Appetite fight
25 December 2013

Many of my patients who have a weight problem say that they feel hungry all the time, and that when they try to diet, the hunger they feels is too great and they can't resist over-eating. They might eat earlier, or snack excessively between meals, or late in the evening. But the point is they find it almost impossible not to. Why? Just greed? Far from it. We are all subject to the same combination of influences, nature and nurture. Is it in our genes and beyond our control? Or is it just a bad habit we've learned? As is so often the case in health matters, it's a combination of both. Appetite is a powerful instinct. After breathing and reproduction the need to source food is one of the strongest urges we can feel. And some of us feel it more than others.

Many hormones are involved in making us feel hungry, or full. What's clear is that many people who are overweight do have bigger appetites. You'll know this from what you've seen when sitting down to a meal with friends. Your slim friend feels full-up after half a plate full and stops eating. Your heavy friend just keeps on eating and never seems to feel full. Greed? No. It's hormones. There are many hormomes that can influence our appetite. Leptin is one of the strongest. We've all felt it at work to some extent. It decreases your appetite when you start to eat. Ghrelin does the opposite, and makes you feel hungry to get the balance right. For some of us the balance of these two hormones is wrong, the desire to eat too strong.

So can we change it? It might be in the future that there are new medications which can switch off the effect of hunger stimulating hormones. But that's a long way off. The best way of tackling a seemingly insatiable appetite is to spend time thinking about what triggers our urge to eat. Is it seeing or smelling food? Is it when we're bored? Or maybe stressed, or tired after a long day at work? Or maybe a way of relaxing after the kids have gone to bed and your favourite TV programme comes on? Whatever your "triggers" are, it's good to reflect back on why, and when you start to eat when you know you really don't need to. Forewarned is forearmed they say. Knowing why we do certain things is the first step towards learning how to change those habits. It takes time, and patience, but just this simple step can start to give you control over your life.


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