21st October 2018
There are two main aspects to this whole health and fitness thing. The exercise part (which is what most people focus on) and the nutrition part (which many people take for granted, but can in fact have more of an impact than the workout part). The eating thing can be considerably difficult though. We need to eat more often than we work out, and it can take a lot of time and effort to prepare so many healthy meals, but most of all there is a lot of conflicting advice out there.
One general rule of thumb to eat better is to stop snacking on unhealthy foods. But this is easier said than done when you are getting hunger pangs every couple of hours. Happily though, if you can trick the system by limiting hunger you will find it much easier to eat cleaner. So to help you out, here are seven things that affect how hungry you are which you can (mostly) do something about.
OK so you can’t do much about this one, there’s just no getting around ageing. Or that as you age your appetite regulating brain cells slow down. It naturally takes longer to feel full when this happens, which leads to further eating. This is often why once fit and healthy adults gain weight as they reach their forties and fifties. So whilst you obviously can’t do anything to stop ageing, using the knowledge from the following points should make it easier to eat well as you get older.
You can’t control age, but you can control sleep. Which is a good thing, as a lack of sleep makes you want to eat. This is due to a specific hormone – ghrelin – that increases when we don’t get enough sleep. Ghrelin is responsible for telling the brain that we need to eat, so as production increases we naturally feel the urge to eat.
On top of this, we also require more energy to sustain wakefulness if we feel tired. At this point the body will typically crave carbohydrates and sugars for energy, which aren’t the best thing for your weight goals when eaten in abundance – just one more reason why you need to get your eight hours a night.
This can be eating on the move or just generally wolfing down your food without taking the time to realise what you are putting in your mouth. Eating in such a way doesn’t give your stomach the requisite time to tell your brain that it is full – a process that usually takes around twenty minutes. Eating too quickly overrides this digestive mechanism and you won’t end up feeling full, despite finishing a huge Sunday dinner faster than you can run a mile. You may well be visiting the fridge again in the next hour if you eat at high pace.
Tablets (the pill kind)
Various kinds of medicine can also interrupt your hunger patterns, especially antidepressants and antihistamines. Both of these disturb hypothalamus function – which controls your appetite – leading you to feel hungry more often. Antidepressants (especially those containing mirtazapine) can have this effect from just a single dose, but antihistamines tend to have a cumulative effect that builds up over time.
Tablets (the technology kind)
Not just tablets, but laptops and smartphones too. Devices such as these emit light at the blue end of the spectrum. This blue light has been shown to increase hunger levels for several hours. In fact, research has even found that a marked increase in appetite can occur after just fifteen minutes of exposure to this type of light, and can continue to increase for two hours after a meal. This is down to the light altering your metabolism by increasing both insulin and glucose levels.
The natural light that helps regulate your body clock, and tells you when you should eat, is made up of different colours, and it is the blue light in this that sends the strongest signals to your brain to let you know if it’s day or night. Unsurprisingly, extra interaction with blue light throws your body clock off and tricks it into making you crave food more often than it’s actually required.
In much the same way that squirrels and other animals gather food to store for the long winter ahead, it appears that we humans also pre-empt tough times by eating more. Researchers have shown this by priming some people to expect a rough ride ahead (with negative economic news) and giving others neutral economic messages. Those given negative information ate more food that they were told was high in calories than those in the control group, but ate 25% less when they were told the food was low in calories. The researchers attributed this behaviour to a kind of survival instinct kicking in, that makes people want to seize the day and also prepare themselves for the impending difficult times.
You would think that feeling guilty about eating certain foods would mean you consume them less, but this might not be the case. We seem to enjoy the actual feelings of naughtiness that come along with guilty eating. Experimenters have found that when eating “sweet treats” those who were primed to feel guilt – by talking about previous guilty experiences – ate more treats and enjoyed them more than a control group.
Since the appetite regulating region of the brain lies next to the limbic system (which controls mood), these guilty pleasures can make us want to eat more as we get a kick out of it.
A few things to bear in mind then if you are struggling to manage the nutritional aspects of fitness, or if you find you are always hungry. When it comes to food it’s not necessarily a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, but hopefully this information can help to put it out of your mind a bit more often.
Do you have any tricks and tips when it comes to nutrition? Feel free to share them below.