Hunger Hormones and Your Health


By Barb Sheldon, Atrium’s Head of Wellness

In our fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled society, the pressure to work efficiently and productively can often outweigh the need to slow down, eat mindfully and rest and digest. This can create confusion among your hunger hormones and lead to overeating, under-digesting and not optimally absorbing your food. 

Leptin and ghrelin are hormones (chemical messengers) that signal hunger and when you are satiated. If you eat too much, too fast, your body does not have time to signal to your brain that you are satisfied and then shut off the signaling that requests more fuel. When this occurs, your body doesn’t know when you are hungry and when you are full. This leads to more overeating, reaching for food that does not nourish you, creating more imbalance and the cycle begins anew.

Switching out of Fight or Flight mode (sympathetic) mode, when adrenaline is pumping through your body and telling you to run away from the tiger that is metaphorically chasing you, and into Rest and Digest (parasympathetic) mode can do wonders for restoring this essential hormone balance that helps nourish your body and brain. 

Mindful Eating

Switching into Rest and Digest mode takes conscious practice. We are so used to rushing through meals, getting up as soon as we are done and even eating in our cars and on the go. When you can digest optimally (at rest), your body uses your food more efficiently. You slow down, your blood pressure drops, your adrenaline response shuts off and your hunger hormones can hear the signals they are supposed to hear! Try these tips to shift into Rest and Digest mode:

  1. Try chewing your food slowly as often as you can, until it is liquid in your mouth. This is tough! Even if you do it 20% of the time, studies show this helps move you into a parasympathetic state, enhancing digestion and nutrient absorption. 
  1. Practice mindful eating.  Eat slowly, TASTE, be grateful, breathe, chew, and then pause at the end of the meal, even just for a few minutes, to allow digestion to happen. Your body can’t digest well when you are in flight or fight mode! Tell your body “all is well” when you eat. 
  1. Try this mindful eating exercise: Choose something simple, something good for you, or not, but certainly something that you love to eat, like a strawberry, or a piece of silky dark chocolate. Before you pop it in your mouth, take a moment and hold it in your hands. Send a message of gratitude out to the Universe, or the sunshine, or the farmers. Look at what you’ve selected. Admire its color, its texture. Then hold it up to your nose. Inhale its scent. Then go ahead and pop it in your mouth. Hold it there for a moment and really taste it. Chew slowly, appreciating the textures and flavors that are released. Taste it as if you are tasting it for the first time. Really experience it. Close your eyes and appreciate all the intricacies of the flavor of the food, as you would a fine wine.  Then, after another moment, go ahead and swallow it. Allow yourself a moment to let the taste linger in your mouth, and settle in your body, before you get on with your day.