The Highs and Lows of Ghrelin
The hormones leptin and ghrelin act in a kind of yin-yang relationship when it comes to hunger and satisfaction. Just as leptin tells the brain to turn off hunger, ghrelin tells the brain you’re famished.
For the average person, ghrelin levels increase when the stomach is empty. Ghrelin is the reason you always feel hungry at particular moments in the day — your body’s clock triggers the release of the hormone according to a finely tuned schedule. Ghrelin will remain elevated until you’ve given your body enough nutrients to satisfy its needs. Because the hormonal signals that you’re satisfied can take time to kick in, eating slowly may help you eat less overall. By the time your stomach fills up, ghrelin levels start to drop again, you feel satisfied, and you stop eating. Sounds easy, right?
Well, constant calorie restriction keeps ghrelin levels high, which may be why some yo-yo dieters feel as if their hunger just keeps getting worse the fewer calories they eat. This is all part of nature’s way of telling us, “Eat already!”
You have to stay ahead of ghrelin surges by eating regularly, because ghrelin is crafty about getting you to eat. Some research even shows that ghrelin triggers reward centers in the brain to make food seem even more appealing. Ghrelin triggers these centers when you ordinarily wouldn’t need to eat — except you just smelled fresh chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen at work. As we encounter tempting treats throughout our day, this devious ghrelin is probably a big part of what makes maintaining weight loss so challenging. Eating balanced meals every four hours and getting eight hours of sleep will help you better manage your ghrelin levels. Saying no to those treats is entirely up to you!