If you have constant hunger with celiac disease first, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that there are many normal reasons why you might be hungry all the time with celiac. From dysregulation of hunger and fullness cues, diet culture infiltrating celiac, to your body simply renourishing itself.
In this post, we will talk about what plays into why you’re always hungry with celiac, and lastly, what to do about the constant hunger.
Before we talk about why you might have constant hunger with celiac disease, let’s define hunger. Essentially, hunger is your body’s way of telling you it has a need. Whether it be a need for energy, or an unmet need elsewhere.
Hunger cues work with fullness cues to regulate your energy levels, body size, and ultimately, protect you from death by starvation. And both of these cues are regulated by hormones like ghrelin and leptin.
So why are you always hungry with celiac?
When talking about constant hunger with celiac disease, we need to know what Celiac is. To keep it brief, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body reacts to gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease, exposure to gluten causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine. The inflammation and damaged small intestines can cause nutrients to not be absorbed properly.
Additionally, the autoimmune reaction to gluten with celiac disease can cause over 300 different symptoms in the body. From things GI distress like bloating and constipation to things like headaches and anxiety.
The only way to manage celiac and all of these symptoms is to eat gluten-free.
There are many reasons why you’re always hungry with celiac. From learning to navigate a balanced gluten-free diet, overcoming fears of food, to dysregulated hunger and fullness cues; there’s a lot that could cause constant hunger with celiac disease.
Let’s tackle each reason one by one.
You might be constantly hungry with celiac disease because your hunger and fullness cues are dysregulated.
First, hunger and fullness are often disrupted with celiac disease. From symptoms masking feelings of hunger and fullness, hormone imbalances, to numbing your body cues out as a coping mechanism, your hunger and fullness cues may not be working properly.
On a basic level, your hunger and fullness cues are regulated by meal timing, hormones, sleep, and circadian rhythm. Hunger and fullness are survival mechanisms designed to make sure you’re fueling your body appropriately. It’s put in place to prevent you from starving.
Physiologically, celiac disease impacts hormone health. Specifically, celiac disease has been linked to elevated ghrelin levels in untreated and newly diagnosed people. Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone, it signals when your body needs food, and celiacs who are still healing often have higher levels of these hormones, causing increased hunger.
Additionally, things like not eating, ignoring body cues, and these cues being masked by symptoms, etc. can make it so your hunger and fullness cues feel out of control. Potentially making you feel always hungry or maybe not hungry at all (even though you know you should eat).
In the case of celiac, increased hunger hormones, fear of food, not having safe and accessible food, trying to fight celiac weight gain, and GI distress can all disrupt hunger and fullness cues. Add on top of that, that many are starving nutritionally after diagnosis, and it’s easy to feel like you’re out of control with food. You may feel like you’re always hungry and need to be eating.
You might always be hungry with celiac disease because you’re still learning how to balance a gluten-free diet. Removing gluten from your diet can disrupt your eating habits. And going gluten-free changes how you need to balance your diet for satisfaction, fullness, and nutrition.
From eating enough to pairing foods for optimal satisfaction to making sure you’re getting in all of the nutrients you need; not eating a balanced gluten-free diet can make you hungry all the time.
To balance a gluten-free diet to prevent constant hunger with celiac, you can start with making sure you’re eating a variety of gluten-free whole grains, gluten-free fiber sources, and that each macronutrient (fat, carbs, and protein) are present at each meal.
However this is just a start. For a more tailored approach to balancing a gluten-free diet for health and hunger regulation, check out Celiac Nutrition Course that will teach you how!
You might always be hungry with celiac disease because you’re still working on overcoming fear and distrust of food with celiac. When you’re afraid of food it can easily disrupt the reliability of your hunger and fullness cues.
Whether you’re distrustful of the actual gluten-free status of food, or you have other internalized beliefs around food, these fears can stop you from eating. Alternatively, it can cause you not to eat enough.
When you don’t eat enough you may feel like you’re always hungry because your body is never getting enough energy, so it’s constantly asking you to feed it.
This can throw you into a cycle of restriction and fear. Where you avoid eating certain things or eating altogether until you can’t take it anymore, then you eat, you don’t feel good, and so you don’t eat again out of fear. Putting you in the never-ending cycle of distrust and betrayal by food.
When in reality, a dysregulation in hunger and fullness cues like this, could cause the very symptoms you’re afraid of food giving you. One of the key ways of getting to the bottom of your bottomless hunger with celiac and your food triggers is to first, start eating regularly and routinely.
This might sound absolutely scary so if you need more help with this, please reach out. As a celiac dietitian, I help people with normalizing hunger cues and identifying food triggers every day. So they can squash their fears and live life confidently with celiac.
Another reason you might be hungry all the time with celiac is that your body is renourishing itself after months or even years of malabsorption and malnutrition. If it took you a while to get a celiac diagnosis, there is likely a lot of damage and nutrient stores to replenish.
A way for your body to do replenish these stores and heal damage is to ask you to eat in the form of hunger cues. This is also why you might gain weight with celiac disease.
If this is the case, it’s important to rebuild your relationship with food and let your body heal. And with time, hunger should normalize unless something else is going on.
You might have constant hunger with celiac because you’re not eating enough. As I mentioned earlier, celiac can impact hunger and fullness cues. It can also impact gastric motility (the movement of your digestive system).
If you’re not eating enough, you will feel hungry all the time. Additionally, if your gut motility is impaired it can cause constant hunger.
This can be perpetuated by if you’re not balancing a gluten-free diet (also mentioned above) it can drive you to crave sweets and treats, further making you feel like you’re always hungry and out of control with food.
Many people will blame this on SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, alone. However, treating SIBO means balancing the bacteria again, AND treating the underlying cause. This can be for a number of things, including intestinal damage from gluten, impacted gut motility, and dysregulation of hunger and fullness cues.
Many will suggest super strict diets the cut out all refined sugars, grains, etc. will fix these issues. However, I’ve found much more gentle approaches tend to have more sustainable impacts that also help maintain quality of life.
Many of these approaches, I share with you in my Celiac Nutrition Course! You can learn more about this dietitian-led course here.
Saying this with a lot of love here, you might be hungry all of the time because you’re undereating in the name of a diet.
Diet culture has demonized hunger, dubbing it as the reason for poor blood sugars, weight gain, etc. when in reality, hunger is your body’s way of protecting itself. Dieting and restriction is a sure-fire way to feel hungry all of the time.
The solution: stop dieting. Did that hurt when I said that? Holding space for the promises and comfort dieting gives you, and also there’s a lot of freedom from letting go of dieting.
Freedom and peace like: not being hungry ALL of the time.
Ultimately, constant hunger with celiac disease is a sign that something needs to be healed. Whether it be your relationship with food, fear of food, nutrient stores, your small intestine, etc. Always feeling hungry with celiac is often a sign that something is out of balance and it’s time to start addressing it.