How many times have you committed to a diet, only to find your hunger or cravings get in the way? Whether your problem is eating super clean all day, only to gorge yourself at night, or you simply never feel satisfied after your meal – it can seem like your appetite is always to blame for your unsuccessful diet attempts. But why?
What controls our hunger?
Our appetite is decided by a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. Two specific hormones, leptin and ghrelin, influence this region and how we feel hunger. Leptin somewhat acts as an appetite suppressant. This hormone is released to tell your brain that our caloric needs have been met and that we can stop eating. The second hormone is ghrelin, and it is released when we are fasting, telling your body to consume calories. Often, you know it is being released because your stomach will growl. When our ghrelin is out of whack, we begin to experience cravings, uncontrollable hunger and a difficulty feeling satiated. When there is an imbalance of leptin, or leptin resistance, our bodies will store more fat and aren’t able to feel satiated.
Things that control our leptin and ghrelin production include:
- What time we eat our meals.
- How much we are eating each meal.
- How much sleep we get.
- Our overall sleep schedule and pattern.
How to manage our cravings and appetite
These hormones that were once used to tell our ancestors when they must hunt and gather for food can often feel less like a blessing and more like a curse when they go hay-wire. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We must simply incorporate small changes into our life that support balanced hormones so that we may have a more manageable appetite.
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep has been shown to decrease leptin production by 19% while increasing the production of ghrelin by as much as 24%. This causes an appetite increase while making it harder to feel satiated. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night can help prevent this from happening.
Make sure you’re eating enough
Although eating in a caloric deficit is an important part of losing weight, not eating enough can actually cause our bodies to store more of what we’re eating. This can cause us to feel tired, or like our bodies don’t have fuel to run on. In addition, it can cause our hunger cravings to increase significantly. That’s why after a long day of not eating a lot, sometimes we are unable to feel satisfied no matter what we eat for dinner. Knowing how much you should be eating can be difficult and depends on several factors. Seeking a professional’s opinion on this can really be a game changer, as every body is different and calorie needs vary greatly depending on sex, age and activity level.
Don’t wait too long to eat after an intense workout
Waiting too long to eat after an intense workout can cause other hormones in your body to spike, which inadvertently affect your ghrelin and leptin levels. In addition to affecting your hunger hormones, over time it can also have negative effects on your metabolism. If you plan on doing a fasted, high intensity workout, even just having a small piece of fruit after the fact can make the world of difference.
So next time your diet feels hopeless because you can’t seem to stop eating, ask yourself….
“Am I sleeping enough?”
“Have I had enough to eat?”
“Am I eating at the right times of the day?”
… and make the necessary changes to improve your chances of success. Of course, if you’re doing all of these things and your diet still feels impossible to maintain, something else might need to be adjusted. Seeking a professional’s help might be the next step for you!