Your body has several hormones that control your hunger. Some may argue they control your appetite or what you want to eat too. If you can learn to control these hormones, you'll have a lot less difficulty with your weight loss and healthy eating efforts so let me just review the basics for you.
INSULIN- the hormone responsible for transporting the sugar you eat. It takes sugar to your brain, muscles and liver. Once those storage spots are all full it allows any extra sugar to be converted to fat. Any leftover insulin just hangs out in your blood waiting for more sugar. When your insulin no longer has any sugar to transport it triggers your brain to want to eat more carbohydrates. In the meantime, while it hangs out in your blood it promotes insulin resistance, inhibits fat burning and can cause insulin resistance. Having too much insulin in your blood is like having your headphones turned up too loud. Eventually you'd get hearing loss and have to turn them up even higher. Your body does the same thing with too much insulin- it loses its sensitivity to having a lot of insulin in the blood so your body has to secrete even more insulin (if it can) to control your blood sugar. You become diabetic when either your tissue stops responding to insulin and/or your body stops secreting enough insulin to keep up with the demand.
So why do you care? If you can eat foods that don't cause large spikes and dips in your blood sugar, you'll be able to more easily control cravings and decrease your unhealthy eating choices. I'm not saying carbohydrates are your enemy. I am saying you need to eat mostly complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates with fiber. (Think fibrous vegetables.)
There are a couple hormones in your body that promote hunger and weight gain. Their levels are altered when your body is in a state of inflammation.
LEPTIN is a hormone that is responsible for making you feel satisfied. This hormone decreases when you're sleep deprived or have an inflammatory process/disease that is active. To increase your leptin levels you should avoid inflammatory foods, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
GLUCAGON-LIKE-PEPTIDE-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone that is released when food reaches your intestines to tell your brain that it doesn't need any more food. When you have chronic inflammation this hormone is decreased which promotes over eating and weight gain. Again, make sure you're avoiding inflammatory foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly to avoid alterations in GLP-1.
Stress sometimes goes hand-in-hand with inflammation. Certainly chronic stress is responsible for some inflammation but if you can learn to manage your stress, you can help mitigate your inflammatory response that occurs because of it. A couple of your hunger hormones are directly impacted by stress.
NEUROPEPTIDE Y (NPY) is a hormone that increases your appetite for carbohydrates. Stress causes your body to release NPY which causes you to eat carohydrate heavy foods and promotes overeating. This hormone also increases when you fast. So all of you practicing your intermittent fasting- fast with caution.
CORTISOL is a hormone you've probably all heard of. Elevated cortisol can lead to overeating and storage of abdominal fat. If this hormone is elevated, you'll have a really hard time losing weight. Stress reduction is so important!!
Lastly, your hunger hormones are also impacted by what you eat.
GHRELIN is a hormone that tells your body that you need food. Studies have shown that Ghrelin doesn't decrease appropriately in obese people. You can decrease it by making sure your food includes protein and fiber.
CHOLECYSTOKININ (CCK) is released when food enters the GI tract and causes the gall bladder to contract, release bile and help you digest your food. It also slows the food moving out of your stomach. You can increase CCK by eating leafy greens, protein, fat and fiber.
I can't end this blog post without mentioning the notorious hormone, DOPAMINE. It's the hormone responsible for the feeling of pleasure you get when you eat. If you're eating processed foods your body gets a huge dose of dopamine. If you're frequently getting this high doses of dopamine, you need MORE dopamine to feel the same amount of satisfaction. Talk to any addict- heroin, nicotine, alcohol, shopping, etc. Addiction is never satisfied with the same "dose." Use too much heroin and you stop breathing. Use too much alcohol and you end up drunk, with liver disease. Shop too much and end up in credit card debt.
Too much processed foods will promote dysregulation of dopamine as well as your other hormones and cause obesity along with all of the chronic health problems that come with that obesity. Food is addicting. Don't feed that addiction. Dopamine is released in a balanced quantity when you have a meal that is rich in protein. Instead of starting your day with a big bowl of cereal, a couple pieces of toast, sugary coffee or a stack of pancakes; pick something high in protein. You'll have a much easier time throughout your day controlling your cravings.
Okay, that was a lot of information. But really all of that was only scratching the surface of how to "hack" your hormones to make them work with you instead of against you in your quest for health. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want to hire a health coach to work with you to regulate your hunger hormones.
If you want to read more about how to control your hunger hormones you should read Kelly LeVeque's book, Body Love. She provides such easy to understand explanations of what goes on in your body when you eat and provides simple solutions to appetite control. It's one of my FAVORITE books.
Intermittent fasting is one of the latest trends in dieting. It involves several options of fasting that can extremely calorie restrict certain days of the week or restrict you from eating for certain hours out of the day.
People will rave about how effective it is for weight loss and their "numbers" at the doctor. However when intermittent fasting has been studied, its results are similar to that of just old-fashioned calorie restriction. People don't adhere to the diet any better and long-term adherence to the diet is comparable.
But, let me disclose my opinion about both intermittent fasting and extreme calorie restriction. Both methods (intermittent fasting and extreme calorie restriction) will greatly alter your hormones that regulate your hunger. Both will cause metabolic damage which will leave a person who has done either of these methods of dieting with a slower metabolism. This means it's much easier to regain the weight whenever the diet is not maintained.
While your metabolism may be slowed by fasting, there are also several benefits to intermittent fasting. First, your body cleans house and gets rid of any waste during a fast because it's trying to become as efficient as possible. It doesn't have any energy to maintain old cells so out they go. It's a great way to detoxify your body.
Now, while IF and calorie restriction have similar results and similar adherence rates you need to be cautious about this approach if you have a history of body dysmorphia or eating disorders. The practice of extreme calorie restriction followed by time period of re-feeding can promote some eating disorders so if you've got a history of an eating disorder make sure you're doing IF with someone watching you closely with the agreement that you will STOP IF when that person feels it's becoming unhealthy. Better yet, only do IF in collaboration with your physician or mental health team.
My biggest problem with any fad diet- sustainability. If someone cannot maintain diet habits that are made in order to lose weight then weight loss (and all the improved numbers) will only last as long as the diet. IF may be for you if it fits into your lifestyle and you can maintain it. It may not be for you if you find it hard to implement and maintain or you have history of eating disorder.
Any diet changes that are made should be long-term changes. Making gradual changes that you'll stick with is much better for your health than undertaking another fad diet that will leave you with yo-yo weight loss and a damaged metabolism.