Hunger, Ghrelin, Leptin, and Insulin

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Dietary restriction is a key component of any good strategy to both lose excess body weight and control the high blood sugar that comes along with diabetes, and the diabetes itself actually.

There is at least somewhat of a tendency for our bodies to seek to store energy in times of feast, something that has been conditioned into our genetics over the long history of our species.  For almost all of this history, storage during times of plenty was a necessary component of our survival, and was genetically selected, in other words those who didn’t do this well simply died off and those who did got to stick around to procreate.

So now that we’ve advanced technologically to allow for a lot of people to feast continually, every day, year round, this affords us the opportunity to overdo this, full time feast in other words.  So our bodies to have the capacity for us to overload them to allow us to get by in lean periods, where our food intake may be very low for extended periods, times of famine, and we are then prepared to lose quite a bit of weight and get by.

So in this sense, obesity does have its place, but given that famine is no longer a risk for most people, and our food intake is very stable now, it no longer relies on the seasons or the good fortune of successful hunts, we just go out to the store now and buy what we want.

The loading phase though does involve us eating to capacity during feasts, so if we try this without the need to do this, well our bodies are indeed capable of storing excess fat, and continuing to add to this storage over time to a certain degree.  In other words, you can make yourself fat, and you can make yourself fatter.

So obesity isn’t really an unnatural event per se, it’s actually the logical consequence of how some people eat.  We tend to think that obese people eat too much, but it’s not that simple, and telling them to eat less is actually not the right answer here.

There are several hormones that regulate our appetite, and while this is actually a little complicated, we can just say that when these hormones are out of whack, we both eat more and store more.  If we’re out to store less, we at least need to make sure that the hormone that stores fat is kept in check.

This hormone that governs storage is insulin, and if insulin levels are normalized, your weight will normalize as well, independent of what else is going on.  This is perhaps what a lot of people misunderstand the most.  They think that how much food they put into their bodies, calories in other words, governs their weight, but this is clearly a false notion, as popular as it is.

Now these other two hormones that we’re looking at in this discussion, grehlin and leptin, do govern our appetite, and while we really don’t want the levels of these two hormones to be high, this is not where the rubber meets the road, and one can eat to one’s heart’s content and not become fat provided insulin levels are kept in check.

Grehlin tends to be more potent when one’s fat composition is higher, and as you get fatter, it’s not even that the hormone goes up as much as we become more sensitive to it.  Leptin levels go up as we get fatter, but in this case we become resistant to it, and leptin does the opposite, it seeks to reduce appetite while ghrelin seeks to increase it.

In a way, once we get fat, our bodies seek to preserve that level of fatness, and these are two of the ways it does it, by becoming more sensitive to the hunger hormone grehlin and less sensitive to the hunger suppressing hormone leptin.

Once one loses the weight though, if one does that is, then the effect of these two hormones become normalized to some degree, although that isn’t in itself enough to maintain the weight loss.  Eating less food is certainly a strategy that can be used, although in itself, without regard to the macronutrient composition of the diet, it isn’t too successful in itself, and that’s because the storage hormone insulin has to be normalized as well.

So if someone for instance tries cutting down on calories and this means less fat intake but still too much carbohydrate intake, then insulin levels will be kept high, and the attempt will fail.  Insulin both stores fat and prevents fat loss, and if it is too high, you’re screwed, you’re not going to lose weight and you may even gain some more.

Insulin levels also contribute to hunger, and if insulin is higher, that will drive hunger a lot.  This is how eating carbs will stimulate your appetite, and it does this very well.

Carbohydrate puts up insulin the most, protein puts it up some, fat doesn’t put it up at all.  Regardless of what people think, the amount of fat we store from a given dietary amount of food depends on how high our insulin levels are.

What insulin does is take glucose and convert it into fat and then put this fat into our cells.  So there’s actually two parts to this, putting too much glucose into our blood via our digestive tract, and then requiring too much insulin to dispose of this extra glucose.

When this happens, then our hunger regulating hormones get messed up, we get hungrier, we eat more, and these days that means we eat even more carbohydrate, and the cycle is repeated and often intensified.  So the hunger hormones are actually only a real problem if we do get fat and to the extent that we obey their commands by eating too much carbohydrate.

Managing one’s weight does not mean one should ever go hungry, or even not eat as much food as they want.  There are lots of people who eat a high fat low carb diet that are fully satisfied all the time, and maintain a normal weight, and their hunger hormones normalize as well, because the body knows that this isn’t the sort of diet that one stores, because insulin levels are normalized.

These days though, the majority of people suffer from high insulin, and these insulin levels don’t even get a rest, because we’ve gone beyond the three meals a day to add snacks, and these snacks add to the carb load and insulin levels.

They even tell diabetics to snack, and tell you how many carbs you can have with each snack.  Snacking with carbs by the way is a terrible idea for anyone and especially for diabetics.

Ideally, one should eat one to two meals a day, no more than two, because otherwise your body doesn’t have adequate time to rest and have enough time in between meals, fasting, to recover.  Intermittent fasting has been well proven as healthy and therapeutic and one of the things it does is normalize leptin and grehlin by the way, in addition to normalizing insulin, and there’s your reasons for the benefit right there.

It isn’t really necessary to fast for extended periods to get these benefits, what’s needed is to not eat so often, too often.  When one does eat, it’s also important to not overload ourselves with high carb meals, although the carb snacking in between meals is even worse.

So all you need to do now is to adjust your carb intake to your body’s needs, and it’s not hard to tell how you’re doing with this, there are no blood tests that are really needed here, your scale will tell you how you are doing, and together with patience, that’s all you need.

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