Struggling to control your appetite? Here’s why.

Struggling to manage your hunger and control your appetite? You’re not alone. The struggle is real. 

Stacy Fattinger, RD, is back for part three of the series on how hormones impact our waistline. 

Hormones can be tricky to understand, especially how they relate to our weight, hunger, and appetite. Stacey will break down the hunger hormones (aka ghrelin and leptin), give us an understanding of how it affects weight management, hunger and cravings, and share some lifestyle choices that have a positive impact on those hormones.

Hunger Hormones

The human body has two essential hunger-regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin. While some hormones work together to help keep your hunger and cravings in check, ghrelin and leptin work almost in opposition to one another. 

In addition to the opposing purpose or role of these hormones, our leptin and ghrelin levels shift and change as we lose or gain weight, and it isn’t much you can do to control this hormonal piece of the puzzle.

Leptin

Leptin is produced by your fat cells and is the hormone responsible for communicating to your brain that you are full. You know when you are busy working on something that requires your attention and stopping to eat feels like a real chore? This is exactly when you want leptin around.

For weight management, leptin is subtly working behind the scenes, helping weight management feel slightly more effortless. When hunger is absent or is more predictable and stable, it is much easier to manage your calories, right? And calories do count when it comes to controlling your weight.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone.” When your stomach growls because you haven’t eaten in quite some time, ghrelin is produced, sending a signal to your brain that fuel supplies are low. In most cases, you’ll respond to this release of ghrelin, consuming enough calories to satisfy your hunger. When ghrelin is working property, it is highest before eating and lowest about an hour after your meal or snack.

The War for Your Hormones

Leptin and ghrelin are in constant flux throughout the day, hence why we can’t always predict when hunger will appear or just how much food it will take to feel full. But there are other reasons why leptin and ghrelin fluctuate:

  • Leptin levels decline when you lose weight, making weight maintenance seemingly more difficult in the long-run. As your brain tries to protect the body from experiencing starvation, signals are sent to increase your desire and drive to eat. It is relatively common for individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight to feel like they are hungry more often suddenly.

  • Higher leptin levels have been linked to poorly managed stress, which may be why times of high stress lead to overeating, poorly managed craving, and weight gain over time. Stress management is vital for many reasons when it comes to your health, but also when it comes to managing your weight.

  • When you are carrying extra weight, ghrelin levels are lower than those falling into the normal weight category. Add this to the list of reasons why keeping your weight in a healthy range is essential as you age.

    If you’re looking for more in-depth information on these hormones and their role in weight loss, you’re going to want to give this a read.

What Can I Do To Balance These Hormones?

While you can’t necessarily control leptin and ghrelin as much as you’d like, there are healthy behaviors you can add to your lifestyle to help keep these hormones in balance. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are a few ways to help with managing your hunger and appetite. 

Managing your stress and eating a higher protein diet regularly throughout the day can also be very effective. Sometimes it takes doing a bit of experimenting with developing the perfect combination of protein or exercise to find what works best for you.

Don’t underestimate the importance of working on your mindset as you work towards weight loss or weight maintenance!

One study showed that your hunger hormones are naturally in better control if you believe you are consuming a satisfying meal. 

Creating meals full of colorful fruits and veggies, adding in various protein sources and healthy fats, and mixing up flavors with new species can all be fun ways to create satisfying meals, keeping your leptin and ghrelin working as they should.

Before you sit down to eat, take a few deep breaths and visualize your meal being energizing and containing just the right mix to keep your body humming throughout the day. Over time this may be the very thing that keeps the difficult process of weight loss and weight maintenance just a bit easier to stay committed to overtime.

You’re In Control

Managing your hunger hormones is a process that requires intention, practice, and exploration. By understanding how these hormones work together and implementing small incremental changes into your life, you will start to see these hormones fall into their proper place. Just be patient, it will come with time!

Alright, that’s it for our series on hormones! Thanks to my girl Stacy Frattinger (more on her below) for walking us through everything we need to know!

 

More about the author:

Stacey Frattinger is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Integrative Health Coach, Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and a Nationally Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach