In the hunger hormones article last week, you learned that there are primarily three hunger hormones that control hunger – (1) leptin, (2) ghrelin, and (3) Neuropeptide Y.
To best control hunger, you must have the right level of each individual hormone. While maintaining the right balance of hormones is not entirely under our control, there are actions you can take to help stack the odds in your favor.
Here are seven tips to ensure that you’re giving yourself the upper hand to help you control hunger:
1. Reduce Sugar and Fructose Consumption
Fructose is a major contributor to insulin and leptin resistance. Fructose disrupts the signals of insulin and leptin, by over-taxing the liver as fructose is primarily shuttled to the liver for processing as opposed to glucose, which is shuttled to muscle and fat cells.1 2
Over time, this increased workload on the liver can cause the pathways that control both leptin and insulin to break down causing resistance in the cells. Your liver is a main organ for fat-burning. By reducing white sugar (which is about 50% glucose, 50% fructose) and substances like high-fructose corn syrup (which has a 5-25% higher fructose percentage), you allow your liver to do other things, like burning fat.
2. Eat at Regularly Scheduled Times
Ghrelin is a hormone influenced by your heaviest meal of the day. Therefore, studies show that it matters less how often you eat — what is important is that you eat at regularly scheduled times. By doing so, you allow a better control over your hunger throughout the day.
For example, if you normally eat a large lunch at 12:30 pm, but decide to eat an “early lunch” at 11am one day, it is much more likely that you will feel hungry again at 12:30. This is because your Ghrelin levels are higher at the particular time. So you increase your odds of reaching for a snack that you wouldn’t normally have. By eating at regularly scheduled times, you allow for a pattern of hunger you can have at least a short-term control over.3
3. Reduce Your Conditioned Response to Stress
The way we individually deal with that stress has a huge impact on whether or not we gain weight when confronted with it. If your habitual reaction is to reach for food, then you will definitely increase your odds of gaining weight. Normally, stress induces a desire for sweet foods.4
If, when confronted with stress, you learn to take on other habits shown to reduce your overall stress levels, such as taking a small walk or doing some deep breathing, you allow yourself to get another small handle on your hunger hormones. Over the long-term, those small steps can have a much larger impact on whether you keep weight off.
4. Aim for 7-8 Hours Of Sleep Per Night
Sleep plays a major role in controlling your hunger hormones in both the short and long-term. Studies show time and time again those who sleep the most weigh the least, whereas those who sleep the least, weigh the most.5
By getting onto a regular sleep schedule where you’re in bed for at least 8 hours, and actually getting 7 hours of sleep, you increase your odds of increasing leptin levels, dropping ghrelin levels, and controlling your hunger hormones overall. Sleep really is a hugely powerful tool while trying to lose fat. Use it to your advantage.6
5. Eat More Fiber
Fiber has lots of benefits associated with it, but studies have shown that higher fiber intakes help to suppress ghrelin levels, while also possibly inhibiting NPY levels. By consistently eating higher fiber foods (think vegetables), you have a way of controlling these powerful hunger-inducing hormones.7 8
6. Take Diet Breaks
Leptin levels are strongly associated with insulin levels and therefore if you are on a diet, make sure that you have an occasional re-feed or a 24-30 hour block of higher carb intake every week. By doing so, you allow leptin levels to rise, which helps to decrease both NPY and ghrelin while stimulating your metabolism for up to 4 days afterwards.9 10 11
Every 3-6 months (if your diet lasts that long), you should probably also take a whole month off of dieting. By doing so, you allow your hunger hormones to stabilize and increase your overall metabolic rate. Just be sure to have a plan for coming off of your diet and don’t simply jump to the other extreme of over-eating. As stated throughout the article, your hunger hormones are probably increased while leptin levels are low, setting you up for a potentially disastrous outcome if not done in a systematic way.
Last but not least is exercise. Exercise may be the most important aspect in controlling your hunger hormones over the long-term. Research shows that exercising helps to induce changes in the brain that help with executive function. What this means is exercise helps to strengthen your self-control from the top down. In addition to that, resistance training helps to make your cells more sensitive to both insulin and leptin, allowing the signals of these hormones to be more powerfully exerted in the body at lower concentrations.
This can be absolutely critical to the long-term success of any fat loss program as studies have continually shown that leptin levels will drop with weight loss. By making your cells more sensitive to these signals, you allow the feeling of fullness to be a part of your life, although your hunger hormones might be higher than normal. This powerful one-two combination of increased self-control with increased sensitivity to leptin is something that diet alone simply can’t do. Make sure to include exercise as an integral part of any fat loss plan. In case that isn’t enough, here are another 31 reasons to exercise.
Keep Your Hunger Levels Low
In the end, Ghrelin and NPY increase appetite and Leptin help to keep you feeling full. Lack of sleep, stress and crash diets can increase the hunger hormones while decreasing leptin levels. In addition to that, stress and sleep and obesity can cause leptin resistance making it harder for your brain to hear the signals that leptin is sending to it, setting up a potential cycle of over-eating and not feeling full afterwards. But, there’s hope.
There are specific actions you can take to get a better handle over these hunger hormones and they range from getting more sleep, to reducing your sugar intake, and making exercise a part of your fat-loss regimen.
- Vasselli JR. Fructose-induced leptin resistance: discovery of an unsuspected form of the phenomenon and its significance. Focus on “Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding . Physiol. Regul. Integr. 2008; Comp. Physiol. 295 (5). ↩
- Elliott SS, Keim NL, Stern JS, Teff, K, Havel PJ. Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome . Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:911–22. ↩
- Kuo LE, et al. Neuropeptide Y acts directly in the periphery on fat tissue and mediates stress-induced obesity and metabolic syndrome . Nature Medicine. 2007 13, 803-811. ↩
- Spiegel K, Leproult R, L’Hermite-Baleriaux M, Copinschi G, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: Relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin . J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89:5762–5771. ↩
- Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity . Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41. ↩
- Kobelt P, et al. CCK inhibits the orexigenic effect of peripheral ghrelin. Regu Physiol March 1, 2005 vol. 288 no. 3 R751-R758 ↩
- Bourdon I, Olson B, Backus R, Richter BD, Davis PA, Schneeman BO. Beans, as a Source of Dietary Fiber, Increase Cholecystokinin and Apolipoprotein B48 Response to Test Meals in Men . J. Nutr. 2001 131: 5 1485-1490. ↩
- Weigle DS, Duell PB, Connor WE, Steiner RA, Soules MR, Kuijper JL. Effect of fasting, refeeding, and dietary fat restriction on plasma leptin levels . J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1997; 82: 561– 565. ↩
- Chin-Chance C, Polonsky KS, Schoeller DA. Twenty-four hour leptin levels respond to cumulative short-term energy imbalance and predict subsequent intake. J Clin Endorinol Metab, 2000 Aug; 85(8): 2685-91. ↩
- Flier J, Harris M, Hollenberg AN. Leptin, nutrition, and the thyroid: the why, the wherefore, and the wiring. J Clin Invest. 2000;105:859–861 ↩
- Tomofusa I, Toshihiko S, Shiro T, Satoru F. Resistance Training Improves Insulin Sensitivity in NIDDM Subjects Without Altering Maximal Oxygen Uptake. Diabetes Care. 1998;21: 1353-1355. ↩
I have a question regarding tip #1 regarding fructose.
The Paleo enthusiasts insist we were never meant to eat fruit, but there are other sites where raw fruits and veggie enthusiasts insist they can eat fruit all day with no ill effects.
Besides the studies that show leptin resistance caused by fructose, there are also those studies that show fructose is linked to high blood pressure.
In a calorie controlled diet, is the fructose from whole fruits going to really screw up you leptin sensitivity. Almost 100% of all other fructose and refined sugar has been cut out of my caloric intake. No sodas, powdered sugar, baked goods, fruit juices or fruit drinks. Only the occasional square of extra dark chocolate now and then.
I’ve lost 76 lbs in 21 weeks, and when I’m feeling a bit peckish, I’ll often go for a few raw almonds or peanuts in the shell, but most often, I’ll reach for a tangerine or banana or apple.
I’m just wondering if I’m screwing up my liver or leptin sensitivity in the long run.
@uncadonego – Leptin resistance from fructose, and really all ills due to fructose intake, are due to over consumption of fructose. People will vary in their sensitivity to fructose intake, based on whether or not they’re over-eating, if they’re over-weight and how damaged their glucose receptors are. With that said, most people should be able to consume 1-2 pieces of fruit a day without any issues, with some people being able to consume more without any issues. My recommendation was to avoid sugar and high fructose corn syrup (or really any sweetners with high fructose, ranging from agave nectar to over-consumption of honey). For example, a piece of fruit will have anywhere between 2-6 grams of fructose, but a soda will have over 20 grams of fructose (the other sugar in it is glucose at a 55/45% ratio for most). Therefore, your occassional “splurge” on a piece of fruit should be fine. Hope that helps.
Oh sorry, P.S. if it matters, all caloric intake goes into the food journal, and I don’t exceed max daily intake because of fruit.
Oh, so depending on what type of fruit, a person consuming 2 cokes a day is eating 3 to 10 times as much fructose as someone eating a couple of fruit. That’s considering they aren’t having more cokes, plus refined sugar and/or HFCS snacks. OK, that makes me feel a lot better. Still, over time I may want to cut down, I’m usually 5 or 6 servings of fruit a day, usually inluding two or three small bananas. Long term changes have been incremental for me, but sticking overall. I can’t believe how sweet something even like butternut squash tastes once you don’t eat sweets.
Thanks for the reply John.
Great article as usual , very helpful to understand the mechanisms of hunger and diet
Thank you for posting a well-researched article on the physiological aspect of hunger. Since I last read from my diet therapy textbook decades ago, I rarely run across a researched-based article meant for the mass like this. (I do miss university libraries and access to scientific journals). So thanks for making it available to me and others.
@Boon – Glad you enjoyed the article.
It is a big NO NO to control hunger and that is medically proven to avoid sickness especially Ulcer. If you are hungry, you can eat little provided you do control eating a lot. You can eat everything provided in smaller amount. That’s a plain truth. Stop Murdering yourself.
@Saeed – If you can share any research reports, that would be helpful. I respectfully disagree with you based on the research John presented in this article and his other article => https://www.builtlean.com/2012/12/26/control-hunger-tips/
I have a question for you John. First of all, great article, very informative. My question is, aside from the tips you give help control the hunger hormone levels, are there any supplements or any medical treatment that can be provided. My situation is complicated but basically I’ve been under extreme stress and anxiety the past 4 months, and quite a bit of stress and anxiety the past couple years. Now, due to a medical condition, have not been able to exercise much. I also have had very poor sleep for a long time.
Recently, my sleep has gotten even worse because my hunger is out of control at night. I can’t eat a huge meal due to chronic pancreatitis, which is now improved but I still have to eat multiple small meals throughout the day. In the late evening my anxiety usually settles down a little bit and after that I end up being continuously hungry. If I happen to fall asleep, I’ll wake up soon shortly afterwards and then I am extremely hungry. Or I will eat about an hour before going to bed and if I don’t fall asleep pretty quickly, I’m hungry again already. I will eat a turkey sandwich and a cereal bar for example. I’ll sit up for a while, then lay back down and if I don’t fall asleep right away, within 45 minutes to an hour I feel like I’m starving again. Even if I eat a decent amount of food during the night I still don’t feel like I ate. These extreme hunger pangs last all night long, further depriving me of sleep.
So it’s turned into a vicious cycle. Obviously I’m working on getting my anxiety level down so that I can sleep and function better. I want to know if my digestive hormones are off, which I’m sure they are after reading your very informative article. Can they be supplemented in any way, or directly treated medically. Perhaps they can do some kind of hormonal replacement I’m not sure if that’s medical even possible. I saw my regular doctor and he did some basic labs and thyroid function test. I asked him about any test for the digestive hormones, and he told me to talk to my gastroenterologist.
Obviously I know that reducing my anxiety, getting some decent sleep again, and trying to exercise will help this problem, but in the meantime I’m looking for quick solution. My sleep has gotten even worse and I’ve barely slept in 2 weeks due to the chronic hunger and eating all night. Anxiety settles down to a point during the night that I can fall back asleep but I don’t because I’m constantly hungry. Thanks for any additional information, I really appreciate it.
Kevin, it definitely sounds like you have a lot going on in your life right now. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety. First and foremost, it’s important to let you know that because we’re not medical professionals, we’re not allowed to recommend or suggest any supplements or offer medical advice. Nor can we assess or diagnose your symptoms. For medical advice, we advise that you speak with your primary care doctor.
I will say though – you have the right ideas. Reducing your anxiety, improving your sleep quality (& quantity), and adding some exercise to your week could probably resolve a lot of the challenges you’re facing. I would also recommend creating some routine around your nutrition. I understand that anxiety can affect your appetite, but I think you’d probably benefit from establishing a normal eating routine.
When it comes to nutrition, focus on eating whole foods. Fill your meals with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy carbs & fats. Make sure to include high-quality protein with every meal. Eating enough food throughout the day could help you manage your hunger later in the evening.
As for exercise, your workouts don’t have to be rigorous hour-long sessions at the gym. You can experience the physical and mood benefits of exercise in as little as 10-15 minutes per day. Try this 20-minute outdoor bodyweight workout, or this 15-minute bodyweight circuit to lose fat. Even just taking a walk and listening to music or a podcast can significantly help to reduce anxiety.
Last, I would recommend exploring some stress management techniques. One option is to practice breathing techniques. Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (known for “rest & digest”), allowing the body to recover properly and manage stress more effectively. Another idea is to use a meditation app like Headspace. Headspace helps you train your mind through guided meditations, and they have courses specifically geared towards stress and anxiety.
I hope that helps and gives you some direction! If you have more questions, or would like more advice, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].
-Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor