Why Am I Always Hungry?

October 15, 2020 No Comments by Scott Isaacs, M.D.

If trying to clean up your diet just leaves you more ravenous and frustrated, you’re not alone. Time to learn how your eating decisions affect your appetite a.m. to p.m.

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Simple right? So why does it sometimes feel not so straightforward?

It may be one of our most basic physiological needs but eating feels as if it’s become far from intuitive these days. The truth is, there’s more at play than just an empty stomach or a need for calories. Research has found that everything from our hormones and stress levels to our moods and other people’s attitudes toward food can impact how our mind processes our daily eating choices.

But it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Understanding the biggest players that affect your appetite will help you take control of it. And that starts by getting extremely familiar with the smallest, most powerful teammate of them all: a hormone called leptin.

If you’ve ever dieted in an effort to drop a few pounds, only to feel frustrated, or worse, hungry all the time, don’t blame a lack of willpower. Your body is hardwired to want to hold on to fat, says Giles Yeo, PhD, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge. But it’s not doing it to be spiteful. Body fat is what produces leptin—and believe us, you want leptin.

Here’s why: It’s the hormone that controls appetite and weight. Its main role is to regulate your body’s energy, which includes how many calories you eat and burn each day, as well as how much fat you store. The process evolved to keep humans from star ving or overeating, both of which would have made you less likely to survive back in (way long ago) day.

When the system is working properly, fat cells regularly release high levels of leptin that kick-start signals in the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain responsible for appetite control, says Stephan Guyenet, PhD, author of The Hungry Brain. “Leptin switches off an appetite-driving neuron called AgRP, while another signal suppresses food intake and raises calorie expenditure.” Translation: When you’ve had enough to eat, leptin tells your brain, “All set, you can stop now!” and keeps your metabolism humming along steadily.

But when leptin levels drop too low—which, FYI, happens when you go on a crash diet—the hormone sends a starvation alarm to the brain, increasing your appetite and slowing metabolism. For some, that response takes place even when plenty of energy (i.e., body fat) is stored. It’s a condition known as leptin resistance, says endocrinologist Scott Isaacs, MD, author of The Leptin Boost Diet, and it’s believed to be one of the main contributors to obesity.

How to Hit Reset

Scientists and doctors don’t quite agree on exactly how leptin resistance occurs—or, more important, what to do about it. But here’s what’s known: There are very few people who have genetically determined leptin problems. For most, it’s something that develops over time, in response to diet and lifestyle decisions. Which also means: You have the power to alter your leptin levels through your everyday habits. Make these easy, practical changes to your routine to recalibrate your body’s biological signals and get back on track with your natural eat-stop-eat rhythm. Satiation salvation ahead!

Fuel Smarter

Dr. Isaacs advises clients to base their meals on protein and fiber, both of which suppress hunger hormones. His ideal meal plan to increase leptin levels and other key appetite regulators? Eggs for breakfast, lean chicken with greens and brown rice for lunch, carrots and low-fat hummus (low-calorie and fiber-rich) for a snack, and a dinner high in leptin boosting zinc (beef and black beans are good sources). Eating more omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish and flaxseeds—may also help mitigate the impact of inflammation on the hypothalamus, which can make leptin’s pathways less responsive, says Guyenet.

Go to Bed

When it comes to managing your hunger and appetite, sticking to a solid sleep schedule is a must. “Leptin is mostly secreted at night, so if you’re getting less than sever hours, you’ll have lower levels,” says Dr. Isaacs. In fact, if you’re getting only five hours a night, you’ll have almost 16 percent less leptin than if you’re managing the full eight, according to research in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Another reason to maximize your shut-eye: Insufficient sleep can result in consuming up to 400 extra calories a day, mostly of high-fat, low-protein food, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Ready to rest now?

Watch Your Why

External cues are influential in determining what, when, and how much we eat. For example, researchers found that people who ate with others consumed up to 60 percent more than those who ate alone. Another big cause for the munchies? Stress. While 80 percent of people said they normally ate healthy, that number dropped to 33 percent when they were stressed, a study reveals. And the majority of those folks said stress produced an increase in their appetite, so pin down a few nonfood coping mechanisms—deap breathing, going for a walk, venting to a friend—that you can use as soon as life gets tense.

By Roisín Dervish-O’Kane

Women’s Health March 2019

If you’re struggling to with weight loss, you need the help of an obesity medicine specialist. If you’d like to learn more about permanent weight loss, please feel free to call us or schedule an appointment with Dr. Isaacs using the online booking tool on his website.


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