Hunger and Cravings… Its all in your head right?
Looking back, when have you had a craving so badly, you just NEEDED to act on it? We’ve all been there, you have this uncontrollable urge to splurge! To people out of the know, they would just assume you have no willpower, you just lack the mental fortitude to say no and you just aren’t strong enough… I’m here to tell you, whilst the mental aspect is huge, all might not be as it seems. There could be a few gremlins lying in wait in your body which you don’t have direct control over! Essentially…. It might not be your fault you are getting those cravings!
It could come down to hormones. Which unless kept in check, could deliver you a bout of those nasty cravings and some unsuspecting time!
Firstly, there is insulin. I’ve talked before on this one, insulin and blood sugar levels go hand in hand. They also play a key role in the fat loss system.
The next ones, which perhaps take up the majority of the discussion today are:
Leptin – This guy is your satiety hormone. Go back in time, could be one month ago, could be yesterday, hell, it could have been the last time you ate. Go back and remember the last time you were hungry and had a meal and thought “yup I’m satisfied”, I don’t need anything else, that filled me right up. That feeling of satisfaction, that satiety comes from that little old hormone, Leptin.
Ghrelin – This guy is your hunger hormone. Many people have had that occasion when their blood sugar is so low, they blame insulin for causing their hunger. When in fact… it’s the gremlin Ghrelin! This guy causes hunger!
Which one impacts cravings more? Ghrelin mostly impacts cravings, then enters Cortisol (the stress hormone), which can also influence hunger. To add confusion to the mix, there’s dopamine (your ‘seeking’ neurotransmitter), serotonin (your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) and finally, ‘GABA’ (gamma-aminobutyric acid) affecting sleep.
So put all that on hold for a minute and lets delve into the sleep and GABA aspect. This is an example of how hormones can can effect your ‘feelings’ and therefore hunger. In 2004 Dr. Evan Carter of University of Chicago conducted a study on sleep deprivation to see what affect it had on appetite. They tested a group of men, the group slept only 4 hours for 2 consecutive nights and then followed that by sleeping 2 consecutive nights for 10 hours… (I don’t think that I could even sleep 10 hours lol!).
The study concluded that the group who slept for sleeping for 4 hours had leptin levels 18% lower than the group who slept for 10 hours. This means that they were 18% less satisfied by their meals, therefore 18% less energetic and not as full. Ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels were also 28% higher after sleeping for only 4 hours, having the effect of greater hunger levels. The potential for cravings has just gone up!
When the 4 hour group were asked how they felt, they said they felt much hungrier than normal and were craving sweet and salty foods… Well I’ll be damned, guess what sort of foods are most likely to satisfy that craving… The junk ones! Can you relate to that? Sleep deprived, perhaps a student working on a late project, jobs where you pull an all nighter to hit a deadline, a parent with kids that keep waking in the night or medical staff with ever-changing shift patterns… You feel HUNGRY, and guess what you usually reach for… Well I’ll tell you what you don’t usually think of, that’s the superfood salad or tuna steak and veg sat in your fridge waiting to be eaten. Nope, you crave the sugary, salty, dense foods! You don’t consider the high value protein and nutrient dense veggies. You CRAVE the cookies, the Chinese, the pizza. Why? Well that change in your hormones causes what Dr Carter refers to as hedonic eating. You’re just easting for the pleasure of it! What causes that pleasure? It’s the neurotransmitters, the chemistry experiment going on in your head.
One thing to also mention is that a drop in leptin levels can also signal the body to reduce or drop your metabolic rate. So if you are sleep deprived, perhaps 5 hours a night for a month. For arguments sake, let’s say because your getting 5 hours, your leptin has not dropped as much as 18% but its dropped by 7-12% and your Ghrelin levels are around 15% higher. So think about that, that’s real life right there, you are sleep deprived. Are you going to wake up and kill your workout in the morning? Nope, your going to wake up and reach for the coffee. A quick pick me up, or you might wake up and reach for the sweeter muffin or bagel as a quick fix, we’ve all been there. That’s how you start your day, then in addition to that, your drop in Leptin has signalled to your body to drop its calorie burning furnace!
So, what am I getting at here?
