The more i read from the latest research articles the more it seems that the old sayings we’ve heard repeated again and again about food, sleep and exercise are true. We should go to bed early, eat natural foods and exercise every day.
But often in the media we see people who break these rules idolised and celebrated. People who work around the clock, who party through the night, people who binge and diet in repeated cycles. These behaviours are enticing and misleading. Often we believe we can accomplish something greater, meet deadlines by pushing through walls of fatigue, or that we can make up for bad eating behaviours afterwards by upping our exercise regimen.
I will often hear people relate and discuss behaviours such as late night snacking, insatiable appetites and craving snacks, remarking on them as inexplicable and unavoidable. Night binging can leave a person with low energy levels the next day. People who regularly do this often have high insulin levels which can lead to diabetes and they find it difficult to exercise from fatigue and lack of sleep. Without knowing how our bodies work it can be difficult to understand where these cravings come from. Being now in my thirties some of these bad habits have already caught up with me and I see the effects of poor diet and snacking in my energy levels and some of my blood tests. Not a good scenario to be in at such a “young” age. LOL.
What I have found helpful in trying to control my own bad behaviours is an understanding of what exactly is going on in my body to drive these unhealthy habits I seem drawn to constantly repeat. In this blog I will briefly discuss one aspect of the body’s many mechanisms that control appetite, weight fluctuations and as researchers are currently finding out potentially a lot more.
Ghrelin is an appetite stimulating hormone released from the empty stomach. It signals our brain to encourage anticipatory and goal-directed behaviours. This basically means it makes us look out for our next meal, make us think about food and it affects what we crave in terms of sugar, fat, protein and carbohydrates. On its own ghrelin seems to direct us toward a more nutritious meal than we might choose without its influence. This might sound familiar if you think of what you crave when you are really hungry. Usually the ice cream, chocolate or biscuit treat (my personal favourites!) doesn’t seem sufficient and we actually want a heart slap up meal with more nutritious ingredients. This is actually a good effect of the hormone.
However studies have shown that as ghrelin levels rise, the amount of eating it encourages rises dramatically. This makes sense in the natural world. The longer the period between eating the more our body is going to want to stock up on energy the next time food is available. However this effect is contributing to our modern day obesity problem. We have such busy lives that people are often jumping from the bed out the door skipping what the old maxim calls the most important meal of the day. Breakfast. Breaking the fast.
As we sleep our bodies are stilling whirring away with countless processes like a laptop on standby. In fact the energy our body would use if we were to simply lie on the couch all day accounts for up to 60 to 70% of the energy we spend each day even when we move around and work as normal. That is why it is so important to supply your body with a source of healthy energy soon after waking up in the morning. Otherwise the body will demand an even greater meal off you later in the day.
Studies have shown that ghrelin, the hunger hormone, will not be suppressed without a proper breakfast. People who skip breakfast think they are cutting out part of their day’s calorie intake but it is proven that those people eat more for lunch, dinner AND supper partly due to higher ghrelin levels the skipped breakfast causes.
Also sleep deprivation has been shown to increase cortisol (our stress hormone) and in doing so mimic starvation and hunger. Both stress and cortisol increase our hunger hormone ghrelin which increases our cravings and likelihood to overeat. Poor sleep is another of the factors linked to increasing obesity in Ireland.
There are several ways we can affect our ghrelin levels. One large egg provides varying amounts of 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin yet regular consumption of eggs is still met with uncertainty. In the 1970s excess cholesterol in our blood was linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Many scientists assumed that eating high-cholesterol foods like butter, red meat and eggs must then be bad for our health. In fact sugar, trans fats or excessive saturated fat is more harmful to use and produces more cholesterol in our blood that dietary cholesterol.
In a study comparing eating eggs for breakfast versus a bowl of healthy oatmeal on the symptoms of heart disease (a change in the cholesterol and lipid balance in the body) there was not a huge difference between the two. The eggs did raise cholesterol levels somewhat compared to the oatmeal but not in an unhealthy amount and the sugar levels, liver function and fat levels in the body were the same. The eggs did seem to keep the person eating them fuller for a longer time than the porridge. I have tried alternating both porridge and a boiled egg into my breakfast regime and from my experience I can see how an egg can help space out meals across a day and prevent the urge to snack in between. But the benefits of porridge on health are also proven so if anything I would recommend fitting both into your morning diet if possible.
Being a daily porridge devourer I want to explain how it can benefit you. When food enters the stomach it lowers your ghrelin but it doesn’t stop you from eating. The signal for satiety and to stop eating is actually located twenty two feet or almost seven meters into the intestine! Naturally it takes time for food to travel this far. The Japanese have a saying which is “eat until you are 80% full” which is basically allowing your food time to reach this point. Alternatively trying to eat with chopsticks will get you there! The best way to get food moving faster through the intestine is through fiber.
Ever notice how a plate of pasta or chips and cheeseburgers doesn’t always make you feel full? This is because fast food and processed cereals have had their fibre stripped away to improve taste and shelf life. They sit into your stomach instead of moving into the intestine where they should be signalling the brain that the stomach is full. Anything that speeds food transit through the gut will make you feel fuller faster and reduce hunger and the amount eaten. The insoluble fiber in porridge does this. Its soluble fiber also helps by forming a sticky gel that delays stomach emptying which makes you feel fuller faster. Processed foods and cereals contain little of these or have it artificially added back in which doesn’t seem to work as well as when it is in its original form.
There was a study I found interesting on how water, milk, a yogurt drink and fruit juice drunk either before or with a meal would affect appetite, satiety (feeling full after eating) and the amount of food eaten. Milk reduced the overall food intake and appetite while increasing the satiety (feeling full after meal) compared to a sweetened yogurt or fruit drink. But in all cases drinking water meant the overall calorie intake was less before and after the meal. One esteemed dietician in America suggested keeping to milk, water and tea only as the beverages of choice and leaving the rest out of our diets. Sugary beverages and even fruit juice are thought to be unnecessary additions to our diet that we might be better avoiding. Fruit it appears is best eaten whole rather than juiced or pulverised into a smoothie. Also I will add in here that fructose which is known simply as sugar when it comes to talking about our modern processed foods does not affect ghrelin release unlike other carbohydrates and proteins which lower ghrelin levels. So sweets and sugary drinks in the morning will not reduce the amount of food you are likely to consume later for lunch and dinner compared to the egg and porridge discussed earlier.
Is it better to spread out calorie intake over a period rather than breaking the day into say three solid meal times? One study used liquid meals of protein, fat and carbohydrates taken in a single go versus splitting it up into five smaller portions taken every half hour to examine this idea. No difference was found in how the food was burnt off meaning that splitting meals up across the day has little effect on avoiding hunger later in the day or keeping up your energy. In fact where the food was consumed in a single go the people reported great and longer lasting fullness.
We often hear about losing weight by different approaches (intermittent or irregular dieting versus continuous dieting). A study tried to determine the effect of this on the body’s systems and discovered little difference in how the body was reacting to the weight loss. The people who achieved the same weight loss by dieting on and off seemed to be under no greater or lesser drive by their bodies to regain weight than those who had dieted in a more consistent manner. To me this study shows the power of habit. Studies have shown that consistent dieting has a greater chance of success but this study shows there is no biological measurement (in terms of hunger hormone, insulin levels) to account for it. Making lifestyle changes your everyday practice is the way to sustain weight loss because the likelihood that all lost weight will be regained is simply the reflection of how likely you are to return to old habits if you haven’t been practicing new ones.
So in summary breakfast is still the main meal of the day. Don’t skip it and try to have healthy oats and maybe an egg as a large part of it, though don’t forget your daily intake of whole fruit. We in LloydsPharmacy are here to support you in attaining a healthy lifestyle and so we can advise you on your diet, help motivate you and supply a range of products that will boost the positive changes you make in your daily life. Chromium is supposed to aid in reducing cravings by enhancing insulin function and effect in the body. Our pharmacies can supply this in more than one brand (Sona or Pharmanord). Products such as Miss Fit Skinny Tea and XLS Medical have proven popular among customers who are making healthy changes in their diets. We have Change Your Health Direction experts in each store so please pop in and tell us how you are doing and ask us how we can help.