Hunger Games, Part II: How Hormones Affect Appetite
Is hunger a bad thing? To answer this question it’s important first to recognize that under normal circumstances the leptin-ghrelin (outlined in Part I of this post) interaction and the hunger it produces is inherently natural and necessary for human survival. We need to eat to take in basic calories and nutrients, and if we never got hungry, we wouldn’t eat.
But if you have ample energy stores from food or fat stores and you’re still constantly hungry, then there’s probably something wrong. Here’s what I’d recommend.
1) Re-sensitize yourself to leptin.Try four to eight weeks of completely changing your lifestyle and eating patterns that may be contributing to leptin resistance. Here are some top ways to do it:
- Avoid fructose sugars—they tend to be a real trigger for leptin resistance.
- Exercise in moderation (no stressful marathon workouts) – try this workout instead.
- Control stress and cortisol—I recommend a mix of Chinese adaptogenic herbs and a stress-relieving activity like regular nature walks or Yoga.
- Try cold exposure - check out this podcast episode to learn more about how cold exposure may help with leptin sensitivity, and read some practical cold exposure tips here.
2) Avoid Hunger Triggers. Certain eating patterns and foods are correlated with higher amounts of hunger. Here are some tips for controlling those triggers.
- Keep sweets and snacks out of the house or hidden in opaque containers.
- When you’re eating, keep any extra food on the countertop, or put it away (i.e. into the fridge) before you begin your meal.
- Avoid higher carbohydrate or fast sugar release foods that spike the blood sugar and cause a hunger response very soon after a meal.
- Limit your options by having small amounts of simple, real, raw foods around the house (read: layoff jumbo variety snack packs from Costco!)
3) Know What You Ate. Food memory and knowledge of calories consumed is enormously helpful in controlling hunger. Here are some ways to keep track of your daily diet.
- Keep a food log. I personally log all my food for my clients by keeping a free, private blog on Posterous.com. I simply send a daily e-mail with what I ate, and it auto-posts to that blog.
- Use photos. If writing isn’t your thing, DietSnaps is a great app for taking food photos and recording what you ate.
- Don’t snack too frequently. It’s almost impossible to keep track of food and calories if you’re snacking 5-10 times a day (as many nutritionists sadly suggest). Instead, just eat two to three square meals, and then, if you work out, only eat either before or after—not both.
- Make your own food. The less you eat out at restaurants, or out of packages and containers, the easier it will be to keep track of and know exactly what you ate.
The Bottom Line: Being hungry is not a bad thing if it is because you have a biological need for more calories or nutrients. But hunger outside of pure biological need might indicate a hormonal imbalance or psychological trigger that may need to be addressed.