When someone mentions hormones, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are the ones that most likely spring to mind. In fact, our bodies produce a whole host of other hormones which play a role in our health and how we function day in day out. Ghrelin, sometimes referred to as the ‘hunger hormone’ controls hunger, food intake and influences fat storage.
Stimulated by the cells in our stomach, ghrelin sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain telling us it’s time to eat. Small amounts are also released by the pancreas and the small intestine. The more ghrelin in the bloodstream, the bigger the appetite and likely, the more food you eat. After eating, ghrelin levels decrease and don’t rise again until your body starts looking for more energy.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be wondering how you can keep ghrelin levels low. To be clear, ghrelin is not bad. Our hormones are made for a reason – they have a specific job to do in the body. If we never felt hungry, would we take as much joy from the food we eat? How would we know when our bodies need nourishment? How would we function at our optimum?
It’s when our hormones stop working as they should that we can run into trouble. And, our diet and lifestyle choices have a significant impact on this. That doesn’t mean jumping to calorie restriction. Naturally, this will increase your ghrelin levels, potentially lead to overeating and storage of fat. It’s all about balance. So, I have highlighted a few tips here, which will help keep this specific hormone in check and doing its job correctly.
- Eat a diet rich in fibre from fruit and vegetables, legumes and wholegrains.
Fibre slows down our digestion while also keeping our gut bacteria diverse and healthy. Foods high in fibre also tend to be lower in calories and higher in nutrient density meaning you get better bang for your buck when it comes to calorie intake.
- Limit intake of high Glycaemic Load (“GL”) carbohydrates and processed foods high in sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Refined and processed foods or high GL foods are high in calories, saturated fat and low in nutrients. As well as spiking your blood sugar for a short period, sending your hunger and energy levels on a rollercoaster, they trigger release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward. We start to associate that short lived high with reward as opposed to the feeling of being nourished and satiated.
- Eat protein with every meal
Incorporating a portion of lean or vegetable protein into each meal (eggs, oily fish, chicken or turkey, beans and pulses) will slow the rate at which your stomach empties, keeping you fuller for longer. It will also reduce the insulin spike you get from eating a carbohydrate based meal, which in turn reduce the sugar cravings which inevitably follow that initial sugar high.
- Reduce stress
Studies in animals have shown that exposure to chronic stress increases ghrelin and growth hormone levels. Chronic stress also interacts with the brain’s reward pathways to increase food intake, creating a vicious cycle where we begin to see food as a comfort during times of stress and anxiety. Incorporate yoga, meditation or breathing into your daily routine, get out for a walk or run in nature, find something that works for you to allow you to live (and eat) more mindfully.
- Sleep well
Inadequate sleep has been associated with an increase in ghrelin levels, appetite and hunger. Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Practice good sleep hygiene by limiting screen time and avoiding heavy meals and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime and try to stick to regular sleep and waking up times, even at the weekend, to regulate the circadian rhythm.
Research in recent years has indicated a link between High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), reduced ghrelin and increased leptin levels. Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone. It helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so the body does not trigger hunger responses when it does not need energy. Incorporate some high intensity exercise into your lifestyle each week – circuits, sprints, cycling. Get out and get a sweat on!
Help is at hand
If you are looking for support with weight loss or indeed weight gain, incorporating these diet and lifestyle changes would be a great place to start. It’s important to remember however, that ghrelin is only one of many interrelated factors, which could be impacting on your health and wellbeing. Working with a Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach will allow you to create a plan specific to your body’s needs and your personal health and fitness goals.
For more information on what this involves, book a FREE 30 minute Health & Energy Transformation call with me and find out how you can transform the way you eat to look and feel amazing.