ARE YOU HUNGRY... OR HORMONAL?
If you've ever tried to shed fat, you've probably followed conventional wisdom about dieting.
But then you got hungry...
When you're hungry, trying to lose weight can be torture. You constantly think about food and obsess over your next meal or snack. Eventually you give in to your urges and binge on something that sets you back.
If you ever want to lose weight permanently (and without sacrifice or denial)... you need to understand hunger and where it comes from.
In previous Healing Gourmet messages, we've talked about physical hunger (a growling empty stomach when your body is low on fuel). Most of us rarely feel this kind of hunger anymore, with the next meal or snack around every corner.
Then there is nutritional hunger. This is the body's innate cry for nutrients... often, because all it is getting are refined, processed, nutritionally depleted foods.
Finally, there is the most insidious form of hunger... the one most responsible for irresistible cravings, binges and unhealthy emotional eating. We call this hormonal hunger...
Hormonal hunger comes on suddenly. It often has nothing to do with mealtime. In fact, it can strike right after a big meal. Hormonal hunger can cause strong emotional cravings for specific foods - especially carbohydrates. It causes mood swings and low energy and creates a near continuous desire to eat.
Your body utilizes an entire fleet of hormones and neurotransmitters to regulate your metabolism. These chemical messengers control whether you burn fat... or store it. They can also send your brain the "I'm full" feeling... or they can stoke your appetite like an out of control wild fire.
Hormonal hunger has little to do with a real need for food. It is primarily caused by eating too much sugar, grains and starchy foods that put your hormones and blood sugar on a roller coaster.
In this message, we focus on the three most important hormones when it comes to hunger and the metabolism of fat:
By controlling these three messengers, you can master your entire hormonal chain of command.
Feeding Your Cells... the Right Way
Blood sugar is the most basic form of "energy" for your cells. And one of the jobs of insulin is to escort this blood sugar into your cells. Without it, the nourishment your cells need would never arrive.
But hormones can be "double-edged swords." Too much or too little can both cause problems.
When you frequently eat high-glycemic foods (bread and bagels, pasta, cereal, chips, sweets and candy, sodas, fruit juices, etc.) your body repeatedly sends more insulin into your bloodstream.
Over time, however, your body becomes less responsive to insulin. You must secrete more and more to get the same job done - a condition known as insulin resistance.
If this continues, you will become fat, tired and headed for chronic disease...
The rapid release of insulin can also cause your blood sugar to crash - just as quickly as it spiked. This sudden drop of blood sugar causes powerful cravings for the same foods that spiked your blood sugar in the first place.
If your body becomes accustomed to burning sugar for energy, it will start screaming for it just as soon as it is shuttled out of the bloodstream. You may become edgy, depressed and weak until those cravings are fed.
Hormonal hunger perpetuates a vicious cycle: you frequently crave foods that raise your blood sugar... which stimulates insulin... which generates more cravings... and the roller coaster continues.
But you should also know that insulin is balanced by a hormone called glucagon.
The Insulin Balancing Act
Insulin is a fat-storage and blocking hormone - Insulin lowers your blood sugar by transporting glucose into the muscles and liver. When too much glucose is present, insulin blocks your body from burning fat for energy. It also turns excess glucose into fat.
Glucagon is a fat-burning and unlocking hormone - Glucagon can actually raise your blood sugar by converting compounds in your fat cells into glucose. Glucagon tells the body to release stored fat to be used as fuel.
There have been many research studies which illustrate the effects of these two opposing hormones. One of the simplest was featured in the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. In that study, researchers injected one group of rats with insulin and another group of rats with glucagon.
The rats that received the insulin injections gained body fat and ate more. The rats that received the glucagon injections lost body fat.
The important thing to remember is that insulin promotes fat storage and it keeps you fat by blocking access to your fat reserves. Glucagon, on the other hand, is essential for breaking down body fat and burning it for energy.
So How Do You Stimulate More Glucagon?
Insulin and glucagon are like a see-saw. When insulin is high, glucagon goes down. You can stimulate the production of glucagon by reducing carbohydrates in the diet.
You can also stimulate glucagon directly by consuming protein! This signals to your body that the "hunting is good" and that it is safe to shed excess fat. Of course, protein also provides a long-lasting feeling of fullness.
But there is one more hormone that plays a powerful role in your feelings of hunger... in fact, it has even been called "the hunger hormone."
Leptin - Your Hunger Hormone
Leptin was discovered in 1994 by researchers who were studying a genetic line of mice that continually consumed food until they became morbidly obese.
The scientists discovered that these mice were missing a particular hormone. When the researchers injected this hormone into the animals, it curbed their appetite, stimulated their fat-burning metabolism and restored them to a normal body weight.
They called the hormone leptin, derived from the Greek word for "thin."
We have now come to understand that leptin is a powerful messenger that performs countless functions (several of which are extremely beneficial when it comes to hunger and body fat):
Leptin is the primary messenger to your brain that you are full. This shuts down your hunger mechanism.
Leptin tells your brain how much energy you have and how to use it. When your energy is low, leptin tells your brain to increase your appetite so you'll start eating. When you have enough energy, leptin tells your brain to stop eating and start burning fat.
Leptin can even alter the ability of your taste buds to taste sweets. When you have too much leptin in your system, your sensitivity to sweetness goes down and you may tend to overeat sweet foods.
When all of these signals are working properly, you stay feeling full for longer. You don't have uncontrollable cravings for sweets. And your fat is burned for fuel, helping you to stay slim. But just like your body can become resistant to insulin, the same thing can happen with leptin.
Are You Resistant To Leptin?
Leptin is produced in your fat cells. So the more fat cells you have, the higher your levels of leptin. This helps suppress your appetite and stimulates your metabolism to burn fat. The end result should be a return to a healthy weight.
But when too many fat cells build up, a protein called CRP sticks to the leptin stifling your ability to burn fat. The end result is leptin resistance, which can prevent your brain from getting the "I'm full" signal. Leptin resistance is also highly correlated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Here are four things you can do to improve the ability of leptin to function properly:
Avoid large, gluttonous meals
Reduce your consumption of carbohydrates
Never go to bed on a full stomach
Eat protein with breakfast
Outside of your diet, the most important thing you can do is to exercise at a high level of intensity several times per week. You don't have to exercise for long periods of time. It is the intensity that is most important.
You will never beat your appetite into submission with willpower, especially if you are eating the wrong foods. The key to permanent weight loss is to make choices that put YOU in control of your hormones.