How to Control Ghrelin

Sleep deprivation can make your body feel hungrier.
Sleep deprivation can make your body feel hungrier. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Many people who struggle with weight have heard this advice: Eat only when you're hungry -- listen to your body. The problem is, according to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University, sometimes your body lies to you. Ghrelin is a hormone that causes you to feel hungry and eat. For many people, ghrelin is in balance, and they take in as much food as they need. In other people, ghrelin can be too high, and even if they listen to their bodies, they eat too much. You can control ghrelin somewhat with lifestyle choices.

Get more sleep. According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2004, people today report sleeping an average of two hours less than they did 40 years ago. The researchers studied the effects of sleep deprivation on healthy young men and discovered that after two days of sleep deprivation, their ghrelin increased an average of 28 percent and their hunger increased an average of 24 percent.

Reduce the stress in your life, or find ways to manage it better. Higher stress levels are associated with an increased level of ghrelin, according to McGonigal. Some of the most effective ways to manage stress include meditation, yoga or getting plenty of exercise. Exercise, of course, will also help you manage your weight.

Cut out sugary foods. Although sugars can provide a quick energy boost, they also cause your ghrelin levels to increase, which ultimately makes you feel physically hungry, and therefore makes you eat more. Many people who stop eating sugar and other simple carbs, such as white rice and white flour, find that they naturally eat much less without feeling hungry.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many people who cut out sugar and simple carbs report that it takes about three days for their body to "catch up." If you feel hungry for those three days, eat as much as you want, but choose snacks without simple carbs, such as lettuce wraps, cheese sticks or nuts. It may seem like you're eating a lot, but after the initial few days, you'll no longer feel as hungry.
  • Change your eating or exercise plan only with your doctor's approval.

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