Want to Stop Stress Eating? The Power of Hunger vs. Appetite
John Pinette, the late comedian, quipped, “Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself.” And Kevin James adds, “There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap.”
One thing is for sure, we Americans are obsessed with food! According to the site, ListChallenges.com, about 100 TV cooking shows travel the airways to whet our appetites.
Unquestionably, good food is vital for our physical, psychological, emotional and social well-being. Nothing like food brings people together and nothing like food nourishes the body. We need food.
But our obsession with food has turned on us, making us fat. Fast-food and convenience-foods high in sugar, high in saturated fats, and low in nutrition have added to our problem.
As a result, the weight-loss industry boasts bulging revenues to the tune of $20 billion per year. Now, multiply that figure times 10 to yield the estimated annual medical costs in the US due to obesity. In a very real way, we pay for our food three times, and each time gets progressively more expensive. We pay first at the grocery store or restaurant, then for the diet, and finally for the doctor.
We pay for our food three times. We pay first at the grocery store or restaurant, then for the diet, and finally for the doctor. Click to Tweet.
We seem to be having trouble distinguishing between hunger and appetite and it’s getting the best of us. Honestly, few of us reading this have ever experienced the gnawing pain of real hunger, but we’ve all been beguiled by our appetites. Consider the following contrasts between hunger and appetite:
- Hunger is eating to live; appetite is living to eat.
- Hunger may be stilled, but appetites are never satisfied.
- Hunger is biological; appetite is psychological.
- Hunger rises from need; appetite from desire.
- Hunger we satiate with food; appetite with our will.
We get into trouble when we mistake an appetite for hunger.
Our bodies are equipped with two hormones for regulating hunger: ghrelin and leptin. When the cells of our body sense the need for nutrients and energy, our stomach produces the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin sends the message to the brain that we’re hungry and need to eat in order to sustain our bodies.
Ghrelin’s counterpart is the hormone leptin. While ghrelin increases hunger, leptin decreases hunger. Leptin is manufactured primarily in fat cells and signals the brain, “Stop eating, thank you very much. We’ve got all the energy we need.”
But these hormones do not control our actions and we override them. For instance, if we were to fast for a day, chances are ghrelin would kick in sometime late morning and we would sense hunger. The fact is, however, we can choose to ignore that hormonal signal and continue to fast.
The same holds true with leptin–and this is the one that gets us in trouble. Somewhere along the line, we chose to ignore leptin’s prompting to stop eating because we were full. We chose to eat anyway and eventually built a pattern of ignoring leptin’s flashing yellow light.
We began to put on weight. With more fat cells in our body, we produced more leptin begging us to stop eating. But we continued to ignore its signals by yielding to our psychological appetites. With appetite it’s not about giving our body the nourishment it actually needs, but merely about fulfilling that desire to eat more.
Over time, as we’ve yielded to our appetites rather than leptin, our hormones get their signals crossed. We become resistant to leptin, so that it no longer tells us to stop eating and our brain may even think we’re starving, when we’re not.
The result is that we overeat. We snack when we’re not hungry. We take large portions and clean the plate when half that amount would have sufficed.
Our resistance to leptin is also linked with insulin resistance, the determining factor in type 2 diabetes. When our diet consists of too much sugar (carbohydrates), our cells become saturated with sugar and resistant to insulin. Insulin causes us to store fat. Our fat makes more leptin, but due to leptin resistance, we mistake appetite for hunger and the vicious cycle continues.
Fructose (as in, high fructose corn syrup) particularly contributes to both leptin and insulin resistance. This serves as a sober reminder that it really does matter what we eat. If you find yourself in this situation and have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, our Diabetes Solution Kit provides you with a clear plan for addressing insulin resistance and too much insulin.
People like to blame their hormones for their problems, which they think relieves them of responsibility. “I can’t help it. My problem is hormonal.” But this is not the case with ghrelin and leptin. In fact, as I’ve already shown we’ve chosen to override our hormonal signals and that’s what got us in trouble in the first place.
If we continue this pattern and yield to our appetites instead of reigning them in, our resistance to leptin and insulin can have very serious effects on our health. Obesity disrupts normal hunger signaling, so we cannot rely on the faulty message our brain is receiving from our confused hormones. We need to recalibrate our appetite in order to reset our hormones.
Recalibrating our appetite
Have you ever been following your GPS to some destination in the car only to discover that due to some fluke or anomaly it was giving you bad directions? That’s what our hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin are doing when we’re overweight. We can no longer trust them. We have to manually override their faulty signals by making wise choices in what, when and how much we eat.
How do we do that? We have to reestablish a baseline for healthy eating and follow it. Some of the elements of that healthy eating plan will include:
- Eating organic whole foods (meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.)
- Curbing our carbohydrates to reduce sugar intake
- Leveraging portion control as a way to limit calories
- Striving for a nutritious balance of great tasting foods
- Getting a good night’s sleep and plenty of exercise
- Avoiding sweeteners and non-food additives
As simple as those 6 elements sound, actually creating a plan for easy execution can be a challenge. We have taken the guesswork out of all that for you in our Fat Loss Remedy resource. This resource provides you with the specifics on how to recalibrate your appetite, lose weight and gain back your health.
Another big key to recalibrating our appetites has to do with triggers and habits. Stop and think for a moment about when you eat—not for sustenance, but purely out of habit. For many people it’s sitting in front of the TV, in the car, or at their desk. For others it’s when they’re bored, stressed, or with people.
Identify your triggers and habits so you can break their destructive pattern. Develop new, healthier habits and triggers to replace old ones. Stay with it! It usually takes a while for an old habit to die and a new one to fully replace it.
Learn to distinguish between hunger–the biological need for sustenance–and appetite–the psychological drive to eat. And when appetite tempts you, take charge and say, “No thank you.”
Yogi Berra’s remark, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six,” may be humorous, but it’s no way to live your life. Decide today to take control of your appetite and win back control of your health.