Your body has several hormones that control your hunger. You can help your body properly regulate these hormones by strategically choosing your foods. Cravings, appetite, mood, sleep and MORE are impacted by these hormones. Below is a really quick overview of some of the major hunger hormones and how you can balance them through food choices.
INSULIN is the hormone released by your body when you eat carbohydrates or sugar. It serves as a taxi to transport sugar to your brain, muscles and liver. Once those drop offs are all full, any extra sugar is converted to fat. Any leftover insulin just hangs out in your blood waiting for more sugar. If it can't find any more sugar it triggers your brain to want to eat more. In the meantime, while it hangs out in your blood it promotes insulin resistance and inhibits fat burning.
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 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.
How do you use this knowledge to your advantage? 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. When you eat fiber the release of carbohydrates is slowed which prevents the big spike in insulin release. Which prevents the leftover insulin in your blood and as a result doesn't make you crave more food. See how that works?!
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.
One of them is LEPTIN. It's the 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 (will be different for everyone), 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. As a result 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 carbohydrate heavy foods and promotes overeating. This hormone also increases when you fast.
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. If you feel like you're eating enough calories but always feel hungry you can decrease ghrelin 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 many 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.
Hunger hormones and their function in our body aren't all completely understood. What we do know is that your body does a much better job regulating itself when you're feeding it whole foods and avoiding too much sugar.
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.