If Your Child is Always Hungry, This Could Be Why
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If your child is always hungry or is eating too little during mealtimes, then probably something is wrong, and you may want to get the matter sorted out immediately. You want them to eat just enough to grow up and stay healthy and to avoid binge eating and picky eating disorders. Binge eating can lead to obesity, heart complications, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and low self-esteem. On the other hand, picky eating disorder can lead to nutritional deficits, stunted growth, and a host of health complications. Children need to eat correctly to meet the required development milestones and grow into healthy adulthood.
Interestingly, the solutions to hunger problems are always around the corner, if only we take notice – unless of course, they happen due to extreme medical conditions, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, and reasons related to low income.
Probably to make this discussion easy to understand, we need to first understand the three natural hormones which are very crucial in hunger and feeding management.
The Importance of Insulin, Leptin, and Ghrelin in Natural Hunger Management
1. Insulin Hormone for Glucose Regulation
Insulin is a natural hormone released by the pancreas into the bloodstream to regulate the amount of glucose in the body. It also facilitates the storage of excess glucose in the liver. Under different circumstances, glucose in the body will be high or low. Glucose is derived from a diet of carbohydrates and sugars and provides energy for the body to remain physically active. If insulin is not released into the bloodstream or malfunctions, the body will build up high or low sugar levels. This accumulation, in addition to the food types being eaten, may lead to health complications such as diabetes. Excess consumption of simple sugars, which is short-lived in the body, will stimulate insulin to trigger hunger signals!
2. Leptin Hormone for Hunger Regulation
Leptin is a natural hormone released by body fats to regulate appetite (hunger), body weight and energy balance. It assesses the state of the body weight(fat) and sends appropriate signals to the brain to signal appetite or not. Usually, excess body fat will trigger low or no appetite, to allow the body to use the stored fats. The purpose here is to maintain lean body weight. Appetite signals will only be triggered if the fat levels go too low. Of note here is that leptin responses will actually get a beating in obese children. In what is known as leptin resistance, the hormone will trigger appetite signals instead, even when a child is overweight. This is why obese children tend to eat more than they should.
3. Ghrelin Hormone for Hunger Stimulation
Ghrelin, also called the hunger hormone is released by the stomach, and to a lesser extent by the pancreas, to stimulate appetite, increased food intake and body growth. It is usually released in an empty stomach and enters the bloodstream to trigger hunger signals. Ghrelin levels reduce after food is consumed to satisfaction. To put it in perspective, ghrelin stimulates hunger signals to the brain, while the opposite is true about leptin.
Here is Why Your Child is Always Hungry
Your child is always hungry probably because of many reasons.
Below are hunger-inducing agents in your child that need watching closely:
- Junk diet
- Growth spurts
- Poor eating habits
- Medical conditions
1. That Junk Diet!
SNACKING too much junk is what kids usually crave and surprisingly what majority of parents condone for convenience. They are ready to eat the minute they are ordered over the counter. They are served TASTY yet full of simple sugars and carbs.
Also called lazy food, junk food come in many forms:
Crackers, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, crunchies, bread, fries, ice-cream, sweetened drinks, etc.
The array of snacks listed above contain lots of sugar, salt, trans-fat, and starch, but no tangible nutrients. They are all ‘full’ of empty calories and act as quick fixes to fend off hunger.
Upon eating junk, the sugar level in the body spikes, causing the pancreas to release the insulin hormone into the blood-stream. Insulin stimulates body cells, muscles and fats to absorb the glucose. The glucose is converted into short-lasting energy for use by the body.
The depletion of these simple sugar levels will leave the child always feeling hungry soon after. It takes anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours to feel hungry again!
Besides just poor nutrition, excess use of computing devices can also make children resort to repeated rounds of sugary snacks, as they watch movies and play games. The indulgence in games also makes children chew the food too fast which also leads to weight gain.
According to NDTV Food, excess consumption of junk can lead to memory and learning lapses, increased risks of dementia, child inability to control appetite, uncontrolled cravings, and ultimately, depression.
What You Can Do
Kids need nutrient-rich meals containing proteins, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These are mainly found in lean meats, nuts, fruits, seeds, vegetables, low-fat milk, and water.
Healthy protein-rich foods such as eggs, beans, fish, lean meats, yogurt, will lower ghrelin levels and minimize the likelihood of insulin kicking in. The Ghrelin hormone sends hunger signals to the brain when the body runs short of food.
Food types rich in fiber such as vegetables and fruits easily will fill up the stomach and take longer to digest and burn out.
Make a point to serve the highlighted healthy meals for breakfast, instead of the white bread served in many homes. These will keep the tummy full for extended hours, and because they contain minimal sugar content, they will not trigger high sugar-level alerts.
Control computer use by children to minimize snacking, junk craving, and fast chewing.
2. A Child is Always Hungry Because of Growth Spurts
If your child is doing everything right – sleeps well, is physically active and eats much, sometimes, chances are, he or she is experiencing timely development milestones.
