Everybody Has a Hungry Brain – Overeating & Food Addiction
Bruce Springsteen’s hit song from the 90’s stated that “Everybody has a hungry heart” but, while that might be true in pursuing love, hunger is controlled by our brain. Our food intake is driven by the hypothalamus, a part of the brain located behind the eyes, which helps modulate the hormones that make us feel hungry. Ghrelin and leptins– also known as the hunger hormones – are powerful hunger-modulating hormones. Ghrelin is produced mostly in the gut but has a close link with Dopamine, the reward hormone. Dopamine regulates the level of pleasure in the brain, which can affect our mood. The normal system can lead to overeating and food addiction if it goes awry.
The interconnection of these hormones, and the subsequent relation between eating and feeling satisfied, is important. All habits, especially those that generate dopamine, are believed to lead to potential addiction. Eating can generate dependency based on the satiety of foods. What is Satiety? Well, according to the British Nutrition Foundation, satiety is “the feeling of fullness and the suppression of hunger for a period of time after a meal”.
Obesity On the Rise
We are all victims of food cravings at times, whether due to stress, habit or desire for instant pleasure. Nowadays, the accessibility to high fat, sugary foods and snacks is detrimental to our health. Obesity, particularly among children and young people, is on the rise. Astonishingly, according to a 2017 survey for England, some 40 per cent of men were overweight while a further 27 per cent were obese. Thirty per cent of women were overweight with a further 30 per cent obese.
Overeating can come about as a ‘replacement addiction’. This is an apparently less-harmful habit that people develop when they want to stop smoking or drinking, precisely because it still generates dopamine in the brain. While food does not have the same level of toxicity of other addictive substances, it is still able to engender a degree of dependency. Long-term this may lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer.
Help with Overeating & Food Addiction
With addiction, our willpower is often not effective in limiting consumption, including in overeating. However, we can apply several measures to our daily life that aids us in systematically reducing and controlling our calorie intake:
- Follow a diet. You do not have to be overweight, have health issues, or be a sportsman to plan what you eat. Diets provide a useful framework for keeping the calories in check as we often eat more than our required daily calorie intake.
- Split your meals. Large meals are more difficult to digest and overwork our system making us feel bloated and lethargic. Experts claim that instead of our traditional three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – we should eat six times a day, splitting the amount of food into smaller quantities so as to keep our hormones in check. This can reduce the sense of ‘comfort eating’.
- Drink a lot of soft drinks. Studies show that our sense of hunger is often generated by dehydration. So, before heading for the sweet cupboard or buying a bar of chocolate, have a glass of water. This could tame the sense of hunger.
- Practice fasting. Precisely because of the addictive nature of food, sometimes giving your guts a break can help start afresh. The benefits of 24-hour fasting are well documented and highly popular in many spiritual and religious groups. It is remarkable how the stomach reacts to fasting by naturally lowering the quantity of food it requires to feel full.
Moderation is the Message.
These suggestions are not exhaustive, and they can be applied individually or concurrently. The overall message is ‘moderation’. This is a particularly important in a society where food is widely available and where the impact of incorrect nutrition affects us all.
A good diet is a necessary step towards a healthier lifestyle. One that can lead to a remarkable and immediate improvement on the way we feel and generate ‘a snowball effect’ of positivity.
Satiety is the feeling of fullness and the suppression of hunger for a period of time after a meal. This is important because it can be difficult to control how much we eat when temptation is everywhere. Most people do not want to feel hungry all the time.
The feeling of satiety occurs due to a number of bodily signals that begin when a food or drink is consumed and continue as it enters the gut and is digested and absorbed. Satiety is influenced by many things including expansion of the stomach, release of hormones, beliefs of how filling the food is and our experience of eating different tastes and textures.
Feelings of satiety can influence how soon and how much you next eat but there are other factors. For example, some social situations encourage overeating. The desirability of foods available and the portion sizes we are given also play a role. How much we eat can also vary with our emotion states, how much we sleep and exposure to advertising.
There are several ways you can help yourself feel more satiated after eating, which can help you to manage your appetite and maintain a healthy weight. These include eating foods high in protein and fibre in every meal; reducing alcohol consumption; chewing your food for longer; eating mindfully; limiting high-calorie drink such as sugary, fizzy drinks.
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