- Natasha Watkinson
6 ways to turn off your hunger hormone. And why it matters for weight loss…
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
What hormones can you think of? Most people usually say oestrogen, testosterone or cortisol. In actual fact, a whole host of other hormones are produced in our bodies which play a part in our health and how we function week in week out. Ghrelin regulates hunger, how much food we eat and to some degree fat storage.
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and triggers hunger pangs by sending signals to the brain telling us when it’s time to eat. When ghrelin levels in the bloodstream are high, the bigger the appetite and likely, the more food you eat. After food, ghrelin levels decrease, and they don’t rise again until your body starts looking for more energy.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be wondering how you can keep your levels low. To be clear, ghrelin is not bad. Our hormones are made for a reason - they have a specific job to do in the body. If we weren’t ever hungry, would we take as much joy from the food we eat? How would we know when we need nourishment? How would we go about our lives at our best?
It’s when they stop working as they should that we can run into trouble. And, our diet and lifestyle choices have a significant impact on this. That doesn’t mean jumping to calorie restriction. Naturally, this will increase your ghrelin levels, potentially lead to overeating and storage of fat.
It’s all about balance. So, I've highlighted a few tips here, which will help keep this specific hormone in check and doing its job correctly.
Eat a diet rich in fibre from fruit and vegetables,
legumes and wholegrains
Fibre slows down our digestion while also keeping our gut bacteria diverse and healthy. Foods high in fibre also tend to be lower in calories and higher in nutrient density meaning you get better bang for your buck when it comes to calorie intake.
Limit intake of processed foods high in sugar and
Refined and processed foods are high in calories and saturated fat and low in nutrients. As well as spiking your blood sugar for a short period, sending your hunger and energy levels on a rollercoaster, they trigger release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward. We start to associate that short lived high with reward as opposed to the feeling of being nourished and satiated.
Eat protein with every meal
Incorporating a portion of lean or vegetable protein into each meal (eggs, oily fish, chicken or turkey, tofu, beans and pulses) will slow gastric emptying, keeping you fuller for longer. It will also blunt the insulin spike you get from eating a carbohydrate-based meal, preventing the sugar cravings which inevitably follow that initial sugar high.
Studies in animals have shown that exposure to chronic stress increases circulating ghrelin and growth hormone levels (Massachusettes Institute of Technology, 2013). It also interacts with the brain’s reward pathways to increase food intake, creating a vicious cycle where we begin to see food as a comfort during times of stress and anxiety. Incorporate yoga, meditation or breathing into your daily routine, get out for a walk or run in nature, find something that works for you to allow you to live (and eat) more mindfully.
Sleep deprivation has been associated with an increase in ghrelin levels, appetite and hunger comparative to sleeping for longer periods. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, practice good sleep hygiene by limiting screen time, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol before bed, and try to stick to regular sleep and waking up times to regulate the circadian rhythm.
Research in recent years has indicated a link between High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), reduced ghrelin and increased leptin levels. Incorporate some a short burst high intensity exercise each week – circuits, sprints, cycling. Get out and get a sweat on!
If you’re looking for support with weight loss incorporating these diet and lifestyle changes would be a great place to start. It’s important to remember however, that ghrelin is only one of many interrelated factors, which could be impacting on your health and wellbeing. Working with a Nutritionist would allow you to create a plan specific to your body’s needs and your personal health and fitness goals. For more information on what this involves, I offer a complimentary 30 minute mini-consultation. I will give you some simple nutrition strategies you can start using right away. We can do this over the phone or by zoom (your choice) and you can book using this link