The most notable milestone is the growth spurt which happens from the first month through to teen years. These spurts come and go and can last a period of 3 days or a week at any given time. Every time your child eats well (much) and sleeps well – in fact, sleeps longer, growth spurts will happen more frequently and this demand will seek additional energy from the body. A child will thus develop an insatiable appetite most of the time. This may probably worry parents that something is wrong. It shouldn’t.
With the increasing nutrition needs associated with growth, your child will likely experience a surge of hunger before and during growth spurts, which can last an average of 24 to 36 months. Make sure that these additional calories are coming from whole, nutritionally dense foods rather than snacks and sweets.Abbott
You should be worried only when some milestones are missed, the child is obese, or the appetite is a daily thing and beyond anything normal.
What You Can Do
Never worry as long as your child is,
- Experiencing growth spurts
- Eating nutritious food
- Not obese
- Showing no health problems
3. Poor Eating Habits!
A child who eats insufficient, unplanned and bad diet will experience repeated hunger spells during the day and will need frequent ‘treats’ to fill up the empty tummy.
Irregular eating habits are reflected in,
- lack of eating routines
- not involving children in choosing food types and cooking
- lack of a balanced diet
- meal-time distractions from electronic devices
When children fail to follow eating schedules, which outline when to eat, and not to, they easily develop irregular eating habits and patterns. These include regular snacking, tech distractions and of course insufficient nutrient-rich foods.
This is not uncommon with the modern child and lifestyle where busy parents defer responsibility and are unwilling to take stock of the eating habits of children. On their own, even in the hands of caregivers and close relations, children will gain the upper-hand by choosing what to and not to eat. Poor eating habits will leave your child always hungry.
What You Can Do
Parents should be role models by putting in place correct routines when serving meals. They should also watch what meals grace the dinner table, and assess the eating environment. Meals should be consumed on a timely basis, and everyone should abide by the schedule.
While this may not be possible all the time, they should be tried out during breakfast and dinner. Many parents are at home for breakfast and dinner.
- Eat together
- Shop together for varieties of nutrient-rich foods
- Avoid unrelated discussions during mealtimes
- Do not use tech devices, TVs, computers, etc, during meal times
4. Obesity and Hunger
Childhood and adolescent obesity is a big problem worldwide and calls for prompt resolution whenever it happens. In the US alone, obesity affects up to 13 million children and adolescents. Obesity has become commonplace because of the sedentary lifestyle many children now lead. Either they are busy on the computer or restricted from going outdoors because of one reason or another. Even worse many children are now served a combination of foods high in calories such as fast foods and other junk such as sugary drinks and candy! Of course, obesity can be inherited, if the family lineage has overweight people. In this case, the necessary steps should be taken to counter extreme medical conditions from happening.
What is childhood obesity?
According to WHO, obesity is explained as
abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in metres). A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight.
But not all children who have higher body mass are actually obese. Some have larger than average body frames and may also appear taller than average, which is okay. If however, you notice that the body mass in your child is accompanied by excessive eating, and many times less physical activity, then it is time to see your doctor.
If unchecked, obesity can lead to Type II diabetes, heart diseases. asthma, sleep disorders, liver damage, a disposition to bone fractures, and of course, increased hunger spikes throughout the day.
The mechanism of hunger-related hormones in obese children is still a complex one to understand. It all rotates around how the leptin hormone works. The hormone which is released by fat cells tells the brain the need to eat when the fat level goes down, and the need not to, when the fat level is high.
While the hormone is designed to signal hunger bells only when the fat levels are low in lean persons, leptin gets totally confused when it comes to obese children.
In what is called leptin resistance, the hormone goes silent instead of sending the signals to restrain appetite. This leaves the brain with no option but to induce appetite signals in obese individuals, inducing them to eat even more food!
What You Can Do
Work closely with the family doctor or a pediatrician to sort out this problem. He or she will assess the history of growth and development in your child and the family weight factors, to determine cause and treatment if necessary.
5. Extended Medical Conditions
Besides medical disorders associated with obesity, other medical conditions could be the reason your child is always hungry. Some of these are either genetic predisposition or induced because of dependence on treatment, or over the counter prescriptions.
If your child is experiencing extreme hunger spells, he/she could be suffering from one of the following:
- Type I and II diabetes
- Low blood sugar because of kidney disorder and hepatitis
- Over the counter prescriptions for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- A genetic condition called Prader Willi syndrome
- Sensory processing disorder
What You Can Do
Work closely with the family doctor or a pediatrician if your child is always hungry because of the medical conditions listed above. Avoid treating your child at home, in the event of such health complications.
6. Hunger Because of Physical Activity
A child who is physically active with extreme levels of energy exertion will most likely have the urge to eat every now and then. After burning all the glucose in the body, hunger signals (ghrelin) will kick in, demanding for more glucose. Of course, this is fine most of the time, if not all the time, unless it is accompanied by obesity!
It is also important to remember that appetite may be suppressed in some people due to physical activity. Some studies have shown exercise to kill appetite soon after indulging in lengthy physical activity. The appetite will definitely kick in moments or hours later.
This is ongoing research but it should not derail your parental input, in ensuring physical activity is countered with sufficient nutritious food.
What You Can Do
Ensure your disinterested child eats something after exhausting activity to help aid in muscle and other body part recovery.
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