Hormones and Appetite. Let me just start with… It’s Complicated! Kind of like a bad dating relationship. And sometimes a good one. 😉
In all seriousness, the human body is quite amazing. We have lots of messages going all around the body to communicate what we need. Hormones are the messengers! When it comes to appetite, there are a few different hormones that regulate when we’re hungry and when we’re full.
- Leptin: A satiety hormone. Leptin is produced by fat cells to suppress the appetite and regulate energy metabolism. People can become leptin resistant, resulting in inflammation. Eating omega-3 fats and anti-inflammatory antioxidants can improve leptin resistance and allow the body the ability to respond to the leptin.
- Ghrelin: The hunger hormone. Ghrelin is released from the stomach to tell your brain it’s time to eat. It generally rises every 4 hours to tell you to eat and then drops after meals. If you do not respond to your cues for hunger then your stomach will continue releasing Ghrelin. Keep ghrelin levels in normal range by eating when your body tells you it’s hungry, even if it’s just a small amount to get you to your next meal. Ignoring your hunger cues is not a good idea.
- Dopamine: The reward hormone. Dopamine levels rise with sugar and high fat foods. Chronic exposure to highly palatable foods can slow the dopamine pathway. Thus, chronic exposure can contribute to increased reward-seeking behavior, including overeating. Prevent this by having a solid breakfast with 20-30g of protein for improved satiety and reduced appetite.
- Insulin: The sugar hormone. Insulin helps to lower blood glucose. It stimulates the formation of glycogen (energy stores in your muscles and liver) and stimulates fat storage. This is our bodies way of saving energy for later. Insulin resistance can result in inflammation and elevated blood sugar. Combat insulin resistance by getting exercise, avoiding large meals and sweetened beverages, and consuming plenty of fiber rich meals.
All of these hormones are working together in a very complex system in your body. You can’t just focus on one part without seeing the whole picture.
Appetite and Weight Management
The basic truth is that maintaining a weight comes down to balance. Energy in vs. Energy out. HOWEVER, both parts of the equation are very complex!! There are a lot of factors when it comes down to it, some that you can control and some that you can’t.
What goes in (i.e. the food we choose and how much of it we eat) is influenced by a lot of things including our mood, our hormones and food availability. How much energy goes out is more than just the time you spend exercising. It is influenced by your body composition, your metabolism and your activities of daily living.
Why Do We Eat?
Our hunger cues, regulated by hormones, are not the only reason that we eat. We’re all familiar with any of the following reasons that we might eat:
- it’s that time
- I’m bored
- I’m lonely
- I’m at a party
- to hang out with friends
- someone offered it to me
- it was sitting there
- and sometimes… we eat because we’re hungry!
I would challenge you to keep a journal. No, not to write down what you eat, but to simply keep track of why you eat. This helps to determine if you are eating as a result of appetite, or from emotional cues, or other reasons.
What Do We Eat?
What we choose to eat also plays a role in how satiated (full) we will feel and how long that meal will keep us feeling satiated. Highly palatable foods that are full of simple sugars, high in salt and high in saturated fat tend to promote inflammation and affect our appetite hormones.
Restaurant prepared foods and pre-packaged foods tend to be high sodium, high calorie, high fat and low nutrient. This can result in an overly full feeling, causing us to wait too long to eat our next meal, which leaves us starving.
This constant swing up and down of our appetite and hunger leaves our body stressed and it’s not the best way to optimize your nutrition!
Instead, by choosing foods that leave you satiated, but not stuffed, is the best. It’s yet another reason that health professionals are always recommending fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high quality meat and low fat dairy!
In my next post, we will cover the importance of mindful eating for managing appetite hormones and 10 practical tips to prevent overeating and manage cravings! [Check out Part 2 here: 10 Tips for Appetite & Cravings]
Today’s Dietitian had a great article this month that gave me a lot of information for this post. If you want to read more, check it out here.