Post No.: 0242
The hormone ghrelin signals hunger when the stomach is empty. Peptide YY (PYY) conversely signals satiety in the stomach. Insulin is arguably the hormone that is most responsible for the body’s ability to lay down fat – it blocks the signal to the brain that would normally convey satiety, and that signal is another hormone called leptin. Leptin signals when the lipid (fat) stores in the body are deemed sufficient. All these various signals come together to affect our level of appetite at a given time.
So ghrelin triggers the acute, panging feeling of hunger we feel due to having an empty gut, and this signal evolved to make us seek food and energy. But we don’t just eat because we feel hungry – we often eat for pure pleasure, habit or to pre-emptively avoid the feeling of hunger in the first place, thus, especially in this modern world, we sometimes eat or snack not just for the necessity of the calories and nutrients.
Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells, thus it would seem logical that if one has a large fat store then more leptin should be produced and therefore one should feel satisfied sooner or for longer in a self-regulatory system. But the signal (or lack of) actually depends on the depletion of our fat reserves, regardless of our absolute levels of fat reserves. This is one reason why dieting and losing fat can feel quite unpleasant, with a relatively less acute but more constant feeling of hunger even though one is still carrying a lot of fat reserves in absolute terms.
In some rare cases, people don’t produce leptin efficiently due to genetics, which means that they have uncontrollable and literally insatiable appetites. But understand that not everyone who is obese and not everyone who has leptin deficiency has this genetic issue (just like thyroid problems only account for a relatively tiny number of obesity cases – if you really think you have such a disease or disorder then please see your GP or PCP). And for absolutely everybody, the environment plays a role too (e.g. we literally won’t be able to eat what isn’t there if it wasn’t there!) Different people may differ with their natural hormone levels but there are strategies we can all use like choosing when we eat and what we eat (e.g. a high protein and high fibre breakfast). There are things we can do if we choose to do them. Woof!
It takes about 20-30 minutes for our stomachs to feel satisfied after eating, so understand this, eat slowly and wait 20-30 minutes before deciding on any second helpings in your food bowl. Or maybe start eating at your normal speed but then slow down midway to savour each mouthful – this mirrors what we do when we genuinely are getting full during a meal.
Sleep deprivation can also contribute to obesity because a lack of sleep can increase levels of ghrelin (thus increasing our appetites) and decrease levels of leptin (thus decreasing the feeling of fullness/satisfaction) – leading us to more likely opt for calorie-dense choices and overeating when we next eat.
The feeling of the ‘snack attack’ is sometimes not due to your blood sugar/energy levels actually dropping (if you are not diabetic) but due to your body’s hormone levels simply reacting in expectation of consuming food at certain times of the day that you’ve habitually snacked during before. Thus the solution to stopping these snacking urges is to simply stop snacking, and over time your body will learn to not expect food outside of regular meal times.
The actual fizz (the carbon dioxide) in carbonated drinks apparently seems to increase ghrelin levels in the stomach i.e. it seems to increase hunger levels compared to flat equivalent (in sugar and calories) drinks. The explanation for this is currently unclear but it seems to be another argument why fuzzy fizzy drinks, including ‘diet’ ones (although these are, overall, still better than their full-sugar fizzy versions), aren’t ideal if you’re trying to lose fat. Pre-filling the stomach with water before a meal can reduce one’s appetite temporarily though, which may result in consuming fewer calories, but we can do this with still rather than sparkling water. So it’s better, or safer, to drink still, zero/low-calorie drinks, such as still water – which isn’t a hardship in a world where some people still struggle to source safe, potable water everyday! Don’t ever take clean, plain water, especially if you can get it from a tap, for granted. Don’t be a ‘First World weakling’ with ‘First World problems’ by making it seem like it’s an issue to drink ‘just’ water! (Unless you happen to have something like a severe form of aquagenic urticaria that is.)
Obese people don’t tend to feel hungrier than non-obese people when they don’t eat, but they may feel less easily satisfied when they do. But we don’t yet know which causes which – is it differences in their hormone levels that increase their chances of obesity, or is it their obesity that alters their hormone levels, or both? It’s like increasing your testosterone levels might increase your ability to train harder, but training hard (without over-training) also increases your testosterone levels temporarily. Or it’s like testing an unfit person’s press-up ability – if we find that they experience greater pain compared to a fit person after doing the exact same number of reps, then shall we conclude that their greater feeling of pain and higher levels of lactic acid and cortisol are unfortunately inherited and unchangeable aspects about them, or that their greater feeling of pain and associated physiological differences are simply because of their lack of fitness and conditioning? (Well in this case it’s the latter.)
If one is obese (or more specifically proportionally carrying a lot of fat rather than muscle or bone mass), then losing any amount of fat for any amount of time is probably better for one’s health than not at all. But lots of research has found that most people who partake in crash diets and quickly lose a lot of fat tend to put it right back on eventually, plus a bit more – and this may cause them to feel dispirited too, meaning that they’ll use eating as a source of comfort (again). This shows that it’s very difficult to change a body (or brain, and therefore one’s attitudes and habits) once one is an adult. Just like most smokers don’t think they’ll be one of those who’ll get cancer from smoking though – people who partake in all these various kinds of crash diets think they’ll be one of those relatively few who’ll make it work long-term and they’ll keep the fat off. But any (rapid) fat loss regime – without careful support and supervision – will trigger the body to go into a ‘starvation/famine mode’ and encourage one to consume and re-lay one’s fat stores. (Food even tastes different, more delicious, reportedly.)
There are hormone (leptin and ghrelin) and metabolism changes that make keeping the fat off difficult. There may also be confounds like traumatic life events that cause one to comfort eat and regain a lot of fat again. This demonstrates the importance of children not becoming obese in the first place – prevention of obesity is far more effective than attempting a cure so we must look after the children first and foremost. It also highlights that if the environment doesn’t change (e.g. there’s the same easy accessibility to calorie-dense foods and snacks in the environment) then behaviours won’t likely change either.
The fat can indeed be kept off but one needs to make keeping that fat off one’s main focus in life i.e. one needs to constantly watch every little bit one consumes, to exercise regularly, and maybe, if possible, even change where one lives to an area that has fewer temptations and is more conducive for regular physical activities. So there’s room for optimism – there’s a solution but the work might be much harder and longer than you initially thought. In other words, don’t think in terms of ‘crash diets’ or other marketed ‘quick-fixes’ but sustainable long-term diets and changes in lifestyle – if your aim is to keep the fat off for the long-term that is.
This is not unduly unfair though because people who are fit (not merely slim but metabolically and performance-wise fit) also need to constantly watch every little bit they consume and to exercise regularly too! So no one is saying you need to do anything more than them – just do the same. It’s not advice like ‘if you work harder then you’ll become rich too’ because some efforts don’t financially pay off for one reason or another, and some poor people evidently already work much harder than some rich people. Here, excluding those who have a relevant disease or disorder, if you consistently eat less and move more then you will carry less fat than if you consistently eat more and move less. Every little bit of calorie consumed and every little bit of calorie used will ultimately count because you are not going to break a fundamental law of physics by creating energy from nothing or destroying it into nothing!
Some people’s hormone response to hunger and/or satiety seems to be less or more sensitive than others so it’s understandably harder for some compared to others. The different levels of chronic stresses and protective environmental factors different people face or have access to play a mental and physical role too. But, whoever you are and whatever your current state of health, Furrywisepuppy thinks your life and well-being is totally worth the effort of being looked after as well as you can.