Listening to Those Inner Voices: Hunger and Fullness Cues
Let’s go back in time for a moment. You’re at a birthday party and there are lots of people, loud music and a ton of food. You’re having a good time, eating yummy food and socializing. (Those were the good ole’ days, right?) There are many food options to choose from and you feel conflicted about what and how much to eat. You ask yourself questions like “Why do I continue to help myself to the potato salad even after I feel full?" “Why does my friend not go back for seconds like I do?” Continue reading to learn more about what causes you to have this inner conflict about hunger and fullness.
The body is amazing for many reasons and one such reason is its ability to regulate hunger and fullness cues (fullness is also known as satiety). There are many hormones produced by the body to regulate hunger and satiety, but we will only focus on leptin and ghrelin today. These two hormones are known as the hunger and satiety hormones.
This hormone is produced by the fat cells in the body and its main function is to turn off feelings of hunger. When most people think about fat, they think about it as a storage unit for excess carbohydrate and protein intake. While that is true, fat also acts as a gland that releases leptin to signal the brain to tell the body to stop eating. Fat is cooler than we thought, people! Did you know that the amount of fat circulating in and around a person’s body is directly proportional to the amount of leptin that they have? That may leave you wondering why people in larger bodies, who have more leptin, (which remember is the hormone that suppresses hunger) are not in a smaller body? While there are many different reasons, one main reason is because the body can actually become resistant to leptin so the brain isn't able to tell the body to stop eating as well as it should. Bodies that are resistant to leptin actually feel hunger longer than those who don't have that resistance.
If you have ever experienced feelings of irritability because you're hungry it is because of ghrelin. This is a hormone that sends signals to the brain to let the body know that it needs to be fed. This hormone is made in the stomach lining and is the most powerful hunger-stimulating hormone -- hence the “hangry” mood. So, does this mean that people in larger bodies have a higher amount of ghrelin? No. Research has found that they are more sensitive to its appetite-stimulating effects, but people in smaller bodies often have a higher amount. Interesting, isn’t it?
Now let’s discuss a few tips that you can try to help you stabilize these hormones:
Eat on a schedule - Ghrelin works in cycles, meaning that it increases right before a meal and decreases after a meal. Levels usually stays down for 3 to 4 hours after a meal. Research has suggested that eating 4 small meals a day is a great way to help regulate this hormone.
Sleep - Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increase in ghrelin (the appetite hormone), which can lead to overeating. Aim to get adequate sleep, or 7-8 hours of sleep regularly to help prevent this from happening.
Practice listening to your hunger and satiety cues - Eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are satisfied. Easier said than done, right? There are actually many other hormones, in addition leptin, that communicate with the brain when you are full. On top of that, there are hormones that help release feelings of pleasure after eating. This back-and-forth communication takes time to process, so give yourself about 20 minutes from the time you last ate to recognize if you are truly still hungry. It is also helpful to check in with yourself every now and then by asking yourself “am I still hungry or am I just mindlessly eating because I'm at a party?”
The body is designed to help us function and live happy, healthy lives. Sometimes, that involves learning to recognize how it speaks to us when it's hungry or full. It will take time to learn to recognize these cues, but it will help you resolve that inner eating conflict.
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Written by: Hilma Porter, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern