Hunger Hormones: Knowing when to eat and when to stop

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Having a heathy appetite, one that says “I’m hungry”, then “I’m full”, is part of a cat and mouse game we play daily. The majority of us have no problem wanting to eat, but stopping is whole other event. The hunger hormones in the body are called leptin and ghrelin. Both play a role in body weight. Leptin is in charge of decreasing one’s appetite while ghrelin increases appetite. They have a tug of war relationship; one that we fully sense and feel.

Leptin is made by our fat cells. It is the all-ruling appetite suppressor. Leptin levels are lower in persons who are thin and are higher in overweight people. Leptin communicates with the brain that the body has enough energy (body fat) and doesn’t need more fuel. Obese people have hire levels of leptin, but the body seems to miscommunicate and misinterpret these hunger signals. The more fat in the body, the more leptin in the blood. For overweight people the body appears to be resistant to leptin.

Ghrelin is the hormone that increases appetite. Its action involves releasing signals in the stomach to the brain that cue hunger. This hormone is produced in the gut and travels through the blood stream to the brain to tell the body to get food quickly. The body is smart because research has shown that in people who have eating disorders or who under-eat, ghrelin levels increase. In people who are obese, this hormone reduces. Ghrelin levels naturally rise when the stomach is empty because you are actually hungry. The body is trying to protect itself from starvation. Dieting causes ghrelin levels to increase. That is part of the fight when trying to lose weight.

The mind and body and do have an interesting relationship, one that we would love to have better control of. Foods that are especially high in fat cause major disruption to this communicating relationship between the body and the hunger hormones. There are some self-care tips to balance these hormones. A diet full of healthy carbohydrates and lean protein suppresses ghrelin versus a high fat diet. Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher levels of ghrelin too. Dieting is hard when ghrelin tries to use its power. Having more muscle mass is associated with lower levels of ghrelin, so start lifting those weights. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding extremes will help keep these hormones in check. Hormones are a tricky situation for us all. Poor choices to our eating will eventually catch up, and the hormones like to take advantage of this. Eating poorly only makes you want to eat more. Food is a drug, but be sure not to self-inflict more damage by making impulsive eating decisions. Your body will love you back when you love it.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424452/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17212793

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430504/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12079865

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Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has an M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, is a current candidate for her Doctorate in Health & Human Performance, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.