Excessive appetite: what are the causes?

Excessive appetite: what are the causes?

Hyperphagia is not a disease in itself but a symptom of an underlying disorder. An insatiable appetite can have psychological or physical causes or be the side effect of a drug.

Hyperphagia, or excessive appetite, is a seemingly unmotivated uncontrolled increase in hunger. The word derives from Greek and is composed of the prefix “iper” (above, excess) and “fagia” (to eat). The result is the consumption of disproportionate amounts of food.

Hunger is an entirely normal sensation that occurs when the body needs to feed itself to perform its functions. It is not normal, however, to always feel hungry, even immediately after a large meal. In these cases, we speak of hyperphagia.

The rampant increase in appetite can signify disease, sometimes of an endocrine disorder, or mental distress. It can be occasional or long-lasting.

When do we talk about excessive appetite?

Girl eats pizza leaning on the toilet.

Science indicates excessive hunger with the term “hyperphagia,” a condition that often goes hand in hand with bulimia.

Insatiable appetite is medically called hyperphagia. Sufferers of this condition continually eat large quantities of food.

Food is typically swallowed, barely chewed. It is an eating disorder, usually of psychic origin and often associated with bulimia.

The hyperphagic person has a tendency to prolong meals more than necessary in order to continue eating. It almost always prefers certain foods, especially those rich in sugar or fat.

She usually feels embarrassed, gets nervous when she feels watched, but she can’t stop her behavior. Despite the sense of shame, eating is a need.


Hyperphagia is not a disease in itself but a symptom of another disorder. Sometimes the underlying problem is a physical illness. According to Obesity magazine, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, or hypoglycemia can have uncontrolled hunger pangs.

In some cases, drugs are responsible, such as those that inhibit leptin production (a hormone that regulates hunger). If the mechanism does not work correctly, the feeling of satiety ceases.

The research conducted on guinea pigs and published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America links the two phenomena: lower leptin production and hyperphagia.

More frequently, however, excessive appetite responds to a mental disorder. Stress, depression, or anxiety can lead to eating disorders. According to a study published in 2008, hyperphagia is usually accompanied by bulimia.

The latter is characterized by excessive consumption of food for a limited period. These episodes are commonly called “binges.” After the binge follows the sense of guilt, the person will try to eliminate the ingested food by inducing vomiting or with a laxative.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Girl with hunger attack.

Hyperphagia sufferers tend to feel guilty after eating but cannot restrain the urge.

One of the sensations that accompany hyperphagia is shame. It is not uncommon, therefore, the tendency to isolate themselves during meals to avoid being observed.

The stimulus of hunger does not disappear, leading to nibbling at every hour, even in the early morning hours. This behavior is often accompanied by depression and low self-esteem.

Excessive appetite often causes digestive disorders such as heartburn, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. But also other diseases such as overweight, diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease.

Excessive food intake also causes sleepiness and slows down normal daily activities. The diagnosis is usually made by simple observation. In most cases, relatives and friends notice the problem.

Excessive appetite treatment

Before starting treatment, the cause of the hyperphagia should be determined. If it is linked to organic disease, it must be treated not to generate episodes of excessive appetite.

When a drug causes the problem, it should, if possible, be replaced with an equivalent that does not cause this side effect. If the cause is psychic, a psychologist must treat the problem to improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety.

In some cases, this disorder is entirely harmless and temporary, for example, in pregnant women, sportsmen, and adolescents. Insatiable hunger, in these cases, is explained by an increased need for nutrients.

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