Getting your hunger cues back on track

We eat for many reasons. We eat because of emotions, stress, social situations or time of day. A lot of this kind of eating is mindless and does not occur because our stomachs are actually empty.

Behind all of these reasons, however, are our hunger hormones.

The key hormones related to feeling hungry are ghrelin and leptin. These two hormones need to be balanced in order for us to have a healthy appetite and response to hunger and food.

In today’s society, many people have an imbalance of ghrelin and leptin. The imbalance perpetuates the unhealthy lifestyles that we have created for ourselves.

Ghrelin, made in the stomach, cues the brain when it needs to eat. It stimulates the appetite.

Ghrelin is a major reason why many people struggle with weight loss: the body produces more ghrelin if you have been dieting because it recognizes that there has been a shortage of food.

Leptin, made in fat cells, sends a message that we are satiated. When we go on a diet to restrict caloric intake, the balance of ghrelin and leptin gets shaky.

This causes our bodies to become confused. Hunger cues and satiety cues are no longer simple on/off switches: the imbalance causes us to be unable to recognize when we are truly hungry.

Today’s society is fast-paced and stressful. Food is advertised everywhere we go, which creates an automatic response in the body to think about food and desire it even (or especially) when we are not truly hungry.

This confuses our hunger hormones even more. Our bodies are designed to take advantage of food when it is accessible, so it takes a considerable effort to not chow down when food is readily available on every street corner.

Another result of our busy lives is that many people do not get adequate sleep and are often running on caffeine to keep their energy levels up.

Sleep is an important factor in ghrelin production. Those who suffer from insomnia or who do not get a proper night’s sleep are often overweight or obese, which may be because of the lack of hunger cues in the body from these hormones.

In order to get your hunger cues back on track, make sure you get a good sleep each night. You should feel rested upon waking.

Eating breakfast also helps to balance your hunger hormones and kick-start the metabolism. Have small meals frequently throughout the day so that your body doesn’t go into starvation mode.

Lowering stress and taking the time to exercise regularly are two more ways that you can help balance your hunger hormones. Not only will they help you to curb your hunger, but making these lifestyle changes will also improve your overall health and wellness.

From living a more balanced lifestyle, you will be better equipped to deal with false hunger cues when they strike.

Sagan Morrow is a freelance writer and editor. Check out her health and wellness blog at

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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