Rule 7. Eat when hungry
When I talk about the benefits of hunger many people get scared. But they shouldn’t - because healthy hunger is not our enemy but our ally. A healthy physiological appetite is more than just a wish to eat. It is a sign of health, a sign of zest for life. A slight hunger is an absolutely normal and natural state of a person. For a healthy metabolic function, well-being and healthy eating behavior, it is important to follow a simple rule - eat when you are hungry and eat to satiety. Despite the apparent simplicity, this rule has many nuances.
BREAK: A slight hunger is a natural state of a healthy active person. For a healthy metabolic function, well-being and healthy eating behavior, it is important to follow a simple rule - eat when you are really hungry and eat to satiety.
A dainty appetite and having the full meals insure the good work of the hunger-satiety system, which is based on the balance of two hormones, ghrelin and leptin. I ask you to understand that the word hunger is very inaccurate. It mixes up the different physiological phenomena. We can distinguish at least three different phenomena: appetite (3-5 hours, glycogen diminishes), hunger during nutritional moderation (fasting, up to 70 hours) and famine (strong hormonal changes).
Learn to treat hunger as a signal. Imagine that you are driving a car and suddenly your gas tank indicator lights up. Do you floor the gas and rush to the nearest gas station leaving all the business? No, because you have a reserve of another 50-100 kilometers so you can finish things up and then drop by a gas station. In this way, hunger is a signal that the level of glycogen in the liver is reduced. Usually you get hungry when you still have about 20% of your energy reserve. Therefore, it is quite possible to wait an hour or an hour and a half and then eat well. But if you ignore hunger it can claim in a bad way, increasing the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, listen to the signals!
Greedy genes. The scientists characterize the current epidemic of obesity and overeating as the theory of greedy genes. Long ago, when food was deficient, the important strategy for the survival of our ancestors was to eat high-calorie food as much as they can because they could hardly store food and keep it with them. Now these greedy genes stimulate overeating because we are constantly coming across the attractive images of high-calorie food (food porn) or exciting food flavors.
BREAK: Hunger is a signal that the level of glycogen in the liver is reduced. Usually you get hungry when you still have about 20% of your energy reserve. Therefore, it is quite possible to wait an hour or an hour and a half and then eat well.
Stress and food. Hunger was the main problem of survival for our ancestors. Therefore, in the case of chronic stress our appetite increases. It works like this: stress makes ghrelin increase. That’s why psychological stress without proper control provokes overeating. High-calorie foods cause a rise in dopamine and in this way supports overeating and welcomes stress. It turns out that we support our overeating caused by stress, and from very childhood we get into this vicious circle. Under stress, ghrelin level increases, this pushes us to search for resources and solutions to our problems. We are becoming more irritable and harsh but it helps us better solve our problems and even strengthens the will to live. But unfortunately, the stress increase in ghrelin often leads to the fact that we just eat and do not solve our problems. Often, obesity can be not just extra pounds but the loss of zest for life.
Imbalanced hunger. When we use food not for its intended purpose (the satisfaction of physical hunger) but for other purposes (to shut up a child, calm down, cheer up, reduce stress), then we destroy the natural chain hunger – food. We start associating hunger with completely different triggers and can form such chain as stress (or boredom) - food. The very strict schedule of meals regardless of appetite can have the same effect. Forcing someone or yourself to eat is wrong!
Hunger and taste. According to the popular proverb, hunger is the best spice. Ghrelin enhances the dopamine response to usual foods and the pleasure of eating. Therefore, when we are hungry, ordinary food seems very tasty and we eat it with pleasure.
But a frequent fear and the question are: since hunger improves the taste of food, is there a risk of overeating? People are afraid that by working up their appetite they will eat too much. Yes, ghrelin increases the amount of food eaten, but in the way of more frequent meals not by making you eat more during one meal. After all, ghrelin is produced by the walls of the stomach, so if you eat enough food (including vegetables and greens) and keep an eating regimen, then you have no reason to be afraid of ghrelin.
Ghrelin and the brain. The idea of ghrelin’s action as the hunger hormone is not to make you weak, but on the contrary, to stimulate you to move faster and think better. That is why ghrelin has a large number of beneficial effects. So, it activates the release of growth hormone somatotropine, which stimulates autophagy.
The action of hunger and ghrelin on the functioning of the brain is very beneficial. Ghrelin stimulates the production of the neurotrophic factor BDNF, the neurogenesis, and helps protect the brain from aging. Hunger improves memory, learning (A full belly is not the stomach of a scholar) supports the normal functioning of the hippocampus, reduces the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The antidepressant effect of ghrelin is also important. Yes, hunger significantly reduces the risk of depression. It stimulates the search for novelty, the release of dopamine and the keeping a zest for life. If you introduce ghrelin to experimental animals, they became active explores and strive to learn something new, and so humans do.
Hunger and motivation. Ghrelin enhances not only the desire for food, but also the motivation. The animal studies clearly established this: the more ghrelin is, the more the animal is ready to work for a reward. More ghrelin - more motivation!
BREAK: The increased level of the hunger hormone ghrelin improves memory, supports the normal functioning of the hippocampus, reduces the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, and has the antidepressant effect. It is hunger that significantly reduces the risk of depression and stimulates the search for novelty, the release of dopamine and the keeping a zest for life.
Hunger and immunity. Many people know that with diseases (injuries, infections, tumors, etc.), appetite disappears and this is natural. The return of appetite is a good prognostic sign. It turned out that ghrelin is able to affect immune function, reducing inflammation and stimulating the growth of lymphoid tissue. The hormones ghrelin and somatotropine have an anti-inflammatory effect, but leptin and insulin are predominantly pro-inflammatory. Ghrelin helps with many autoimmune diseases, supports the normal functioning of the thymus gland and the normal production of immune cells.
Of course, hunger has many black sides. When we skip meals because of intense stressful work, then our body takes the necessary energy in bad way, increasing the level of cortisol, destroying muscles and causing the over-fatigue. The stimulating effect of ghrelin also has negative aspects. So, when increased ghrelin is pushing somebody for the search for novelty, it increases the risk of drug addiction and risky behavior. Therefore, it is important for those who are getting rid of addiction to avoid being HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) and not to expose themselves to strong hunger.
The rule is: eat when you are really hungry to a feeling of true satiation. Therefore, it is quite natural and logical to change the time of dinner and supper in such way as to have hunger by that time.
Flexibility in dinner and supper. Hunger is a signal of readiness to eat. This rule, of course, can seem a little unusual when we constantly hear the popular sit down without hunger, get up without satiety. So, to follow this rule, you should work up your appetite and not slacken it.
Work up your appetite. These are long intervals between meals. Real hunger does not occur instantly, it appears gradually, as the stores of glycogen in the muscles and liver are depleted. The instant desire to eat something is a sign of hunger caused by stress.
Do not slacken your appetite. Do not snack. This is important because even a small snack (to stay hunger) can lead to a drop in ghrelin level and a dulling of hunger. This principle is used in the method of split meals, which I do not recommend. For the normal functioning of the hunger-satiety system, we need a good appetite at the time of eating. Often people eat snacks consuming few calories, instead of eating a full meal. Such a strategy can lead to both malnutrition and overeating. Constant snacks create an increased load on the gastrointestinal tract, from teeth to digestive glands.
BREAK: Real hunger does not occur instantly, it appears gradually, as the stores of glycogen in the muscles and liver are depleted. The instant desire to eat something is a sign of hunger caused by stress.
Appetite comes with eating. The ghrelin level increases markedly the moment we sit by the table. Looking at food and feeling its smell stimulate appetite even more. The pause before eating is discussed later (see the rule 8). In healthy people, the level of the hunger hormone ghrelin is greatest on an empty stomach and after beginning of eating (for 20 minutes), then decreases by 35-55% and remains at this level for two to four hours. The insufficient reduction of plasma ghrelin after eating is considered the resistance (decreased sensitivity) to ghrelin. Usually it can be caused by impaired appetite.
Distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Physical hunger occurs gradually, after eating. You want to eat any food and it all seems attractive. Although physical hunger is persistent, it is easy to delay a meal and wait for an hour or two. In response to physical hunger, you want to eat a lot; after eating you feel relieved and satisfied, and hunger disappears.
Emotional hunger occurs suddenly and quickly becomes quite intense; often it is not associated with a certain meal. It draws attention and requires quick satisfaction. At the same time, you want to eat just a specific dish (fatty, spicy, crunchy: pizza, chips, sweets, etc.), not a lot but a bit. You do not want to eat ordinary dishes. Often, after eating in response to emotional hunger, the aftertaste is tension, regret and disgust. Understand that you cannot solve the problem of emotional hunger by a slice of sausage. But the techniques of awareness, control, and relaxation will help you reduce the intensity of emotional hunger.
Control your appetite. Control of hunger is the most important condition for the long-term use of any diet. If hunger is not under control, then you can hardly use the diet in the long run. Ideally, you should arrange the dietary regimen as follows: a hearty breakfast, such that it is enough till dinner and to get an appetite for it. It’s good to have a bountiful dinner such that it is enough till supper and to get an appetite for it. Your supper should be such that you keep satiety till sleep. Control your hunger when it occurs and satisfy it fully so that you can keep satiety for a long time.
BREAK: It draws attention and requires quick satisfaction. At the same time, you want to eat just a specific dish (fatty, spicy, crunchy: pizza, chips, sweets, etc.), not a lot but a bit. You do not want to eat ordinary dishes. Often, after eating in response to emotional hunger, the aftertaste is tension, regret and disgust.
Eat to satiety. As we know, the satiation is best perceived when it comes after previous hunger. After 20 minutes of eating ghrelin quickly decreases and is low for two to four hours. Therefore, satiation is the disappearance of hunger. This is the most reliable indicator of satiation. I cannot eat another bite is already a symptom of overeating but not physiological satiation. Satiation is a multilevel process that includes the stage of cephalic (brain) satiation at the sight and smell of food, the mechanical stage (stimulation of the mechanoreceptors of the stomach), the intestinal stage (absorption of glucose and amino acids), the action of hormones (gastrointestinal peptide, cholecystokinin, etc.) and a number of others mechanisms. The more we use different satiation mechanisms, the faster it comes. You should differ satiation from satiety, which is physical feeling of how long you can keep before you start feeling hungry again. Satiety is kept due to carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index (such as legumes), soluble viscous fiber (algae, vegetables, fruits), protein, etc. Choosing the right foods is the key to controlling satiation and satiety.
How to follow the rule? Ideas and tips
False hunger. Differ true physiological hunger from false hunger. False hunger can be associated with stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, negative emotions, and many other non-nutritional aspects. Stress makes ghrelin rise. Food in this case makes you stout and does not help in solving the emotional problem but often just makes it worse.
Lack of sleep. Sleep deficiency, poor sleep lead to a decrease in the satiety hormone leptin and to an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin. The lack of sleep of one hour can lead to 250 kcal overeating the next day. The less you sleep the more you will eat the next day. Therefore, sleep well; quality sleep is an important step towards controlling hunger!
Lack of exercise. Constant sitting (even in a comfortable or ergonomic chair) negatively affects the level of stress and impairs the metabolism. Prolonged sitting and lack of movement exacerbate hunger, and even little activity (standing up, walking, climbing stairs) contributes to better control of hunger. Take short breaks more often and move!
Dehydration. We often take thirst for hunger. It is enough to drink just a sip of water to understand the difference (see the chapter "Water balance", "Sodium-potassium balance").
Hormonal changes. Often the hormonal changes are the cause of appetite changes. Thus, a decrease in sensitivity to insulin (insulin resistance), a decrease in sensitivity to leptin (leptin resistance), and disturbances in the functioning of sex hormones can markedly increase appetite. Metabolic rigidity is a common cause of increased hunger (see chapter “Metabolic flexibility and circadian synchronization”).
BREAK: Sleep deficiency, poor sleep lead to a decrease in the satiety hormone leptin and to an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin. The lack of sleep of one hour can lead to 250 kcal overeating the next day. The less you sleep the more you will eat the next day. Therefore, sleep well; quality sleep is an important step towards controlling hunger!
Substances that prevent satiation. Many substances can stimulate overeating and prevent satiation. These include salt (sodium), flavor enhancers, flavorings, sweeteners, sugar, and substances produced during smoking and frying (see Rule 17). Excess sodium stimulates appetite and overeating. Reduce the amount of salt and you will eat less, you will even need less water. The common calorie-free flavorings stimulate hunger and can make you eat 10% more than you would eat without them. The prolonged usage of sweeteners increase hunger, cravings for sweets, and reduce satiety. Refuse to use them regularly. The combination of fat and sugar destroys satiety most effectively and whets appetite.
Spice. Bitter, spicy, and sour taste as well as spicy seasonings can dull appetite and contribute to better satiation. Spices also contain a lot of biologically active substances and a negligible amount of calories. Therefore, adding spices and seasonings is an important element of a healthy diet. Spices improve satiation in different ways: more stimulation, more bitter taste, the enhanced bile secretion, better motility, and more conscious sensory contact with food. On average, a person eats 200 kcal less if food is spiced.
Fiber and greens. Fiber (especially soluble) is an essential component that provides long-term satiation and some very useful properties. Greens, vegetables, and algae contain most fiber. Use fiber not in the form of powder but as a part of whole foods, and achieve its largest variety - this is useful for the microflora. Greens contain a number of biologically active substances that support satiety.
Respect food. The more you know about the food and the more you are sure that it will saturate you, the longer you can keep satiety.
Protein. Protein is a great nutrient that provides long-lasting satiety. Therefore, eat protein first in the meal and add it to control satiety.
Fats. Fats help satiety by increasing cholecystokinin production. But the problem for people who lose weight is the high calorie content of fats. Consuming fats either with proteins (in fish or meat) or in salads with greens and vegetables you will do it in the optimal way.
Normalization of hunger. During the process of weight loss, both ghrelin level and sensitivity to it increase. This is the frequent reason of a failure and the reverse weight gain. Therefore, a gradual process reduces these risks. Unfortunately, this process is very prolonged in people. Losing weight by 8.5% of body weight and keeping this weight for six months revealed the following: ghrelin grows for six months, while a person loses weight; it remains increased for another six months and then returns to normal.
I cannot distinguish the type of hunger. Use a simple working solution: if you cannot understand whether you are experiencing emotional or physiological hunger, then do not eat. If not sure, don't eat!
BREAK: Spices contain a lot of biologically active substances and a negligible amount of calories. On average, a person eats 200 kcal less if food is spiced.
Create abundance. The fact of abundance in everything - from gratitude to people around us, to food, to ourselves; to a sufficient variety of products and satisfaction with life - all this contributes to greater satiety and reduces hunger. Seek pleasure and satisfaction in food, saturating not only your body but also your mind.
Do not go shopping when hungry. Studies show that hungry people tend to buy more high-calorie and less healthy foods. When you buy or order the delivery online, add healthy food products to your shopping lists.