Your goal shouldn’t necessarily always be to lose weight and get stronger etc. Your goal shouldn’t be to eat low calorie, low fat foods. No, it should be to eat properly, do exercise and practice good habits that will stabilise your hormones and neurotransmitters because then, and only then, are you going to set up the ENVIRONMENT in which you can live with an optimal range of body fat and have more energy to play, laugh and live life to it’s fullest!
Now I know the above is a bit geeky and science based so I’m going break it down a bit, but I want you to think about that for a minute and consider the other angles, much like training muscles in different ranges and planes to create a better looking physique.
Consider your goals in the gym at the moment, they are probably drastically different from the above. They are most likely very specific i.e. lose weight or increase the weight you can lift. But unless you can sort out the environment from which they are based, well your farting in a hurricane! Think your going to have an easy ride to optimal body composition WITHOUT addressing your sleeping habits? You may achieve them, but they will be harder than if you had put the same 20% of the effort into your training than into your did sleep.
One of the problems a lot of people have is simply making poor food choices. We went through above how and why that might be the case, remember those hormones? Processed foods, high in sugar, low calorie and low fat foods; all of those are marketing based and driven drivel. Sex sells right? So the next time you have a look at food/drink advertising, typically low fat or sugar, the latest one is ‘High Protein’ products. Who did they use to market the product? I bet its one of a few type of people.
Usually its the ideal person, i.e. some freakishly good looking in-shape model that draws your eye. Humans are simple in that respect, put marketing in front of us suggesting we can look a certain way by eating this convenient, easy to prepare, or pre-made food and we are SOLD! Its not often a slimming or health company are going to use an overweight, less than “societies’ perfect person” because they know after YEARS of research that no one will buy the damn thing! So marketing is against us and the environment is against us as we are overworked, tired and our hormones are screwed. Good luck hitting those goals if your priorities don’t change.
So what can we do to optimise this hormonal environment nutritionally? There are a few options, however I’m going to go through the least complicated to follow and easiest to implement version below. The foundation from which you can build an optimal approach to food and sustain it. By sustaining it, that optimal health that I mentioned above is actually possible. Will it get you into the best shape of your life? Probably, if you struggle now. Will it get you down to 5% body fat with rippling abs? Probably not (unless you are genetically gifted). Will it get you to the position that you feel comfortable taking your t-shirt off on the beach or wearing a bikini, probably. So lets go through it.
Eat whole foods, i.e. foods you have to cook from scratch. Now I can hear all the people out there saying I don’t have time to cook everything from scratch. Well that depends how much you value your goal. I value my health A LOT therefore I have learnt ways of being able to cook in big batches, healthy food that I can take to work each day with me. I have invested TIME in my health so that can do it. I have a family, I have multiple businesses and a host of other commitments, but between myself and my wife we have managed to cook for 3 people 99% of our meals in the last 4 years. You have to learn HOW, you can do it if you really, really want it! We have proved it time and time again with our 12 week transformations.
CURRENT AFFAIRS NOTE: The BBC Clean Eating Program. Whilst I agree with some of what the program suggests, that there are a few that have taken it too far and made “clean eating” into something that it is not. I believe that in today’s convenience food environment, a step back to whole foods and learning how to cook, would be a longer term solution to the obesity crisis. But I also believe that people need to actually WANT to do it otherwise nothing will change.
If you were to just make that one change, that one thing, you would most likely get the results you desire.
You might wonder, what whole foods?
- Leaner sources of protein – I’m 100% not saying that fats are bad, quite the contrary, I think that they are essential to the health of your hormonal system. There are a couple of reasons why I might keep leaner sources of protein in this starting stage:
- The toxic load will be lower. Fats are a toxin storage site. If you cannot afford lovely organic, free range meat then it makes sense to limit the exposure and choose learner sources.
- It means we are less likely to go over our caloric threshold and thus drop some body fat.
- You can alternatively add in fats to the food that are more beneficial, like medium chain triglycerides that could help increase our energy and help bolster that hormonal system.
- Plenty of vegetables – Do not think that those sweet gems of a food are boring to eat, there are so many ways in which to make veggies more interesting to eat, click on the picture to download just one way that we make cauliflower more interesting. The main reason for eating them… They are LOADED with vitamins and minerals, in some cases the most dense versions of them available to us, so please please, that 5 a day is a minimum. If you don’t hit it, that optimal environment to your health and hormones will always be on the horizon!
We constantly hear in our gym ( Priority 6) and from our remote nutrition clients,
“I feel so full, I cant eat all the food, for the first time in years”. That my friends, is the most powerful thing in our nutrition plans, if you feel full and satisfied, we know that good old friend from above, Leptin, is close to optimal!
So what ways could you measure whether or not your making progress other than weight? There are lots of people out there that have been on a weight loss plan and the scale has not budged in a while, that can be truly tough. Lots of people have considered jacking it all in, well let me tell you, I UNDERSTAND your frustration, I’ve had it myself and seen many aspects of my progress towards my goals stall. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Here are some other measures and standards to use other than the scales to highlight your PROGRESS in health and fitness.
- Feel satisfied after meals: Your gut telling you that your full and leptin is working, that is progress, that consistency in the long run will develop those habits of not overeating! Going from cravings and never feeling satisfied or always feeling stuffed and bloated… this change is progress!
- Having more ENERGY! Instead of feeling sluggish your now able to utilise that energy! This may come from the balance of macros but it also comes from other things in your nutrition for example the water you’re drinking more of, that stuff you don’t consider on a day to day basis has a host of other minerals bound up in it that. If you’re dehydrated, everything suffers! Water also comes from whole foods, eating veg etc. will increase your total water consumption.
- Sleeping better, because you’re exercising and changing your lifestyle. Things that could help those who are not sleeping well? Black out blinds, sleep masks that block out light, better nutrition before bed, magnesium supplementation and a proper nighttime routine to ‘switch off’. Eating the right foods can really help the quality of your sleep. As discussed earlier this can have a huge knock on effect on your leptin and ghrelin levels making it easier for you to say no and feel fuller. This is a sign you’re going in the right direction, feeling healthier. The healthier you feel, the more your body composition will change.
- Weight vs body fat… I’ve heard it so many times before, “I’ve not dropped any weight but my clothes feel looser and I’ve dropped 27cms in circumference measurements”. Or potentially that the clothes have got tighter (for males around the chest and arms). Instead of using the scale alone, use the fact your clothes feel different as a marker of your progress in conjunction with your weight. At the end of the day would you like to be a light size 14 or a heavy size 10? The weight is only one measure and a guide, it doesn’t tell the whole story just like any of the others on their own don’t tell the whole story! I would argue its more important that your clothes change and your overall pictures change, rather than the weight on the scale. Laying down new muscle tissue, especially in the beginning and when you start hitting your protein levels is ‘easier’. If your lean muscle mass goes up but your body fat comes down you may not lose any weight on the scales but your waist may be narrower, your arms more defined and your legs look toned and hard. I’d argue that’s a better situation to be in than dropping 1 stone and laying down zero new metabolically active muscle tissues.
- Your moods are more stable. Sometimes driving your body into the ground, causing all that stress can cause anger and upset. You should start to feel energised and euphoric after training, not beaten and defeated. When you feel great, people like to be around you, your more able to be connected with other people. If your nutrition is making your feel terrible, then something needs to change. Its usually related to blood sugar levels and improper energy balance. If your meals are too few and far between it can lead to mood swings, it can lead to upsetting the balance of ghrelin as well. The hungrier you are the more likely it is that you will reach for non whole foods. How stable is your mood? If its stable or getting better, that’s a great sign! Even if your scales haven’t changed.
- Your strength and endurance has increased. This is a fantastic sign that things are heading in the right direction! When you feel stronger and with better endurance your FEEL amazing. You feel like you can do anything, you feel that you are better equipped to deal with life! Even if its not a sport. You can just have the extra strength to crush your day! No task is too much. Walking up stairs, climbing to the top of a monument on holiday, all those things… YOU FEEL GOOD!
- Feel like your living a lifestyle rather than on a diet! Diets don’t work, the “fix this, fix that” diets, they come to an end and leave you hanging. Your sold into the next one. The advice above is realistic and LONG TERM. You can do it forever, but you can also have those little lapses, those holidays and know that you can return to that LIFESTYLE at any point. Of course there is a transition period, a period of time where the change is hard. But it comes to an end, when you highlight the above and realise that the scales aren’t the only thing showing your progress, then and only then, will you truly understand the magnitude of what you are achieving!
There you have it, if you want to discuss more with myself or any of the coaches, reach out. We can help. We want to help and the environment may just be the one you have been looking for to progress you to the next stage of your goals nutritionally, physically and mentally!
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