Gut Health, Health, Nutrition

Is It Okay To Be Hungry?

Writing this made me think about my pup, Jasper. It doesn’t matter how much I feed him as he always looks at me with his sad puppy eyes wanting more food. In the mornings I feed him his cup of food and then I go to get my workout in. By the time my workout is complete, my mom is awake and lets her dog, Smokey, out to the bathroom. As I make my after workout shake, my mom feeds Smokey. Every morning she asks me if I fed Jasper and every morning I look at Jasper telling him that he is a liar because he knows I just fed him not even an hour ago. After Smokey eats his food, Jasper proceeds to go over and lick his bowl clean in attempt to get every morsel of food left behind. You’d think we didn’t feed the dog. Oh, and did I mention, he’s the world’s cutest dog when he begs? He knows how to use his cuteness. Y’all dog owners know what I mean. That face. Jasper is on the right, Smokey on the left.

 

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This story leads me to these questions. Are you one of those people who are constantly hungry? Are you someone who finishes a meal and immediately starts thinking about your next one? Does being hungry all the time make you think something is wrong with you?

It’s important to understand why you get hungry in the first place. You have two specific appetite influencing hormones. Leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the satiety hormone and ghrelin is the hunger hormone. When you eat, your fat cells release leptin. Increased levels of leptin reduce your desire and motivation to continue to eat. Within a few hours of eating, leptin levels drop, and the drop in leptin causes a release of ghrelin (released by your stomach and pancreas).

One reason people have a hard time controlling their appetite or stopping after they’ve eaten enough is that they’re leptin resistant. This can be a vicious cycle because overeating over a long period of time causes chronic hyperleptinemia (high leptin levels) and then leptin eventually becomes less and less effective in controlling appetite. Think insulin resistance as it works in somewhat the same fashion. Another pathway of leptin resistance is habitually low-calorie intake. Other lifestyle choices that can cause a leptin-ghrelin imbalance include lack of sleep, too much stress, and hyper-palatable foods such as processed or packaged foods designed to be addictive. 

 

Other reasons you get hungry include: 

  1. Expecting to be hungry. A 1998 study titled “What Causes Humans to Begin and End a Meal” showed that the memory of what you’ve eaten accounts for a significant portion of your hunger. This may be why frequent snackers have a hard time switching to eating three times a day.
  2. Changing your weight significantly. There is something called the “set point theory” and it suggests that your body has a specific weight range in which it is comfortable, usually somewhere around 10 percent of your body weight. When you venture too far outside of your set point, your body begins to seek homeostasis and begins adjusting your metabolism to maintain weight. Part of this adjustment can include craving food.
  3. Burning lots of calories. Whether it’s because of a high metabolism or because of extremely high activity levels, your body needs more nutrients and more calories to keep from self-cannibalization.
  4. Having a dopamine or serotonin deficiency. Chronic use of antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in addition to a very low-fat diet, inadequate protein intake, or a high-stress lifestyle, call all cause disruptions in brain neurotransmitters that help control cravings or help you be more satisfied or happy with the foods you do eat.
  5. Gut issues. Parasites, yeast, fungus, and bacterial imbalances in your GI tract can trigger hunger and cravings.

 

One thing to note. There is no reason to fret about eating when you are hungry if you are active. Active people restricting energy and cutting calories actually make you fat. Chronic calorie reduction in active people and athletes like gymnasts and runners has proved to increase body fat percentage. The combination of exercise stress and calorie restriction puts the body into starvation mode, which makes it more necessary to store fat than to build or maintain muscle. “Energy deficits of as little as 300 calories a day below what was required for meeting activity requirements decreased metabolism and increased body fat percentage in both runners and gymnasts.”*

 

Recommendations if you experience constant hunger due to a hormonal imbalance, a gut issue, or other biological trouble spots. 

 

  1. Resensitize yourself to leptin
    • Avoid fructose
    • Exercise in moderation
    • Control stress and cortisol
  2. Avoid hunger triggers
    • Keep sweets and snacks out of the house
    • When eating, leave extra food on countertop or put it away before you begin meal
    • Avoid higher carbohydrate or high glycemic index foods
  3. Know what you ate
    • Don’t snack too much
    • Make your own food

 

As an integrative nutrition health coach, I work with my clients to fix issues like the ones listed above. If you want more information on how I can help you reach your health goals please click here. 

 

*Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield, 2014

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