The Science Behind Hunger
The holidays are a particularly challenging time for healthy eating. Bariatric Endocrinologist Elizabeth Lowden, MD, explains, “For many people, the holidays carry a lot of memories and traditions, like enjoying a favorite dish that is only served during this time of year.”
For weight management, it’s okay to indulge sometimes. “You have to choose when you’re going to utilize that deviation,” says Dr. Lowden. “We suggest indulging in your favorite dish, as opposed to trying them all.”
Certain foods, like those rich in fiber, make you feel fuller and can prevent overeating. Dr. Lowden also suggests getting healthy portions of nutrient-rich vegetables and lean proteins, and opting not to go back for second helpings.
Moreover, listen to your body’s cues and try to focus on spending time with family, not food.
Hunger vs. Appetite
Hunger and appetite are actually two separate processes that work in complex ways. Dr. Lowden admits that is why weight management can be particularly difficult. Clinical Neurophysiologist Mircea T. Iacob, MD, adds, “Hunger itself is a primary reflex.”
Your brain measures hunger by reading changes in the levels of hormones and nutrients in the blood. These are controlled by a number of hormones, mostly within the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Dr. Iacob says, “When those hormones are released, it activates your brain to look for food.”
On the other hand, appetite, or hedonic eating, is more driven by the pleasure centers in your brain. This explains why you crave food or have trouble stopping at just one (or two) cookies.
“When serotonin levels are low, you’ll look for ways to boost those pathways, such as eating carbohydrates,” says Dr. Iacob. “These hormones, which control and regulate appetite, can vary from person to person based on factors such as weight or sleep deprivation.” For those reasons, he suggests keeping a regular sleep schedule and avoiding triggers.
If you find yourself unable to control how much you eat, or if you eat until you make yourself sick, Dr. Lowden suggests seeking the help of a specialist.
To learn more, see what’s really going on in your body and why it’s hard to pass on that extra piece of pie: