Ravenous hunger

Ravenous hunger describes the sudden, irrepressible urge to eat large amounts of food quickly. This craving can be indiscriminate, but in many cases it is directed towards the consumption of sweet, salty or fatty foods. Ravenous appetite can be due to a lack of nutrients, but it can also be a sign of physical or mental illness or be caused by hormonal changes.


It is important to draw a line between normal hunger and ravenous hunger attacks in order to distinguish healthy from abnormal hunger. The metabolism is influenced by physique and individual disposition, but personal nutrition and eating habits, as well as the current mood and stress also play a role. Therefore it does not always work in the same way and differs from person to person.

This also has an effect on feelings of hunger or ravenous appetite. Ravenous appetite is a sudden, strong feeling of hunger, which can only be satisfied by a fast following food intake. Most of the time, the craving is for certain, in most cases sweet, salty or fatty food.

The ravenous hunger attacks often occur outside of normal eating hours and are characterized by a general loss of control over the attack itself, over the choice of food and the amount of food eaten in an attack. In most cases, a change in diet to fresh, unprocessed food is beneficial. Wholemeal products and oatmeal in particular keep you full longer, so that ravenous attacks seldom occur.

Causes of ravenous appetite

Cravings can have various causes, but they all have in common the need to quickly supply the body with energy to compensate for the lack of energy in the body. If the body lacks important nutritional components, for example if you have not eaten any food for a long time or not enough food, or if you have been very active mentally or physically, an undersupply can occur. In order to avoid a dangerous lack of energy, the body tries to supply itself with energy at short notice and above all quickly by means of sudden attacks of gluttony.

If the ravenous hunger attacks occur only rarely, a normal physical signal can be assumed. Last but not least, the body needs more energy than average in certain life situations, such as during pregnancy or lactation or in growth phases, and tries to cover this additional demand with ravenous hunger attacks. However, habituation and psychological factors should also be taken into account when suffering from ravenous appetite.

If you often treat yourself to a piece of chocolate as a reward, the brain and body combine this process with pleasant feelings, as it addresses reward systems in the brain that release messenger substances known as happiness hormones (dopamine), as well as supplying energy. In the following, the body demands a repetition, as it combines this stimulus (eating chocolate) with the good feeling of being rewarded (by the messenger substances released by the brain). If this does not happen because, for example, there is no chocolate in stock that can be eaten, the body responds to the renunciation with an attack of ravenous hunger for sweets.

A lack of a certain food component can also cause ravenous appetite. For example, a lack of magnesium can lead to a ravenous appetite for chocolate, as the cocoa contained in it is an excellent source of magnesium. Apart from these natural processes for energy conservation, cravings can also be a sign of physical or mental illness.

If attacks of ravenous appetite occur with increasing regularity, diseases such as diabtes mellitus (diabetes) or hyperthyroidism (since appetite is increased by thyroid hormones, which can lead to an attack of ravenous appetite), liver diseases or metabolic diseases, which are accompanied by a disturbance of the messenger substances responsible for satiety, can be the cause. But ravenous appetite attacks can also occur in the course of a mental illness. The focus is usually on the satisfaction or expression of emotional needs through overeating attacks.

In stressful situations, severe boredom or during a highly emotional event (such as the termination of a relationship), everyone has probably taken food at some point in order to feel better or distract themselves at least briefly. This is also completely normal, but can nevertheless lead to ravenous appetite attacks.Only when these comfort mechanisms are used to an excessive degree should one seek professional advice, as a mental illness can be the cause. In the case of bulimia nervosa (bulimia nervosa or bulimia), regular binge eating attacks occur at least once a week in connection with vomiting and other measures that are intended to lead to weight loss (such as the use of palpation aids).

In binge-eating disorder, overeating attacks occur at least weekly, but alone, without additional weight loss measures. Other less serious causes of binge-eating may include migraines, lack of sleep, improper eating habits and diets, premenstrual syndrome, worm infections, cannabis use, alcohol addiction and certain medications (for example, those used for mental illness such as depression). A permanent increase in food intake, such as that associated with obesity, can also be associated with overeating attacks.

In order to correctly understand the difference between healthy and sick, it is therefore important to understand the difference between hunger and ravenous appetite. Hunger is a deeply important signal for survival. It indicates an imbalance between energy intake and consumption in the body and attempts to balance it.

Feelings of hunger can become very unpleasant if they are ignored for a longer period of time and no food is supplied to the body. Feelings of hunger are caused by the complicated interaction of different messenger substances, receptors and information of the body. The vegetative nervous system, various hormones and the activities of the liver and digestive system are particularly involved in this process.

Hormones that are responsible for mood, emotional states or stress, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine or cortisone, play an influential role. The reward center in the brain is also switched on. It is therefore no wonder that physical and mental sensations overlap when it comes to hunger and appetite.

This has been shown especially in contexts where food intake alone is no longer sufficient to ensure survival. Learned behavior and sensory perceptions also influence appetite. For example, it is much easier to endure hunger if you do not have your favorite dish on a plate in front of you, which is a visual stimulus that should not be underestimated.

In the brain, the information converges in the hypothalamus and in the brain stem. The brain regulates the balance between energy consumption and food intake and tells us whether we are full or hungry. Disturbances of these regulatory mechanisms can result in diseases such as those mentioned above.

An important source of energy is carbohydrate-rich food. These are broken down in the body into glucose (or dextrose), the most important energy supplier and regulating factor for feelings of hunger. Glucose is detectable in the blood and can lead to cell and organ damage if its concentration is increased.

Carbohydrates are available in a form that is easily degradable and difficult to digest. Especially the former can only silence the feeling of hunger for a short time, as they are quickly broken down and consumed. In cases of ravenous hunger, the desire for these fast energy suppliers is particularly great.

A longer lasting feeling of satiety is achieved by eating more difficult to digest forms of carbohydrates, such as potatoes, brown rice and wholemeal products, as they are broken down over a longer period of time and are therefore only consumed bit by bit. Hunger is slowed down by feelings of satiety, which occur 10-15 minutes after eating. A full stomach and messenger substances released during digestion signal to the body that the need is covered and that one is full.

In case of ravenous hunger attacks, one eats a lot of food in a short time. The body cannot react so fast with the stop by a feeling of satiety, so that one takes in disproportionately much food by such an attack. This is also noticeable by the feeling of fullness that often follows, which can even lead to nausea.