The science of hunger: How to control it and fight cravings

The science of hunger: How to control it and fight cravings. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

With leptin resistance, snacking is actually one of the worst things you can do.

Once upon a time, I had a permanent muffin top. I lie; my burgeoning waistline wasn’t the result of too many chocolate donuts, rather that I had grown a little person inside of me, and it took a fair amount of time to get back to normal.

And it was exactly that that Mary, a 33-year-old mother of three was complaining about when she came to see me (though she wasn’t pregnant). However, despite going through the tried-and-tested weight loss regime from her 20s, the weight wouldn’t come off.  The reason? Two important hormones were out of balance in her body: leptin and insulin.

Leptin is a hormone that your fat cells make and it tells your brain when you’ve had enough to eat – or at least it should when you have enough fat on your body. But if your leptin isn’t working well, you’ll find yourself experiencing feelings of intense hunger, cravings that are never satisfied and overeating in general. What causes your body to become resistant to leptin? Eating too much sugar (fructose in particular) and having high blood triglycerides are two common causes.

Next up, insulin, a hormone most people have heard of it relation to diabetes - but all healthy people secrete insulin after they’ve eaten a carbohydrate-rich meal. The job of insulin is to get the glucose from the meal that you’ve just eaten into your cells, where it is then burnt to give you energy. Insulin resistance occurs when your pancreas pumps out more and more, but your body stops listening. The result is a reduction in fat burning hormones, and rise in your appetite (notably for carbs and sugar), and an increase in (mainly) abdominal fat. 

While a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates can contribute to this, the nutrient deficiencies that often result can make things worse. That’s why Mary, in addition to a change in diet, was prescribed chromium, magnesium, manganese, carnitine and zinc. These also help to reduce excess hunger as well as cravings for carbs or sugar. 

So what did we do for Mary’s diet? Well, with leptin resistance, snacking is actually one of the worst things you can do. She ate three balanced meals a day (half colourful veggies, a quarter protein/good fat, a quarter carbohydrate) with nothing in between and two litres of water spread throughout the day (bye bye tea, coffee and sodas). It sounds very simple, but getting into good habits and resetting her hormones, losing weight was much easier than she expected. And don’t underestimate the importance eight hours of sleep. Many a weight loss programme has failed without it.


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