Are you hungry all the time? Learn to manage your appetite

Once in a wedding, one auntyji said to me, “Dieting to karlu beta, Magar kya karu bhookh bhaut lagti hai.” (meaning when i diet i am hungry all the time) she said this while having her fourth Rasgulla (Yes, I was counting). I prayed for her insulin levels and went to greet the newly married couple. But isn’t this the question which all of us have. We do sometimes feel hungry unnecessarily and then think about how we gained so much weight. Let us try to understand this phenomenon scientifically. 

What is hunger? And what is going on inside your body when you feel hungry? According to Michael Lowe, a professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, there is a traditional concept of hunger which states that when you haven’t eaten in several hours, your stomach starts to grumble, you feel those usual bodily sensations associated with hunger.

This feeling of hunger originates from your body’s need for calories which is the need for energy that prompts the signal that it’s time to eat. Researchers refer to this type of hunger as “homeostatic hunger”. According to Dr. Amy Rothberg, director of the Weight Management Clinic and an assistant professor of internal medicine in the University of Michigan, homeostatic hunger is driven by a complex series of signals throughout the body and brain that tell us that we need food for fuel. These are sets of opposing signals which are the hunger-stimulating (orexigenic) peptides, and the hunger-suppressing (anorexigenic) peptides, she said. These peptides are hormones that are responsible for signalling the brain that a person needs to eat or that the person feels full. 

If people only ate because their bodies needed calories, things would be simple. But that’s not the case. People “don’t eat necessarily because of the signals that govern our energy stores,” Rothberg said. Rather, sometimes, you just want food and this type of hunger is called “hedonic hunger.” The most widely accepted theory about hedonic hunger is that the human predisposition to highly palatable foods. People want to eat even when they don’t need to and the more often people eat highly palatable foods, the more their brains learn to expect and want them. The reason for this “hungry” feeling appears to have much more to do with seeking pleasure than with needing calories. 

However, pleasure is relevant to both homeostatic and hedonic eating, whereas the need for calories only comes into play during homeostatic eating.

But why do we feel hungry at all? 

Here I would like to introduce you to (drumrolls) “HUNGER HORMONES”, Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin is a hunger-stimulating hormone, released primarily in the stomach and signals hunger to the brain. It is expected that the body increases ghrelin if a person is undereating and decreases it if they are overeating. Ghrelin levels play an important role in determining how quickly hunger comes back after we eat. Normally, ghrelin levels go up before you eat; this signals hunger. They then go down for about three hours after the meal. 

On the other hand, Leptin, which is believed to suppress hunger, plays an important role in energy balance. Some researchers think that leptin helps regulate ghrelin. It helps signal the brain that the body has enough energy stores. Generally, the more fat you have in your body, the more leptin is present in your blood but many obese people don’t respond to leptin’s signals even though they have higher levels of leptin. This level varies depending on many factors, including when you last ate and your sleep patterns. 

A study done on rats showed that rats that were given doses of leptin ended up eating less, but this effect lasted only about two weeks. It seems that the rats developed a resistance to leptin’s appetite-suppressing effects. Ahhh, I am hungry already. 

With one hand on Makhana and the other on the keyboard, let us now find out whether we can control this hunger or not.  Firstly let us know about cravings, (got a flashback of myself during menses, aren’t they the worst. YES, they are.) 

A craving is a desire for a specific food, Lowe said. Jon May, a professor of psychology at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, agreed that food cravings are a part of hunger, but the way a person ultimately responds to feelings of hunger determines whether a craving develops. He added that people aren’t always aware that they are hungry until the feelings become very strong, or until a person has nothing else to attend to, and thus an awareness of hunger comes to the forefront of their attention. For example, when you’re working really hard to finish a project at work and it’s finally done, you realize you’re hungry. This transition from unconscious to conscious makes hunger seem very important, so we attend to it — and we call this an intrusive thought,” he said. (I had never read a thing this relatable) 

If a person then were to go and eat something, the thought would be handled, and there would be no need to crave or desire anything, May said. But if a person did not eat, they may dwell on that intrusive thought. You might feel more hungry when you’re not sleeping enough. Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for your health. Sleeping enough is a factor in appetite control, as it helps regulate ghrelin. Lack of sleep leads to higher ghrelin levels, which is why you may feel hungrier when you are sleep deprived.

In one study, 15 people who were sleep-deprived for only 1 night reported being significantly more hungry and chose 14% larger portion sizes, compared with a group that slept for 8 hours. Getting enough sleep also helps ensure adequate levels of leptin, which promotes feelings of fullness. To keep your hunger levels under control, it’s generally recommended to get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Hence it is proved that sleep deprivation is known to cause fluctuations in your hunger. 

At this point, we already know about Hunger in detail. Now let us know about how to manage our appetite. 

  • Add fiber to your meals: Research evidence shows that fiber reduces appetite. They are satiety inducing foods and help in reaching satiety faster than other foods. So turn up the amount of higher-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. These foods also tend to have a high water content, which helps you feel full. 
  • Eat those proteins: Consuming enough proteins is important for appetite control. It has hunger-reducing properties that may help automatically consume fewer calories during the day. It works by increasing the production of hormones that signal fullness and reducing the levels of hormones that stimulate hunger. 
  • Give Nuts to your guts: Nuts help you feel satisfied because of their protein and fiber content. Also fat gives you more calories per serving. A handful of these vitamins and mineral-rich nuts will hold one over between meals but keep that handful small: Nuts are high in fat, even though it is the healthful monounsaturated kind of fat, eat them in moderation. 

By incorporating all these, one can successfully control and manage appetite and lead a healthy life. I read this quote somewhere, it goes like “What a pity that we are being eaten up by the very food that we eat.” So, do not get eaten up rather eat to live a prosperous life. Do not wait for tomorrow, Include healthy eating habits from today. 

Now I should go and call my auntyji and tell her about the same.

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