3 Ways to Outsmart Hunger Hormones
While much has been learned about appetite regulation over the years, it’s still not completely understood. Even without all the pieces of the puzzle complete, there are ways to prevent hunger in the first place.
Hunger hormones are a part of everyday life. Dealing with their effects, however, can be challenging - especially when weight loss or maintenance is the goal. Appetite regulation is complex, and for good reason: human survival depends on eating. It's not simply mind over matter when it comes to eating.
Because eating is necessary, there are lots of "back-up" systems in place. Over 30 hormones made in the gastrointestinal tract (gut) alone are involved. The major gut hormone that stimulates appetite is ghrelin. But that's not the whole story: the brain also produces hormones and other chemical messengers that act as hunger signals. Interaction between these signals leads to the feeling of hunger, or fullness (satiety). While much has been learned about appetite regulation over the years, it's still not completely understood. Even without all the pieces of the puzzle complete, there are ways to prevent hunger in the first place.
Avoid blood sugar spikes.
When blood sugar rises, it causes the hormone insulin to be released. The higher the blood glucose, the more insulin is released. One of the actions of insulin is to decrease blood glucose by promoting it's uptake into cells. Low blood glucose signals the body to replenish. Appetite is stimulated and felt as hunger pangs.
Eating lots of sweets and sugary foods may leave a person feeling always hungry. These simple carbohydrates are absorbed more quickly than complex and enter the blood rapidly. This can result in a blood sugar "spike", and subsequent drop when high amounts of insulin follow. Complex carbohydrates – found in whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas – take longer to digest and get into the bloodstream and the fiber will provide longer satiety. Physical activity also stimulates glucose uptake.
What to do:
● Choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones, and not too many!
● Go for a walk, or do some form of low-intensity exercise, after a meal or snack.
It sounds simple, but a recent look at many studies suggests that the act of chewing has important effects on appetite and hunger, and may even impact gut hormone release. Today's busy lifestyles promote many convenient, easy-to-eat foods that don't require a lot of chewing. Including food that by its very nature requires some real chewing effort, may be a way to outsmart hunger hormones. Some ideas to try:
● Replace applesauce with an apple
● Instead of a smoothie, try a tossed salad or raw veggies
● Munch on whole nuts as an alternative to peanut butter
● Substitute a whole grain bagel for regular bread on a sandwich
● Even chewing gum may help
Get some shut-eye.
Seriously, sleep is important to appetite regulation. Studies show disruption in sleep is a factor in obesity, and has a direct effect on hormones involved in appetite regulation, including an increase in ghrelin. The latest recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation are:
● Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
● Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
● Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
Among some of the tips they suggest to improve sleep quantity and quality is to establish a sleep schedule and keep to it, even on weekends; get daily exercise; remove all electronics from the room; and to create a quiet, dark, relaxing and comfortable environment. For more suggestions, or other age ranges, the summary can be viewed here.
Power internal mechanisms exist to ensure humans eat. Incorporating the steps shown here may help make winning at the hunger games a little bit easier.
Authored by: Karen Lindell, MS, RDN
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