The Hunger Hormone That’s Destroying Your Willpower

Ghrelin the hunger hormone factor 75

In the past few years research has uncovered new links between genetics, hormones, and eating habits.

Ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, works with leptin to regulate appetite. Ghrelin is secreted to stimulate hunger, whereas leptin induces satiation.

Understanding how ghrelin works gives us insight into everything from mood swings to carb cravings.

Appetite in the Brain

brain-reward-system-factor-75Ideally, ghrelin and leptin work together to signal to the brain when it’s time to eat, and when it’s time to
stop.

However, researchers at the Imperial College London and University College London found that ghrelin not only stimulates appetite, it’s hard at work in the anterior orbital frontal cortex.

This part of the brain manages your reward systems.

The nutritional reward system releases dopamine when you eat something delicious, encouraging you to make that food choice again. As ghrelin levels rise, so does the activity in this “food appeal” cortex.

Fasting, The Willpower Killer

When we go long periods of time without eating – when we skip breakfast or take a late lunch (we’re all guilty!) – we’re essentially performing an acute fast.

Fasting puts the body into survival mode: your brain says, “Must eat! Quickly!”

Dr. Daniel Bessesen, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, says, “This research shows if you haven’t eaten, it turns up the attractiveness of food.”

This explains our lack of discretion when hunger grips us. You’ve heard the mantra, “Never shop when you’re hungry”?

Suddenly you’re at check-out with a shopping cart of Oreos and chicken wings. The simultaneous insulin drop and ghrelin spike lowers self control and biologically favors high-calorie food choices.

High-calorie (and high-reward) foods become preferable for their easily accessible energy sources. As ghrelin levels rise we have less willpower to make healthy choices. Your body wants pizza, now!

It’s Not You – It’s Your Biology

BrainIt’s a relief to know, as your stomach grumbles in the potato chip aisle, it’s not a lack of willpower.

When we go too long without eating, it’s not just our taste buds craving those cheese puffs, it’s a physiological survival mechanism. 

Dr. Bessesen said, “This information can help alert you to why you’re sometimes attracted to certain foods — and try to override that appeal.”

How do you prevent regrettable hunger shopping? What are your tips for curbing ghrelin spikes? Tell us in the comments below!

Images: Yuganov Konstantin/ Shutterstock, Brain illustration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *