Trying to stop snacking or cravings?
If you get super hungry between meals, or the munchies mid afternoon feel impossible to ignore, it might be your hunger hormones! These guys can work for or against you, so let’s set you up for easier and healthier food choices.
What are hunger hormones?
Our main hunger hormones are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is actually our fullness (or satisfied) hormones that tell our brain we’ve had enough. Ghrelin’s job is to instigate hunger and focus our brain on getting more food. Both are important to stay healthy and well nourished! But hunger hormones have a huge impact on our food intake, both in how much we eat (both volume and calories) and what kinds of foods our brain gravitates to.
How they might be sabotaging you
Let me start by saying, we all have 10,000 + calories of energy stored in fat. That’s it’s job! There is no good reason that a healthy adult should need to get physically hungry every hour or two. There’s two main reasons I see clients hungry in the afternoons despite a good lunch.
1. Low protein at breakfast. This is THE most important one. A breakfast with 20+ grams of protein (plant or animal based) lowers measurable levels of hunger hormones both after breakfast, but through THE WHOLE DAY. How powerful and cool is that?
- Animal: turkey (or any) sausage patties, 2-3 eggs, 0.75-1.5 cup (depends on brand) Greek or skyr yogurt, 0.75-1 cup cottage cheese, 1-1.5 scoops whey protein powder
- Plant: Tofu (0.5 300 g brick), 1.25 cups chickpeas or beans, 1 cup lentils, 6 tbsp/~1/3 cup hemp hearts (this is also calorie dense at 360 cal, I often use them more as a booster).
*You’ll notice nuts are missing here, while nuts (and peanut butter) have a couple grams of protein, they are actually a better source of healthy fats. Because of that it’s hard to get enough protein without also eating ½ your calories for the day. Use and enjoy, but don’t count them as your “protein” at a meal.
2. A very high carb breakfast (with or without enough protein) tends to increase hunger and cravings. This is likely due to increasing our storage hormone, insulin, very quickly which will cause a spike and crash in blood sugar. Your brain interprets that crash as “low” and drives up those hunger hormones throughout the day. Try adding protein and fibre to increase fullness, and decrease the amount of the high carb food by ¼ to start and see how you feel.
Examples of hunger crushing swaps:
- 1-2 cups cereal -> ½ cup cereal with ½ cup blueberries, and ¾ cup yogurt
- 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and jam -> 1 piece of toast topped with ¼ avocado and two eggs OR topped with a tofu scramble or mashed chickpeas for a plant based take
- 1 bagel with cream cheese -> ½ bagel (they’re super dense) with a bit of cream cheese and 2 eggs on the side or a homemade sausage patty in between (fun recipe here) or a protein shake (whey or plant based) on the side
- 1 smoothie: 1 banana, 1 cup frozen fruit, 1 cup orange juice -> 1 smoothie: 0.5 banana, 1 cup frozen fruit, milk of choice, 1 scoop protein powder
As always, if you do feel physically hungry please eat. We don’t do starvation around here. But you can use it as a signal and get curious:
- Was my breakfast balanced with lots of fibre and protein?
- Did my lunch have protein, plant foods, enough food?
- Did I have more carb (grain, starchy veg, fruit, flour based foods) than usual today?
- Did I get enough sleep? This is another sure-fire way to drive up hunger hormones.
No judgement, just curiosity. The goal is to focus on making healthy eating easier instead of white-knuckling your way through hunger or cravings until you break down and fall off. We’ll talk more about how these hormones drive our choices in our upcoming Conquer Your Cravings program!
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