The Hunger Games
Every second of every day, every cell in our body is fighting for survival. As a species, it’s survival of the fittest but as an individual our body does everything it can to stay alive. Without food, we cannot survive so our body has mechanisms in place which make us hungry so we can thrive and stay alive by feeding our cells.
When are these mechanisms triggered?
Our brain constantly knows what our hormones and nutrient levels are doing and when there are significant changes, our brain sends signals to our stomach to produce a hormone called Ghrelin – aka, the hunger hormone. Ghrelin then travels back to our brain to let us know that we are hungry. After we eat, ghrelin levels drop again, turning off the hungry switch in our brain.
How does the food we eat affect hunger?
Different foods affect the brain in different ways. Fatty, energy dense foods such as butter, cakes and pizza can trick the brain in to thinking that we have eaten fewer calories than we have, causing us to overeat.
Foods that are high in fibre, such as whole grains, vegetables and legumes provide us with a feeling of fullness by triggering other hormones in our gut that make us feel full. Foods that have a low fibre content, such as biscuits, cakes and refined food (white flours), lead to feelings of hunger.
Foods with a low GI (glycaemic index) such as nuts, vegetables and legumes take longer to break down, and thus, are slower to release energy than high GI foods such as refined food and sugar. So, eating a diet in low GI foods will leave you feeling fuller for longer and reduce that hunger.
What about emotional eating?
When we are stressed, the stress hormone, cortisol, makes us hungry as all that stressing increases our heart rate and our breathing, amongst other changes and we need extra energy to maintain that increased heart rate! Serotonin, the feel-good hormone is another hormone released in our brain when we have a quick dose of sugar, making us feel happy! When we are sad or upset, it is easy to grab something sugary to help put a smile on our face. Emotional eating is often triggered by stress, so learn to recognise the signs and have an action plan to overcome the impulsive sugar hit. Keeping some dried fruit and nuts in your desk at work instead of a chocolate bar is a good start. Keeping a bottle of water handy, instead of a can of soft drink is another great idea.
The same rules apply to emotional eating as eating to survive; eat a diet high in fibre, low in GI and refined foods and you will help to keep that hunger in check. Not only that, you will help to decrease your risk of chronic disease such as cancer and heart disease.
For more information on stress and eating, you can read our blog article called The Perfect Hormonal Storm.