Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hunger vs Appetite

I recently attended a continuing education seminar titled Food, Stress, & the Brain.  Much of what I heard confirmed my approach to nutrition but, I also learned a lot of new information and concepts that I'd like to share.

First, let me get the boring physiology stuff out of the way, starting with a simplified version of what occurs when we are hungry.  Much of the process is hormonal.  "Hunger pangs" are thought to be caused by the hormone, ghrelin.  Ghrelin is released, we feel hungry, and we eat.  When we've consumed enough, leptin and insulin are released which decrease our drive to eat and we stop, if we're paying attention to our body.  Please see the following scale.  Try to live between 4 and 6 on the scale.  This is homeostatic eating or eating for fuel to live.


Appetite is the desire to eat when we don't necessarily need fuel, eating when we are not physiologically hungry.  Some examples: when co-workers bring freshly baked cookies to work, parties, holidays.  This is emotional eating or hedonic eating.  It can also be stress-related.  Many times we eat to feel better, cheer ourselves up.  We eat highly palatable foods (usually full of sugar and fat and frequently low quality) and the brain releases dopamine and we feel good.  The problem is twofold.  First, the dopamine subsides and we no longer "feel good" so we eat more, more dopamine, and so on.  Second, there are no hormones to tell us to stop eating, because we weren't physiologically hungry in the first place.  Oops.  Thus, the obesity pandemic.

Great!  Now, we know what should happen--homeostatic eating--and what frequently does happen--hedonic eating.  What now?  This a big challenge; we are social and emotional beings.  Well, we can't control our emotions, but we can control how we react to them.  Listen to our bodies and the signals being sent.  Eat high quality food.  Be disciplined about it.  Manage stress.  Exercise.

I'm sure many people are wondering now that I've described how to eat, what should they eat?  Stay tuned...

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