There are times when we eat more, and others less … this is normal, since hunger is influenced by many factors, such as: stress, lifestyle, daily worries, mood …
But what happens when we overeat, or when we have an excess of hunger? That then we talk about a more serious problem … hyperphagia . In this article we will see what it consists of, what are its symptoms, its causes (which can be medical and / or psychological) and possible treatments for it.
- Related article: ” The 10 most common eating disorders“
Hyperphagia: what is it?
The word hyperfagia comes from the Greek term “hyper-” (meaning abundance, excess) and the term “-fagia” (meaning eating). That is, technically it translates as an increase in food intake, produced by an increase in appetite (although the cause may be different).
Thus, in hyperphagia (also called polyphagia) there is an excessive increase in appetite, which adds to uncontrolled food intakes . It usually occurs without apparent cause, although throughout the article we will try to investigate its causes, which often have to do with medical or hormonal issues, beyond the psychological ones.
People with hyperphagia are unable to differentiate when they feel real appetite and when they feel anxiety, and therefore eat excess in both situations. The uncontrolled feeding cycles in people with hyperphagia can vary greatly from one person to another, and we find persistent cycles of appetite, and cycles of more or less appetite (which vary).
The direct consequence of hyperphagia, added to many others that may be less visible to the naked eye, is an increase in body weight , overweight or obesity (which does not always have to appear). This overweight or obesity can lead to cardiovascular disease or diabetes .
The symptoms of hypergagia are as follows.
1. Increased appetite / compulsive need to eat
It may happen that there is an increase in appetite, or that it really is not, and that it is rather “anxiety to eat” or the need to eat impulsively and / or uncontrollably . This would be the main symptom of hyperphagia.
2. Feeling guilty
Associated with the previous symptom, a guilt often appears for having eaten in excess .
3. Preference for sugary or fatty foods
Another symptom of hyperphagia is the preference, by the person suffering from it, for highly caloric foods, high in fat and / or sugars (for example, sweets, industrial pastries, fried foods, etc.).
4. Overweight or obesity
As we have seen at the beginning, the fact of suffering from hyperphagia can lead to problems of overweight or even obesity, which in turn can cause diseases of different types, especially cardiovascular and endocrine (for example diabetes).
5. Digestive problems
Another consequence of hyperphagia is digestive problems, which appear due to eating uncontrollably or excessively, and which means that we cannot digest food well .
The causes of hyperphagia can be diverse, although it is true that they usually relate to more emotional issues, as often happens with food. Also, but, they may be related to hormonal alterations. Let’s see some of the most frequent causes:
Anxiety is an altered psychophysiological state, in which the person may suffer different symptoms such as insomnia, palpitations, dizziness, malaise, irritability, depressive symptoms, catastrophic thoughts …
In turn, anxiety is one of the possible causes of hyperphagia. The fact of suffering anxiety can lead many people to eat more, not so much for having more appetite, but because of that anxiety is born that need to eat. Thus, erroneously, the body associates anxiety with hunger.
Having bulimia is another cause of hyperphagia. Thus, many patients with this eating disorder (eating disorder) can develop hyperphagia .
After eating, but, they usually apply compensatory behaviors to counteract that “excess” of food they have ingested (for example through vomiting, use of laxatives, intense physical exercise, etc.).
- You may be interested: ” Bulimia nervosa: binge and vomiting disorder“
3. Severe Disease
The causes of hyperphagia can also be medical and / or endocrine, as in the case of suffering from Grave Disease. This disease consists of an autoimmune thyroiditis that stimulates the thyroid gland . One of its symptoms may be hyperphagia.
4. Diabetes mellitus
Diabetes mellitus disease, which has as its main symptom an excess of glucose (sugar) in the blood, can also lead to hyperphagia. Remember that it can also happen in reverse; that hyperphagia causes diabetes (in this case, type II).
5. Pregnancy diabetes
In this case, diabetes also involves excess blood glucose, although the etiology is different, and appears during pregnancy. It can also cause hyperphagia in the pregnant woman.
Hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disease of the endocrine system that appears when the thyroid gland secretes excess thyroxine hormone , can also cause hyperphagia. Thus, people with this disease have a higher risk of getting fat for this and other reasons.
Hypoglycemia is a condition that involves low blood glucose levels , and can also cause hyperphagia.
The premenstrual syndrome encompasses a series of physiological and psychological symptoms that appear in women, and which begin during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Among these symptoms is often hyperphagia, although not always; Some women feel just the opposite, lack of appetite or feeling bloated.
Finally, certain types of medications can also produce, among their side effects, hyperphagia. Some of the most common are: corticosteroids, antidepressants and antihistamines .
The treatment of hyperphagia requires resorting to the cause of increased intake and / or appetite. If anxiety is caused by a multidisciplinary perspective, ideally with the participation of the psychiatrist and psychologist . The important thing is that this cycle of “anxiety ⇒ anxiety about eating ⇒ uncontrolled or excessive intake” is broken.
Thus, from psychotherapy, the patient should be taught to correctly identify the physiological signs of his organism that indicate that he is hungry, and to differentiate those signs from his own anxiety or nervousness.
On the other hand, if the causes of hyperphagia are medicinal or medical, you should see a medical professional so that you can adjust the type of medication and the appropriate dose for the patient, or so that you can make an appropriate medical diagnosis in case not yet have. In these cases, what is usually done is to perform a blood and urine test; The functioning of the thyroid gland is also assessed (to rule out hyperthyroidism, among others).