Hormones play a huge part in the physiologic functioning of our bodies. When it comes to appetite, the hormones leptin and ghrelin play key roles in telling our bodies that it’s time to eat or to stop eating. Leptin is an anorexigenic (appetite suppressing) hormone, whereas ghrelin is orexigenic (appetite enhancing). The balance between these two determines how hungry or satiated we are going to be throughout the day. Bad nutrition choices disrupt this balance and could cause us to eat more than we really should.

The Relationship Between Hunger and Ghrelin

Ghrelin plays an important part in keeping us well nourished. Ghrelin levels are usually highest immediately before a meal and lowest right after one. Other than its appetite stimulating effects, ghrelin increases our motivation to look for food and also prepares our gastrointestinal tract for any food coming its way (leading to a more efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients).

Naturally, constant and prolonged calorie restriction increases ghrelin levels in the body. Ever remember that time when you missed a meal and ended up looking through your cupboards and then clearing them all out a few hours later? That was ghrelin at work. Ghrelin is also the reason why crash diets never work. The more you deprive yourself, the hungrier you get, and the more likely that you will binge on unhealthy food items.

How to Lower your Ghrelin Levels

Establishing a good relationship with food is the key to keeping your ghrelin levels in check. Ghrelin is usually released at an average of 4 hours apart (although this varies from person to person), which is why your nutritionist may suggest getting 5 small meals throughout your waking day. Preparing 5 small but healthy meals will keep you satiated throughout the day, and will also keep you from reaching for unhealthy snacks and meals.

Eating the right kind of food can also help keep your ghrelin in check. Remember that ghrelin production is halted whenever the stomach is distended (i.e., after a full meal). Eating low-calorie food items that have a lot of fiber can keep you less hungry for longer, all at the cost of a fewer calories. Great examples of this type of food include green leafy vegetables, whole grains (such as bran and oats), and apples. The fiber in these food items absorbs a lot of water while in your stomach, keeping your satiation high and your ghrelin levels low for a longer time. Eating slowly can also contribute to natural weight loss and controlling your ghrelin levels. Seeing as ghrelin production is lowered by stomach distention, eating slowly gives your body the time to register the satiation that comes with filling your stomach (even if it is just halfway full).

Other Benefits of Keeping Your Ghrelin in Check

Aside from natural weight loss, ghrelin control also has a number of advantages. Ghrelin control has been found to be associated with improved learning, better memory, longer sleep and better sleep quality, better stress response, and improved fertility. To make the most out of these benefits, go over your eating habits (with your nutritionist or even just by yourself) and see how you can alter these to get you better nourished and less hungry throughout the day.