Ever wonder why you feel hungry in the middle of the day without warning? Or perhaps you arrive at lunchtime with absolutely no desire to eat. This is because there are substances in your body that control your urges to eat. They’re called hunger hormones and they’re largely responsible for what we call our ‘appetites’. As you may have figured out, they can be our worst enemies when it comes to weight loss and fitness. Fortunately, there are ways to control their effect.
The Hunger Hormones
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach when it is empty. This signals the brain and ultimately we receive this message as hunger. Most often, ghrelin is at its peak levels just before a meal. After a meal, ghrelin levels remain low for about 3 hours.1 People who undereat, show higher levels of ghrelin while people who overeat show relatively higher levels of ghrelin in their systems.2
Leptin does the opposite function. Leptin is the appetite suppressor.3 It’s also responsible for alerting the brain when enough fat has been stored in the body. Studies show that we may be prone to developing a resistance to leptin. In fact, obese people show higher levels of leptin but don’t seem to respond to its signals.
How We Can Control Them
Researchers have noticed that this system that should work seamlessly, doesn’t work quite as well on a high-fat diet. A diet high in complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) or protein is better at lowering levels of ghrelin, thereby helping you feel less hungry. If you’re trying to lose weight, try replacing high-fat foods with whole grain products or lean protein.
Factors That Affect Hunger Hormone Levels
1. Simple Carbs And Sugar
Eating too many simple carbs and sugars like fructose can be harmful. This is because it raises levels of insulin in the body and can even lead to insulin resistance. Studies also show that eating fructose can raise levels of ghrelin which increases hunger.4
It’s important to be well-rested. Sleep deprivation is seen to reduce levels of leptin and increase ghrelin levels. This leads you to be hungrier throughout the day.5 Try to get enough sleep so that your body can rest up properly.
It’s important to get your body moving. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you’re likely to experience less sensitivity to leptin as well as insulin.6
4. Meal Size
Try to eat smaller meals more frequently. Ghrelin normally rises on a four-hour schedule. Try to eat smaller meals with snacks in between to keep your ghrelin levels stable throughout the day. You’re less likely to binge eat at meal times.
Stress can increase your levels of ghrelin. This explains why most of us tend to stress-eat so often.7 This causes you to gain more weight, only adding to your stress if you’re looking to lose weight. Use meditation, yoga, or aromatherapy as methods to cope with stress rather than turning to food.
They may seem like our enemies when it comes to weight loss, but hunger hormones can actually work to our advantage when we understand how they work.
|↑1, ↑3||Klok, M. D., S. Jakobsdottir, and M. L. Drent. “The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review.” Obesity reviews 8, no. 1 (2007): 21-34.|
|↑2||Tolle, Virginie, Myriam Kadem, Marie-Therese Bluet-Pajot, Delphine Frere, Christine Foulon, Cecile Bossu, Roland Dardennes et al. “Balance in ghrelin and leptin plasma levels in anorexia nervosa patients and constitutionally thin women.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 88, no. 1 (2003): 109-116.|
|↑4||Page, Kathleen A., Owen Chan, Jagriti Arora, Renata Belfort-DeAguiar, James Dzuira, Brian Roehmholdt, Gary W. Cline et al. “Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways.” Jama 309, no. 1 (2013): 63-70.|
|↑5||Stanford study links obesity to hormonal changes from lack of sleep. Stanford Medicine.|
|↑6||Iikuni, Noriko, Kwan Lam, L. Queenie, Liwei Lu, Giuseppe Matarese, and Antonio La Cava. “Leptin and inflammation.” Current immunology reviews 4, no. 2 (2008): 70-79.|
|↑7||Hunger hormone increases during stress, may have antidepressant effect, researchers report. UT Southwestern Medical Center.|