There are primarily three hunger hormones that control hunger – (1) leptin, (2) ghrelin, and (3) Neuropeptide Y (NPY).
To best control hunger, you must have the right level of each individual hormone. While maintaining the right balance of hormones is not entirely under our control, there are actions you can take to help stack the odds in your favor.
Here are seven tips to ensure that you’re giving yourself the upper hand to help you control hunger:
1. Reduce Sugar and Fructose Consumption
Fructose is a major contributor to insulin and leptin resistance. Fructose disrupts the signals of insulin and leptin, by over-taxing the liver as fructose is primarily shuttled to the liver for processing as opposed to glucose, which is shuttled to muscle and fat cells.
Over time, this increased workload on the liver can cause the pathways that control both leptin and insulin to break down causing resistance in the cells. Your liver is the main organ for fat-burning. By reducing white sugar (which is about 50% glucose, 50% fructose) and substances like high-fructose corn syrup (which has a 5-25% higher fructose percentage), you allow your liver to do other things, like burning fat.
2. Eat at Regularly Scheduled Times
Ghrelin is a hormone influenced by your heaviest meal of the day. Therefore, studies show that it matters less how often you eat — what is important is that you eat at regularly scheduled times. By doing so, you allow better control over your hunger throughout the day.
For example, if you normally eat a large lunch at 12:30 pm, but decide to eat an “early lunch” at 11 am one day, it is much more likely that you will feel hungry again at 12:30. This is because your Ghrelin levels are higher at a particular time. So you increase your odds of reaching for a snack that you wouldn’t normally have. By eating at regularly scheduled times, you allow for a pattern of hunger you can have at least a short-term control over.
3. Reduce Your Conditioned Response to Stress
The way we individually deal with that stress has a huge impact on whether or not we gain weight when confronted with it. If your habitual reaction is to reach for food, then you will definitely increase your odds of gaining weight. Normally, stress induces a desire for sweet foods.
If, when confronted with stress, you learn to take on other habits shown to reduce your overall stress levels, such as taking a small walk or doing some deep breathing, you allow yourself to get another small handle on your hunger hormones. Over the long term, those small steps can have a much larger impact on whether you keep weight off.
4. Aim for 7-8 Hours Of Sleep Per Night
Sleep plays a major role in controlling your hunger hormones in both the short and long term. Studies show time and time again those who sleep the most weigh the least, whereas those who sleep the least, weigh the most.
By getting onto a regular sleep schedule where you’re in bed for at least 8 hours, and actually getting 7 hours of sleep, you increase your odds of increasing leptin levels, dropping ghrelin levels, and controlling your hunger hormones overall. Sleep really is a hugely powerful tool while trying to lose fat. Use it to your advantage.
5. Eat More Fiber
Fiber has lots of benefits associated with it, but studies have shown that higher fiber intakes help to suppress ghrelin levels, while also possibly inhibiting NPY levels. By consistently eating higher fiber foods (think vegetables), you have a way of controlling these powerful hunger-inducing hormones.
6. Take Diet Breaks
Leptin levels are strongly associated with insulin levels and therefore if you are on a diet, make sure that you have an occasional re-feed or a 24-30 hour block of higher carb intake every week. By doing so, you allow leptin levels to rise, which helps to decrease both NPY and ghrelin while stimulating your metabolism for up to 4 days afterwards.
Every 3-6 months (if your diet lasts that long), you should probably also take a whole month off of dieting. By doing so, you allow your hunger hormones to stabilize and increase your overall metabolic rate. Just be sure to have a plan for coming off of your diet and don’t simply jump to the other extreme of over-eating. As stated throughout the article, your hunger hormones are probably increased while leptin levels are low, setting you up for a potentially disastrous outcome if not done in a systematic way.
Last but not least is exercise. Exercise may be the most important aspect in controlling your hunger hormones over the long term. Research shows that exercising helps to induce changes in the brain that help with executive function. What this means is exercise helps to strengthen your self-control from the top down. In addition to that, resistance training helps to make your cells more sensitive to both insulin and leptin, allowing the signals of these hormones to be more powerfully exerted in the body at lower concentrations.
This can be absolutely critical to the long-term success of any fat loss program as studies have continually shown that leptin levels will drop with weight loss. By making your cells more sensitive to these signals, you allow the feeling of fullness to be a part of your life, although your hunger hormones might be higher than normal. This powerful one-two combination of increased self-control with increased sensitivity to leptin is something that diet alone simply can’t do. Make sure to include exercise as an integral part of any fat loss plan.
Keep Your Hunger Levels Low
In the end, Ghrelin and NPY increase appetite and Leptin helps to keep you feeling full. Lack of sleep, stress, and crash diets can increase the hunger hormones while decreasing leptin levels. In addition to that, stress and sleep, and obesity can cause leptin resistance making it harder for your brain to hear the signals that leptin is sending to it, setting up a potential cycle of over-eating and not feeling full afterward. But, there’s hope.
There are specific actions you can take to get a better handle on these hunger hormones and they range from getting more sleep, to reducing your sugar intake, and making exercise a part of your fat-loss regimen.