Here's what to do about hunger gone haywire.

By Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa
Updated September 28, 2016
Credit: Aad Goudappel

There are both physical and psychological reasons your appetite could change even when it seems your eating and exercise routine have not. First, check the calendar: Hunger can come and go with your menstrual cycle. The week before your period, your levels of progesterone peak, and along with that often comes a tendency to overeat; your metabolism speeds up a bit around this time, too.

If your recent appetite surge doesn’t seem to track with your time of the month, it might be due to ongoing stress or anxiety. While feeling overwhelmed does tend to dampen appetite in the short term for many people, the opposite can happen over time. The constant grind of stress may trigger a rise in the hormone cortisol, which, in turn, helps make insulin levels go up and blood sugar drop (enter the out-of-control junk food cravings).

Are you taking any new medications? Certain prescription drugs can amp up appetite. Your hunger could also be a side effect of a medical condition, such as a thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, or depression. If you’re concerned about your heightened hunger and it’s been going on for weeks, it’s worth discussing it with your doctor, especially if you don’t think stress is at play. In the small chance that a health issue is actually behind the appetite change, it’s (of course) important to get it diagnosed as early as you can.

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.