What Is Thirst Hunger, And How Can We Deal With It?

Thursday, February 24, 2022 - 11:38

We commonly associate hunger with needing food. However, there are times when a grumbling stomach isn’t a sign of needing food but water! In fact, approximately 1 in 4 people mistake thirst for hunger.1

How To Spot Thirst Signals

Firstly, it is essential to understand that thirst signals can be weak and hard to determine.1,2 Thirst signals are not the same as feeling thirsty – feeling parched is already a sign that we are dehydrated.2

So how can we differentiate between physical hunger and thirst hunger?

Hunger cues include the following,1

  • A feeling of emptiness in the stomach.
  • Gurgling or rumbling stomach.
  • Dizziness, faintness or light-headedness.
  • Feeling irritable.
  • Unable to concentrate.

Thirst, on the other hand, can be accompanied by,1,2

  • Feeling dryness in the mouth.
  • Headache and sometimes nausea.
  • Feeling sluggish.
  • Dark coloured urine.

Why Should Persons Living With Type 1 Diabetes Be Aware Of Thirst?

Managing blood glucose levels is crucial for a person living with type 1 diabetes. This includes incorporating nutritious and balanced meals, exercising, and managing body weight.

If you exercise and sweat a lot during your workouts, you may be at risk of developing some dehydration.2 This is especially true if you work out in hot and humid weather, participate in exercise trends such as hot yoga or use a sauna. Feeling hunger pangs after your workouts could mean that you lack fluids.

Polydipsia [increased thirst] is part of the triad in diabetes, along with polyphagia [excessive hunger] and polyuria [excessive and frequent urination].3 Increased thirst occurs because of the frequent urination experienced when blood glucose levels are high. Excessive hunger occurs because the blood glucose cannot enter the cells to be utilised. Being aware of these cues, especially increased thirst and hunger, can help alert you to test your blood glucose levels.

Above all else, being adequately hydrated supports your journey in maintaining a healthy weight, which plays a role in managing blood glucose levels. In fact, a study showed an inverse (opposite) effect between good water consumption and body weight, body fat mass, and waist circumference. Basically, the less water consumed the greater the impact on body composition.4

How Can You Make Sure You Are Hydrated Well?

Here are a few tips that can help you keep your thirst hunger in check.

  • Keep hydrated throughout the day – this helps curb cravings, helps with alertness, and, in addition, helps with your digestion.
  • Ensure you take adequate amounts of fluids – approximately 3 litres for adult men and 2.5 litres for adult women. Check with your diabetes healthcare team for what your daily water or fluid goal should be.
  • Learn to listen to your body – before reaching out for a snack at the first hunger pang, drink some water and then wait for about 15 minutes. If it really is hunger, you’ll continue to get hunger cues from your body.
  • Get yourself a reusable water bottle with measurement markings so that you can track the amount you consume daily.
  • Use technology – Set reminders on your phone to encourage you to drink more water because life does get busy and we can easily forget.
  • Make it a part of your daily routine – break your day up into four and ensure you drink at least 500mls of water in each section. However, reduce the amount of water just before bedtime as it may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night!
  • Always remember to hydrate when you are working out.

Final Thoughts

Generally, water is usually taken for granted. We know we need water to survive, but there are times when we completely forget to drink it during the day! So, make water your best friend and allow it to support your incredible efforts in managing your type 1 diabetes.


  1. Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation. Hunger vs. thirst: tips to tell the difference. https://pkdcure.org/blog/. 2018 Available at: https://pkdcure.org/hunger-vs-thirst/. [Accessed October 2021].
  2. Mayo Clinic. Dehydration. https://www.mayoclinic.org/. 2019. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086. [Accessed October 2021].
  3. Diabetes.co.uk. Polyphagia – increased appetite. https://www/diabetes.co.uk/. 2019 Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/symptoms/polyphagia.html. [Accessed October 2021].
  4. Lajaj AI, et al. Influence of water intake and balance on body composition in healthy young adults from Spain. Nutrients 2019; 11:1923.