It is every parent’s dream to have children who eat food without much of a fuss. You want them to eat just enough to stay healthy, and grow healthy, and to stay clear of eating disorders such as binge eating and picky eating.
If your child is always hungry on the dinner table or is eating too little, then probably something is the matter, and you may want to get it sorted out immediately.
Binge eating disorder can lead to obesity, heart complications, high cholesterol, arthritis, and low self-esteem.
On the other hand, an extended picky eating disorder can lead to nutritional deficits, stunted growth, and a host of other health complications.
Children need to be fed nutritious meals to enable them to achieve the required development milestones and stay healthy. A child who eats insufficient, unplanned and wrong food will experience repeated hunger spells during the day and will need frequent ‘treats’ to fill up the empty tummy.
The Importance of Insulin, Leptin, and Ghrelin in Hunger Management.
Interestingly, the solution to hunger problems is always around the corner. In order to make it easy to comprehend, we probably need to first understand the three hormones surrounding its functionality.
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 normal circumstances, glucose in the body should not be high or low. If insulin is not released into the bloodstream or has malfunctioned, the body will be left with either high or low sugar levels. Depending on the food types being consumed this will lead to health complications such as diabetes. Glucose is derived from a diet of carbohydrates and sugars and is important for providing energy for the body to remain physically active. 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 get triggered when the fat levels go too low. It is important to note 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 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.
Why Your Child is Always Hungry
Your child is always hungry probably because of the healthy growth spurts taking place, or as a result of medically related complications. It could also happen due to lack of insight on your part to make diet and meal-times a healthy experience at home.
Below are hunger inducing agents in your child that need watching closely:
- Junk diet
- Growth spurts
- Poor eating habits
- Other medical conditions
1. Junk Diet
SNACKING junk is what kids usually crave and surprisingly what majority of parents condone for convenience. Kids will be kids and will demand to be served TASTY yet junk food full of simple sugars and carbs.
Also called lazy food, junk food come in many forms:
crackers, chocolates, cakes, biscuit, crunchies, bread, fries, ice-cream, sweetened drinks –
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. Unfortunately, uncontrolled intake of junk exposes the body to a host of negative health conditions.
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. This is converted into short-lasting energy for use by the body.
Depletion of these simple sugar levels will leave the body 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 to chew the food fast which also leads to weight gain.
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.
Make a point to serve the highlighted healthy meals for breakfast, instead of the typical white bread served in many homes. These will keep the tummy full for extended hours, and because they contain minimal sugar content, will not trigger high sugar-level alerts.
Control computer use by children to minimize snacking, junk food craving, and fast chewing.
2. A Child is Always Hungry Due to Growth Spurts
If your child is doing everything right – sleeps well, is physically active and eats well, chances are, he or she will achieve timely development milestones and this may show in many ways than one.
The most notable is the growth spurt which happens all through from the first month until 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 east well 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
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. Improper Eating Habits
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 outlining 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 readily defer responsibility and are unwilling to take stock of their eating habits. On their own, even in the hands of third-party nannies and close relations, children will gain the upper-hand by choosing what to and not to eat.
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
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.
If unchecked, obesity can lead to diabetes, heart conditions and cancer, 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 is all about how the leptin hormone works in obese individuals. The hormone which is released by fat cells tells the brain why one needs to eat when the fat level goes down, and not to eat when the fat level is high.
While it is designed to signal hunger bells only when the fat levels are low in lean persons, it gets totally lost when assessing obese children.
In what is called leptin resistance, the hormone somehow fails to convince the brain to trigger the right signals. Instead of sending the signals to restrain appetite, it goes silent instead. This leaves the brain with no option but to induce appetite signals in obese individuals, making them to eat even more food.
What You Can Do
Work closely with the family doctor or a pediatrician to sort out this problem.
5. Extended Medical Conditions
Besides medical disorders associated with obesity; other medical conditions could be the reason your child is having repeated hunger spikes.
If your child is experiencing extreme hunger spells, he/she could be suffering from one of the following:
- Low blood sugar because of kidney disorder and hepatitis
- Over the counter prescriptions
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- A genetic condition
knownas Prader Willi syndrome
- Sensory processing disorder
What You Can Do
Work closely with the family doctor or a pediatrician to handle serious medical issues explained above. Never take serious medical decisions at home.