Hunger and Hormones: Mastering Your Body’s Cues

By Lindsay Kent
The Beauty Blog

While often it seems that the body’s hunger and satiety cues set off a totally emotional experience, rearing their uncooperative heads when you are trying to lose weight or gain lean muscle, we have learned in recent years that they are actually part of the body’s physiological processes. That indicates a distinct line between hunger as a physiological reaction and as an emotional one, opening the door for a much more comprehensive understanding of weight gain and obesity.

 Appetite Regulation

Our hormones are like tiny instruction manuals, orchestrating thousands of processes in the body that keep us healthy and functioning optimally. One hormone, in particular, leptin—from the Greek word leptos, meaning thin—was discovered by geneticist Jeffrey Friedman in 1994 and has had a significant impact on the way we understand the body’s appetite-regulation system.

Leptin is composed of 167 amino acids and is manufactured in adipose tissue; that is, fat. So we can see a clear correlation between the amount of leptin in the body and the amount of body fat.

Leptin receptors are located throughout the body but mostly in the brain. The hypothalamus regulates appetite, and leptin binds to the receptors there. Leptin’s primary role in the brain is to signal satiety, or fullness. After you eat a meal, fat cells in your body signal the brain to release leptin.

Once the leptin is released, it helps to stop neurotransmitters in the body from increasing appetite and slowing metabolism. One of those key neurotransmitters is called neuropeptide Y. When it’s blocked, appetite is inhibited and your body begins to burn calories.

 System Malfunction

What happens if leptin production is disturbed? Neuropeptide Y is never shut off, the brain keeps sending signals that you are hungry, and your metabolism slows to a crawl. No, thank you!

Why this malfunction occurs is probably your next question. The body is an intricate system of checks and balances, and one of the main factors that seem to disrupt leptin’s ability to function optimally is obesity.

As mentioned above, increased body fat mean increased leptin. The body’s response to an influx of the hormone is similar to that of insulin resistance. The leptin continues to signal the brain, which creates a dulling effect on the receptors there. The receptors are not able to decode or recognize the leptin, and they stop working. Metabolism decreases, and the body thinks that it’s in a constant state of hunger, which leads to overeating.

Other dangers of this condition include increased risks for inflammation in the body, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Still, there is hope!

Mastering the Malfunction

If you bring your body to its optimal composition with a proper nutrition and exercise regimen, it will produce leptin in proper proportion, it will keep your metabolism humming, helping to decrease deeper, visceral fat stores. Studies also indicate that an infusion of leptin is produced during deep, REM sleep, which enables the metabolism to function optimally during your longest period of rest as well.

 Creating an Optimum Environment

You can take these simple steps to keep your hormone levels in check:

  • Practice getting 7 to 9 hours of deep sleep each night.
  • Make sure your diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fibrous fruits and vegetables, and lean protein sources.
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates and trans fats.
  • Practice portion control, and make sure your caloric needs match your lifestyle.
  • Maintain exercise as a regular part of your routine to keep body-fat levels optimal, inflammation at bay, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels lower.

About the Author

As the captain of a Junior Olympic volleyball team, Lindsay Kent loved testing her limits and digging deep to push herself to the next level. Fitness and nutrition were such an ingrained part of her lifestyle that fitness was the obvious career choice. She’s a professor at the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) College of Exercise Science and also owns her own training business, Lindsay Kent Fitness. She holds the designation of Master Personal Trainer, with specialty areas in Fitness Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning, Exercise Therapy, Youth and Senior Fitness, and Athlete/Functional training. She is a spokesmodel for ISSA, writes for various fitness publications, and is a BeautyFit sponsored athlete.

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