The Science of Hunger

Learn about what motivates hunger and satiety in our bodies, and improve your ability to fully nourish yourself and maintain a healthy weight without second-guessing every bite.

| September/October 2017

  • If you eat the right foods, you can enjoy full meals instead of worrying about portion control.
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  • Simply thinking about food starts our body's process of preparing for nourishment.
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  • There is something to those visual tricks of eating on smaller plates to increase satisfaction!
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  • How we see our food, visually and perceptively, makes a difference in how satisfying it is.
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  • Shorter, more high-intensity workouts blunt the appetite more than long and moderate exercise routines.
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  • The hunger hormones insulin, leptin and ghrelin impact appetite based on numerous internal and external cues.
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  • Combining protein and fiber provides the greatest hunger suppression, and nothing contains more fiber per volume than greens!
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  • Ghrelin and other appetite hormones really are affected by sleep deprivation.
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  • The key to satisfaction is finding the appropriate balance of fiber, starch and protein to feel full but maintain a healthy weight.
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  • What you believe about the food you are eating can affect how satisfying you find it to be.
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  • If you get hungry when stressed, focus on eating protein and healthy fats.
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Many factors — including our hormones, food choices, habits and more — influence our bodies’ feelings of hunger and satiety. Learn more about what motivates hunger and improve your ability to fully nourish yourself and maintain a healthy weight, without second-guessing every bite. As a nutrition coach, I frequently see women looking to manage their weight. Inevitably, the term “portion control” comes up in our initial conversations. Everyone seems to believe smaller meal sizes must be the key to effective weight management. I’m happy to tell them that, by changing what they eat, most women can eat plates full of food, feel reduced hunger, and finally see the results they’ve been working toward in the gym come to light.

Chronic deprivation rarely leads to lasting results, so one of the focuses in my practice is to educate people on what foods are most satisfying so they needn’t worry about “managing portion control,” but rather focus on enjoying their meals. Most of us have enough on our plates to manage without having to manage what’s on our plates!

Yet, while the tools to managing hunger can be simple for many people, the triggers of hunger are complex and multifaceted. It all begins in the head. Read on to learn about the many cues and triggers that influence our levels of hunger and satiety, and be better equipped to properly feed and care for yourself.

The Hunger Sensation

Known as the cephalic phase of hunger, simply thinking about or seeing food begins the hormonal cascade that prepares our bodies for nourishment. Hunger is triggered by sensory, cognitive, digestive and hormonal stimuli.

You’ve probably experienced the sensory part walking by a bakery: The scents and sights of the tasty baked goods elicit salivation and may trigger a craving for a food you weren’t even thinking about mere seconds before. As the senses trigger a craving, the digestive process begins to prepare for the anticipated treat by releasing salivary amylase, an enzyme that helps break down carbohydrates as we chew. The senses also send signals to the stomach to release gastric juices. Your stomach may begin growling. Your body is now expecting you to step into that bakery! This response is conditioned, and we feel it most strongly when food we enjoy is brought to our awareness.

Our physical senses are key to our sense of satiety. How we see our food, visually and perceptively, makes a difference in how satisfying it is. Brian Wansink has done numerous studies on appetite and shares some of his work in his book, Mindless Eating. In one study, eating in complete darkness led participants to overeat (consuming a “super-sized” meal), underestimate how much they’d consumed and, despite consuming more food, to not report feeling fuller than a control group. In another study, incorporating air into a milkshake so it appeared twice the size but contained the same amount of calories resulted in a 12-percent reduction in food intake at the next meal, as well as lower reports of hunger.

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