Hunger- \ˈhəŋ-gər\ (noun):
a. A strong desire or need for food.
b. The discomfort, weakness, or pain caused by a prolonged lack of food.
For many years I ate 5 to 6 small meals per day, grazing. I trained my appetite to signal me to eat every 3 hours or so. If I didn't eat, I would get cranky as my blood sugar dropped. Eating 3 meals and having 2 to 3 snacks per day was the dogma I followed and many nutritionist still proscribe for health and weight loss. "It will stoke your metabolism", I thought. However, science is anything but clear on this. In fact, I believe it made me hungrier. So now I am practicing a form of intermittent fasting (IF) and I have never felt better. In the beginning of my IF personal experiments I felt hunger for the first time in my life. It hurt, it made me uncomfortable, it forced me to day dream about food so much so I almost quit until I redefined hunger and let my body acclimate to the new eating pattern. I persisted and now reap the benefits of embracing and redefining hunger:
- Weight loss (mostly fat loss)
- Increased focus and memory retention
- Increased energy levels
- More control over my food cravings and appetite
- More time to do other things during the day (other than preparing and cooking food)
- Resting my digestive system
- More stable blood sugars and improved insulin sensitivity
- Recognition of what satiety really is and not overeating
The feeling of hunger is triggered by over 100 physiological, psychological and environmental factors. Here are a few of the major ones:
- Ghrelin - a hormone produced in the stomach that stimulates hunger - think stomach Gremlin
- Leptin resistance (seen in the obese) - a hormone released by your fat cells which tells your body you are sated. Except in cases of resistance where your brain can't see the leptin and increases its fat stores as a result by upping your hunger levels.
- Insulin - a hormone when elevated (by eating carbs and sugar) will depress blood sugar and increase appetite - it is sometimes given to undernourished people in order to increase their appetite!
- Smells of food - I avoid walking by some restaurants because their cooked food smells so darn good. I'm glad I can't smell ice cream.
- Looking at food - specifically looking at fattening foods will elicit responses in our brain that will increase cravings.
- Meal timing habits - your body will get use to eating at certain times and rev your hunger hormones prior to your regular meal times.
- Stress - releases cortisol which seems to increase hunger yet in the long term stress may actually decrease hunger. A chronically stressed person is not primed to digest well.
1. JAMA: Insulin and Hunger
2. Looking at food increases appetite
3. Robert Sapolsky, “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, Henry Hold & Company; 1994.
4. Brain Wansink, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think", Bantam: 2006.
5. NYTimes: Empty Stomach Intelligence
6. Autophagy: Fasting and Brain Health