Hunger and satiety (feeling full) are more than just rumblings in your tummy. If it all just boiled down to physiological hunger, then none of us would have to worry about dieting or emotional eating!
Anyone who has eating a pint of ice cream as a stress relievers knows that food, cravings, and feeling satisfied after a meal is more than just filling up our stomachs like gas tanks at the pump. Sure, there’s an emotional component; unsurprisingly, there’s a neurological component to eating and hunger as well.
With that in mind, here are three ways you can use your body’s hunger biology in your favor, to avoid over-eating!
When you feel fullness coming on, take a break. Sip some water, put down the fork, and listen to what you’re body is telling you.
1. MAKE PROTEIN DO THE DIRTY WORK
Receptors at nerve endings all over your body talk to each other and to the brain through the powerhouse of an electrical highway that is the nervous system. Some of these receptors are in and near your stomach, receiving information about how full the stomach is, and what kind of foods you’ve eaten.
When it comes to receptor biology and feeling hungry, dietary protein plays a special role. A study published by the scientific journal Cell in 2012 indicates that during digestion, proteins from the food you eat are released onto certain receptors, called “mu-Opioid” receptors, which regulates how hungry your brain says you are. Higher amounts of protein means more receptor binding, telling your brain that you’re full. So, load up on healthy sources of protein like lean meats, fish, nuts, and seeds, to help your brain regulate hunger better!
2. BEWARE THE HUNGER VILLAIN
Proteins can signal to your brain that you’re no longer hungry, but sugar can create a biochemical situation that causes hunger! When blood sugar levels drop drastically, your body will call out for help in regulating the imbalance through powerful urges to stuff your face. Fat gets a bad rap, but sugar is the real villain. Healthy, natural fats can actually help you feel full as well, but anything high in sugars is just asking for a mid-afternoon cheesecake craving.
And by “sugars”, we mean any simple starch. Pretzels, low protein cereals, rice cakes, and other high carb, low protein snacks masquerading as health foods can derail your diet as fast as you can say “double chocolate chip muffin”.
3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
We can’t stress that enough. Your body has the ability to “know” when it’s fueled up, mainly through the work of the star players in hunger biochemistry: the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin. These two little appetite regulators work together in opposing ways – Leptin decreases appetite, and Ghrelin increases it. Ghrelin levels are high right before a meal, when you feel hungry, and drop for a few hours after you’ve eaten. Leptin is higher in people who have high body fat and lower in leaner people. Confused? It’s the body’s way of telling people with padding that they don’t need so much, and thinner people to bulk up a bit. Here’s the tricky part though, you can override and ignore the subtle cues these hormones give the brain by overeating, and through emotional connections to food.
Turns out, the little hunger worker-bee hormones are hard at work in overweight people, signaling the “full” feeling earlier than in normal and underweight people. But overweight people still tend to overeat.
They’ve conditioned themselves to ignore the subtle nudges the hunger hormones give them, instead focusing on the feel good buzz that a good meal can offer. Over eating can cause your brain to view food like a drug, and high sugar, high fat, and high salt snacks can activate the same pleasure zones in the brain as drugs and alcohol.
To avoid overdosing on confections, take it slow. When you feel fullness coming on, take a break. Sip some water, put down the fork, and listen to what you’re body is telling you. The more you listen to the signals of hunger and fullness, the less you will over eat anything in the future. The more you ignore them, the more likely your body is to treat food like a pick-me-up.
Technische Universitaet Muenchen. (2013, March 14). Olive oil makes you feel full. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130314124616.htm
Duraffourd et al. Mu-Opioid Receptors and Dietary Protein Stimulate a Gut-Brain Neural Circuitry Limiting Food Intake. Cell, July 5, 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.05.039