Weight loss comes with many different experiences, hunger being one of the most common. What many don’t recognize is that they are trying to lose fat mass by creating such a deep calorie deficit that they fail to nutritionally meet their basic energy needs. This causes a surge of disruptive metabolic and physical issues, including the retention of fat mass and slowing of the metabolism. The body knows how to communicate when it needs something. So, when we are feeling hunger, the body is actually signaling to the brain that it needs more energy to keep going. In cases such as weight loss and creating deficits, hunger may become more apparent, and a strong indicator that we are not providing our body with what it needs to function at an optimal level.
WHAT IS HUNGER?
I really like this question, mostly because hunger isn’t the same thing for everyone. Yes, it is a feeling, much like our emotion, that is triggered by hormones. As annoying as those mid-day tummy rumbles can feel, hunger serves an obvious purpose…FEED ME or DIE (ok-ok a little dramatic, but you get my point). What baffles me is when someone feels hunger but isn’t responsive to it, either temporarily ignoring it or putting it off completely—skipping meals? Waiting until lunch to have your first bite to eat? You may not realize it, but these types of habits can actually create long-term, negative food relationships, and poor eating habits.
Hunger during weight loss feels even worse! First, you are trying to focus on a nutritional intake goal that you know you can’t go over. Second, those nagging hunger pangs seem to visit at the worst times. Third, it seems like no matter what you try, that empty belly feeling doesn’t go away. 100% not cool. You guys, weight loss doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience. Is hunger normal? YES. But what if I told you that having a greater understanding of what your body is telling you and why, could help you to be more responsive and supportive (nutritionally) — lessening the desire to eat everything in sight?
WHY DO I FEEL HUNGRY?
After eating, the gastrointestinal tract slowly empties by pushing through the stomach, small and large intestines. Any undigested food becomes swept up by specialized contractions, called the migrating motor complex (MMC). This takes about 130 minutes to complete. During the final phase of MMC, a regulatory hormone called motilin is released, and more contractions occur, causing the rumbling in our stomachs and the start of hunger pangs!
In addition to motilin, another hormone known as ghrelin is also responsible for telling the body it is hungry. Ghrelin activates expression neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain which triggers our brain to pick up messages from our stomach. These messages lets us know it’s time to eat again. I do want to make a note that the hunger being talked about here is homeostatic hunger, which is related to balancing the body’s energy reserves short-term. This is different than hedonic hunger, which is what we experience when we eat for pleasure and are not experiencing actual physical hunger.
THE RELATIONSHIP: HUNGER & WEIGHT LOSS
So what’s the deal with hunger and weight loss? And why am I starving every time I try to diet? First, you have to understand that you are going to feel hunger, but this is one relationship that isn’t too complicated. When losing weight, the body naturally releases greater amounts of ghrelin, remember this is the hormone that makes us feel hungry. The downside is that ghrelin levels don’t adjust over time. In fact, a recent study supports that ghrelin remains high during periods of weight loss regardless of how long the individual has been dieting. It is also an indicator that those who have been overweight will likely deal with hunger pangs for the rest of their lives. This means no matter what we do we will experience hunger with weight loss, it is a natural biological occurrence.
In the pursuit of weight loss, you have to focus on a lower nutritional intake. This deficit can trigger your body to feel uncomfortable and more hungry and don’t forget that the body will eventually resist dieting altogether. Yes, you read that correctly, a mechanism going by the name of THE PLATEAU. If you haven’t realized it yet, the body is extremely smart, which means it knows how to conserve.
“In other words, people who have lost weight need less energy to maintain their new and lighter bodies. And yet they feel hungrier, because the body is trying to get that weight back. Just to be on the safe side.” – Anne Midling, 2018
NUTRITIONAL EDUCATION & SUSTAINABLE WEIGHT LOSS
Are you struggling with weight loss and nutritional health? Did you know that you can successfully keep unhealthy fat mass off without depriving your body of its fundamental needs? I’m here to help. As a nutritional professional and coach, I strive to help every client find a comfortable balance with food and life. Learn more about the Balanced Habits nutrition program here or send me a personal email to firstname.lastname@example.org.