Feeling hungry or satisfied after a meal is not our decision. We just feel one of these needs and once fulfilled we go on with our lives.
Also, we can't understand why we prefer a chocolate bar over an apple or why it's easier to prefer healthy options in the morning.
So, if the way we relate to food and our food choices are not entirely under our control and are sometimes contrary to our intentions, what are the other forces at play that tend to "sabotage" our plans?
The need to find fuel to generate energy is present in the biology of all living organisms: we all need food to survive. So, it's not surprising that our bodies have a complex system for controlling the intake of food, driven by hormones, which act as chemical messengers between the body and the brain, coordinating our behaviour and food choices.
These hormones circulate in the blood and originate from tissue in various sources of the body that manage the intake and storage of energy, including the intestines, adipose tissue, and the pancreas (which produces hormones involved in energy storage, such as insulin).
Some hormones are responsible for stimulating hunger (let's call them “hunger hormones”) while others are responsible for making us feel full (let's call them “satiety hormones”).
Once full, the stomach reduces our desire to eat by producing less hunger hormones and sending a message to the brain to stop eating. At the same time, levels of satiety hormones increase after a meal and peak 30 to 60 minutes later.
This dynamic interplay of hunger and satiety hormone messages helps our brain regulate our eating behaviour. Another set of hormones can drive our food choices and motivate us to eat, even in the absence of physical hunger.
It appears that hormone levels also change when we lose weight. Several studies have revealed that diet-induced weight loss is associated with hormonal alterations that promote weight regain.
After weight loss, levels of satiety hormones decrease and levels of hunger hormones increase. These changes lead to a persistent hunger increase, a decrease in the feeling of satiety and a lower expenditure of calories. These changes can last up to three years and are probably part of the reason why 8 out of 10 people end up regaining lost weight in the long term.
It is important to remember that we cannot control our hormones. When we feel hungry, it is very difficult not to eat. But learning how our hormones work can help us understand what kind of treatment and strategies might be needed to effectively control our weight.
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Hormones, appetite and eating habits
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