good starting point is to figure out ways to help the cells absorb and use glucose. The way to do that is to increase insulin sensitivity in the cells, increase your insulin levels by taking insulin, or both.

What’s the solution for diabetes hunger?

The first step is to work with your healthcare team and develop a plan for blood glucose control. Most likely you’ll need a combination of medications to start. One key to figuring out hunger and fullness with diabetes is understanding your own body.

We do know there are certain things that tend to help most people with diabetes:

  • Getting adequate sleep. Ghrelin levels increase when you don’t get enough sleep.
  • Making time for regular physical activity. Movement can help increase the hormones responsible for feeling full and satisfied.
  • Learning how specific foods affect your diabetes health. For some, bread causes a spike, while others it’s pasta. Everybody is slightly different.
  • Eating a mix of carbs, fat, and protein at meals and snacks. Protein helps release the satiety hormones. While carbohydrates and fat stimulate other hormones.

Be kind to yourself and recognize that when you have diabetes, it’s not about will-power or being strict with yourself. Instead, learn about your body and what causes a negative response.

The information we provide at welldoc.com is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace a consultation with a medical professional. Please inform your physician of any changes you make to your diet or lifestyle and discuss these changes with them. If you have questions or concerns about any medical conditions you may have, please contact your physician.