Why Do Our Appetites Fluctuate?
We are hungrier on some days, while on others, we can barely get through one helping of our food. One day we’re hungry for lunch at noon, another day we’re fine skipping lunch completely. Why do our appetites fluctuate so much?
Hunger fluctuates widely and frequently because appetite is influenced by myriad factors — from our diet to our hormones to even our mental health.
“The first thing I would ask someone who came to me and said their appetites was all over the place would be: ‘How balanced is your diet?’ If you’re eating refined carbs and not enough protein, fiber or fat — the carbs will all digest faster, which will make you hungry pretty often,” Dr. Kate Petton, nutritionist, explains. Moreover, having sugary treats can hit the reward center in our brains, making us crave more and more food. Similarly, a high-fructose diet may also spark activity in specific regions of the brain that make a person feel less full, even when they’ve eaten enough from a calorie perspective.
Alcohol intake can affect appetite, too. Research suggests that alcohol can stimulate nerve cells in the brain’s hypothalamus that increase appetite. And because alcohol suppresses our self-control, it can lead us to indulge in more food than we would normally. Dehydration, too, which often occurs in the aftermath of alcohol consumption, can lead us to mistakenly believe that we’re hungry, when what our body actually needs is water.
Hormones can wreak havoc on our appetites too. Not getting enough sleep may disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a fall in leptin, which decreases it, making us hungrier than usual. Fluctuation in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle can also mess with our appetites — high progesterone levels during the premenstrual phase can prompt more hunger than usual, while high levels of estrogen during ovulation can bring our appetites down.
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Mental health can also impact our appetites. Depression can lead to a loss of appetite because it inhibits our ability to derive pleasure from anything, even food. Anxiety and stress, on the other hand, can lead to both crests and falls in hunger, depending on the severity. While short-term stress can trigger a fight-or-flight response that takes our minds off hunger, thus suppressing appetite, persistent stress leads to the release of cortisol, which increases appetite. “When people experience depression or chronic anxiety, their autonomic nervous system becomes dysregulated, which can impair their signals of hunger and fullness,” Allie Lewin Deehan, a psychotherapist from New York, explains.
However, experts suggest that if one’s appetite is constantly changing in a way that interferes with their day-to-day lives — either through weight loss or weight gain or fatigue — it is advisable to consult a medical professional, since that degree of variation can signal underlying health issues.