“Suddenly I feel hungry all the time.” “Why am I always so hungry?” “It seems like my appetite is bigger than ever!” When women reach their perimenopause and menopause years, some of them notice increased hunger and cravings. What can you do about an insatiable appetite for potato chips and ice cream?
What is increased hunger?
Increased hunger is a seemingly insatiable urge to eat, even when not hungry. Various factors can be behind increase hunger. One of the more common ones is diabetes. When the glucose in your blood can’t get into your cells, the body releases the sugar in your urine and triggers a desire to eat more.
Other factors that can cause increased hunger include stress, fatigue, medications (some antihistamines, antidepressants, steroids, diabetes drugs), thyroid problems, and pregnancy. Some women in their menopausal years also experience this symptom and accompanying unwanted weight gain.
How is increased hunger associated with menopause?
A number of hormones are involved in increased hunger in menopause. Let’s begin with estrogen, which has an ability to dampen hunger. Once levels of this hormone begin to drop, that protective feature begins to disappear as well. When 94 premenopausal women were evaluated, the experts found that increased hunger often occurred during the menopause transition, and that the women also experienced a greater psychological urge to eat as well.
In a study that involved obese and non-obese women in premenopause, perimenopause, or postmenopause, the authors looked at levels of various hormones. They found that women in the perimenopause state had significantly higher levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, than women in the other two groups.
The hormone that helps you feel satisfied—leptin—was significantly higher in non-obese women. Leptin helps the body regulate its balance of energy so the hunger response isn’t triggered when it doesn’t need more calories (energy). Basically, high levels of leptin signal the brain that it’s time to stop eating.
How to manage increased hunger in menopause
What can you do to turn off that hunger spigot? Although you can place some blame on your hormones, there are plenty of steps you can take to tame them and your increased hunger as well.
Be patient. Making changes in your life to control feelings of increased hunger and cravings won’t produce results overnight. However, with patience and an understanding of what’s going on, you can do it! Feelings of increased hunger and food cravings will pass with time.
Focus on nutrient-dense foods. These foods are the most likely to satisfy your real hunger and help you control feelings of increased hunger and cravings. Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats (nuts, avocado, seeds), whole grains, and lean proteins.
Follow your hunger. When do you notice the most increased hunger? For many women, the time is late afternoon or evening. Recognizing when the feelings are strongest will help you prepare for them with techniques you’ve developed to ward them off.
Keep moving. When the feelings hit, get moving—and not to the nearest coffee shop or candy store! Brisk walking, especially with a friend who can help you stay focused, as well as spinning, jumping rope, or doing yoga and stretching can all help subdue feelings of increased hunger.
Get adequate sleep. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation may be associated with less self-control around certain foods. Seven to eight hours per night is recommended. In a 2021 study, researchers found that individuals who were sleep deprived ate more high-energy (high-calorie) foods, and that their motivation seemed to be a reduced desire of low-energy foods rather than a greater desire for high-energy foods.
Squash stress. If you are chronically stressed, which happens frequently in menopause, your cortisol level is likely elevated. You can help lower this hormone by identifying the stressors in your life and practicing stress-reducing techniques (deep breathing, exercise, yoga, meditation, progressive relaxation, visualization) and it will help with hunger.
When to see your doctor
It is possible that your increased hunger may be related to developing diabetes, thyroid issues, or other medical causes. Consult with your healthcare provider if you are unable to manage your feelings of greater hunger on your own.
Increased hunger in perimenopause and menopause is associated with hormonal changes.