Hunger hormones: eating for satisfaction

Hunger hormones: eating for satisfaction

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There are two hormones that control our feelings of hunger: ghrelin and leptin. A variety of factors can affect how much of each one is produced in the body, especially when you’re changing up your diet. Feeling a bit munchy at the beginning of a weight loss journey is part of the process, but there are a few methods you can try to keep the cravings at bay. Slimming down doesn’t have to mean starving for months on end. A little research will show you that food is never your enemy.

Ghrelin is the hormone that revs up hunger signals in the brain and tells you when it’s time to eat. It’s produced in the stomach and fluctuates depending on your meal routine during the day, according to Healthline. Ghrelin increases right before a meal and decreases afterwards, leaving you feeling full and satisfied. It also is rapidly released during stressful situations, which explains a lot of people’s emotional eating habits.

Leptin on the other hand, is the appetite suppressant. It’s actually how your body tells your brain how much fat it has stored. Overweight individuals have a high level of leptin, limiting hunger and telling their body to burn off the extra energy. But there are studies to show that these individuals can develop a leptin resistance that overrides those feelings of being full and causing them to overeat. The opposite is also true, if you’ve ever heard the term “starvation mode”, that has a lot to do with leptin levels. When you’re not eating and your fat stores are dangerously low, your leptin level plummets. This allows hunger signals to flood the brain, forcing you to eat out of sheer survival.

Both ghrelin and leptin work hand in hand to regulate your energy and weight. You can manage these eating urges with a few different dieting methods. There’s plenty of debate in the health and fitness community about the ideal amount of meals we should be eating in a day, and when we should be eating them.

There’s valid arguments for both sides of the spectrum: more meals-small portions or less meals-big portions. After a meal, ghrelin levels drop for about 2 to 3 hours. So it would hormonally make sense to eat a small meal or snack every couple of hours to keep up with hunger signals. But research with the Institute for Dietary Management also shows that ghrelin doesn’t continually increase for hours on end. It will spike at the 2 to 3 hour mark and then recede again, even if you don’t eat. This ceiling explains why ghrelin levels are the absolute lowest when you first wake up in the morning. Even though you’ve gone an extended period of time without eating while you sleep, your body doesn’t immediately feel hungry.

It’s also worth pointing out that ghrelin levels not only spike with actual meals, but with the anticipation of meals. If you’re body is used to eating 6 small meals a day every 2 to 3 hours, you’re stomach will automatically secrete ghrelin around those times. If you stick to 3 big meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ghrelin levels will correlate with that. This goes to show that routine is not only helpful mentally, but digestively as well.

According to Vivo Pathophysiology, it takes your digestive system about 4 to 5 hours to completely empty your stomach. That’s why there’s nothing wrong with having bigger, less frequent meals throughout the day. Higher calorie consumption all at once will keep you full longer, especially if the meal is packed with protein. Protein takes longer to digest and satiates hunger longer than any other macronutrient.

Studies show that there isn’t an advantage to either meal plan. There’s no significant variation in calories burned or fat lost. Unless you’re metabolism has taken a hit from a long period of crash dieting. Your metabolism naturally slows down when calories are limited, so if you start a routine of eating multiple small meals a day, it can get your metabolism back up to a healthy speed. Otherwise, both frequent-small meals and less-frequent big meals can support a healthy lifestyle, and balanced nutrition.

You can do hours and hours of research about the perfect meal plan, but in the end, there’s no right answer. It all comes down to your personal experience and what works with your routine. Try small meals and big meals, be aware of your hunger fluctuations, and figure out what makes your body happy. Losing weight or toning up doesn’t mean you have to go hungry. As long as you fill up with the right fuel without overindulging, you’ll make progress. When your body shows your hard work and you get through your day with plenty of energy, you know you’re on the right track.


Take it from me

I personally like eating 6 small meals a day. This works for me because of my daily schedule and the windows I have to eat. I eat when I wake up, twice during my 9 hour work shift, when I get home from work, after the gym, and before bed.

Not only does this fit with my routine, but it mentally works best for me. I’ve learned that I enjoy the activity of eating as much as the actual nutrition, so I prefer as many meals as I can have. It also keeps my energy up all through a busy day.

I found that big meals separated by hours and hours make me feel lethargic, and somewhat deprived. I think of my stomach like a furnace I’m constantly feeding. I give it just enough to keep the fire going but not enough to overdo it.

I wouldn’t have learned any of this without a little experimentation. I built meal plans and remembered how they made me feel. Then I adjusted things to my liking. It takes time, but ultimately this kind of trial and error helps you really tune into your body.

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