How much control do we really have in terms of how full or hungry we feel? Is it simply a case of ‘self-control’? Well, no, not so much. We all have hunger and fullness hormones which are made in the body and send signals to our brains. The two main signals involved in hunger and fullness are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is primarily made in fat cells and it is associated with feelings of DECREASED hunger (fullness). Ghrelin is made mainly in the stomach lining and it tells us when we are getting hungry (ie. increased feelings of hunger). When released both of these hormones travel to the hypothalamus in the brain and deliver their message.
There are so many different things can influence the levels of these hormones in a persons body and we are all very different. What we do know is that people who are obese can develop leptin resistance whereby, often, despite eating large amounts of foods these people will struggle to feel full.
On top of this our genetics plays an important role in the levels of these hormones in our bodies and people can often forget these when struggling to gain or lose weight. Physical activity, the environment and our eating behaviours (eg. if someone reduces energy intake constantly) are other factors which play a roll in the activity of leptin and ghrelin. If someone is always on a diet our body will fight back and make us hungrier to prevent an energy deficit.
All of these factors coupled with the fact that we are surrounded with highly palatable foods (high-sugar, high-fat foods etc.) means that our signals will vary greatly from person to person.
So what can we do to help? Well, aim to eat plenty of high-fibre, high-protein snacks and meals which increase satiety and helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. These prevents dips in energy levels and reduces fatigue. Eat a wide variety of foods to ensure essential nutrients for hormones are obtained. Include lots of fruit and vegetables at each meal and avoid going long periods of time with food. Sleep plays an important role in appetite and when we are tired we know that hunger is often increased so get 7-9 hours sleep per night if at all possible.
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Emma Brennan is a qualified Nutritionist and is a registered member of the Association for Nutrition (AFN). Emma attained her qualification in Human Nutrition from Ulster University, Coleraine. Emma has a passion for all things nutrition and health related and her mission is to educate the public about their health and wellbeing through her blogs, videos and nutrition tips online and through the Good4U Nutrition Service provided to schools, sports clubs and businesses.