February 14, 2018 | Categories: Diet & Weight Loss
Have you ever experienced those days when your appetite felt like a bottomless pit and you never felt satisfied? Or have you had a super busy day where you realized that it had been a very long time since you had eaten, but you never experienced any hunger signals?Your appetite is a funny thing and can sometimes be unreliable. Here, we’ll explore the reasons why your appetite increases and why you lose your appetite — and share tips on how to make sure you’re eating in a way that helps you reach your goals.
A number of factors can affect your appetite — some of them physical, others environmental. Sometimes, you may just think you’re hungry simply because it’s “mealtime.”“I think the biggest competitor against appetite is our existing habits,” says Wesley Delbridge, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “After years of our bodies eating certain things at certain times, we’ve built this foundation for a connection of memories, emotions, comfort, and all sorts of psychological associations that associate certain foods with some sort of positive or negative feelings.”As a society, we’re incredibly programmed to observe mealtimes, he says. “Yes, you need to eat regularly, but what frustrates me is people will say, ‘Oh, it’s 6 o’clock, it’s dinnertime,’ without being in tune to whether they’re actually hungry at that time.”
Calorie restriction will often increase your appetite, says Krista Haynes, R.D. and Beachbody Nutrition Manager. When your body senses a lack of food and thinks it’s being starved, there are changes that go on in your body, brain, and hormones that make you want to eat.Biologically, your body is going into survival mode and firing off circuits in your brain telling you “find food now,” which is why you’re constantly thinking about food when you’re dieting. Researchers also know that weight loss can increase your appetite, even if you’re not aware that you’re reducing your caloric intake. (Learn more about the minimum caloric intake you should consume while dieting.)Delbridge advises reflecting on what you’ve eaten at the end of each day. If you’ve had balanced meals but still feel hungry at night, that hunger could be related to something else, like boredom, thirst, or fatigue. “Appetite counters weight loss,” he says. “The more weight you lose, the more your appetite goes up because your body has this homeostasis set point.”He offers the example of a programmable thermostat. Instead of a temperature, you’re set at a certain weight, say, 200 pounds. “Now you’re down to 190, 185, your body’s reaction is, ‘Oh, no! We’re starving. We’re used to 2,700 calories a day!’ And then your appetite’s going to increase,” says Delbridge. Your body is used to eating more, so that’s its natural reaction.He says you have to learn how to determine whether you are really hungry. “Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no,” he says. “And sometimes you get it wrong. Where I see people completely self-sabotage is if they have one bad meal, or one bad day, and then keep overeating.” (Here’s what happens to your body when you overeat.) If you’ve eaten a particularly indulgent meal, just start eating healthy, clean foods at your next meal and move on.
Some common prescription medications, including some antidepressants, do include increased appetite among their side effects. “With psychological drugs, or any sort of drugs, the side effects really depend upon the person,” says Delbridge. “If you do start taking medication and you notice an increase in appetite, just know that if you haven’t changed your exercise or you haven’t increased your activity in any way, there’s no need for you to eat more.” Delbridge sees some of his clients struggle with this. “They get on some sort of medication, and then they can’t stop thinking about eating. It is hugely psychological.” He reminds them to be aware that it’s the medication affecting their appetite and not necessarily that their bodies need extra food, he says.
When you find yourself eating in social settings even though you aren’t hungry, you can blame the environment for your increased appetite. Your belly isn’t grumbling and you’re not hungry exactly, but being around others who are eating could make you want to adopt their behaviors — and even eat what they’re eating, according to research. Chances are, many of your social gatherings center on food — and you’re probably not thinking about your true hunger levels. Whether you meet a friend for coffee and decide to add a sweet treat because it smells delicious or you find yourself picking on the communal plate of fries even after you’re done eating, we’ve all been guilty of eating while socializing.“In social situations, we consume so many calories without thinking about what we’re putting in our mouths,” says Delbridge. If you know that you’re easily influenced by others’ food choices, he suggests looking up the restaurant’s menu before you arrive, making a healthy choice, and putting a reminder in your phone to pop up with your meal choice around the time you’re going to sit down to order.It can take up to 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full, says Delbridge, but we often finish our entire meal before that time has elapsed. “That’s how people overdo it and overindulge,” he says. Protect yourself by starting with smaller portions sizes, eating slowly, and focusing on conversation at the table. You can also try getting up from the table and going to the bathroom if you need a break. Those interruptions can help slow you down so you’re giving your brain time to register that your stomach has had enough food.
We often misread thirst as hunger, says Delbridge. Many times, you might think you’re hungry, but you actually are thirsty and need to drink water. “That’s why nutrition experts tell people to drink water in between meals and while eating, because dehydration can feel like hunger, and you might be inclined to eat when in actuality your body is dehydrated,” he says.
You might think you can function well on a few hours of sleep, but if you’re not logging the recommended seven or more hours, your appetite can be impacted by your lack of sleep. According to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, not getting enough quality sleep makes you more likely to eat larger portions the next day and choose foods that are higher in sugar and fat.Sleep is a part of health, and your body needs it to recover well, says Delbridge. Healthy sleep can support your weight loss. “Your appetite will be controlled better than if you didn’t have enough sleep,” he says. That’s because shorting yourself on sleep sends your hunger hormones out of whack — making it less likely that you’ll feel satisfied when you’ve eaten enough food, and more likely that you’ll think you’re hungry even if you’ve just consumed food recently, according to research. One recent study found that sleep-deprived people consumed an extra 385 calories per day than when they got enough sleep. If you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape, those excess calories will certainly derail your goals. Learn six ways that sleep affects your weight.
Our appetite isn’t always in overdrive; sometimes it seems to vanish. Stress, bad news, and even exercise can cause our hunger to hide. Think about the last time you had to give a presentation or had a job interview. Chances are, you weren’t hankering for a big meal right before. Hearing some sad news can also have a psychological effect that impacts your desire to eat, says Haynes.
A crazy day at work when stress levels are soaring might cause you to occasionally forget about lunch. Or, if you’re experiencing an emotionally taxing event in your life, you may have found yourself pushing food around your plate or have lost interest in foods that you normally enjoy. For other people, when they’re dealing with a tough time, they find themselves facing an empty bag of chips or doughnut box and wondering how they ate that much.“The desire to eat or not when emotionally stressed is subject to individual differences,” says Haynes. Some people find comfort or reward from certain foods — particularly those high in sugar and fat — but this is usually due to emotional eating versus true hunger.“Something I found interesting was that when under stress, those who are already restrictive eaters (dieters) usually increase and unrestrained eaters (non-dieters) often decrease their food intake during stressful conditions,” she says.The link between stress and our physical loss of appetite stems from when our ancestors faced danger. In the face of real stress, their fight-or-flight response kicked in. “This acute stress response includes suppression of appetite and food intake so that your body’s energy can be used to run or defend yourself,” Haynes says. While you’re less likely to be running from wild animals today, extreme stress might eliminate our desire to eat and impact hunger.
If you’ve ever lost your appetite after a particularly tough workout, you know the effects that exercise can have on your hunger hormones.Certain hunger hormones, most notably ghrelin (which stimulates appetite) and peptide YY (which suppresses appetite) are altered after exercise, says Haynes. In one small study published by the American Physiological Society, a vigorous 60-minute workout on a treadmill showed a reduction in ghrelin and an increase in peptide YY, while weight lifting for 90 minutes only affected ghrelin.“With these findings, we could say that aerobic exercise produced a greater suppression than resistance exercise,” says Haynes, adding that we don’t know whether this is just short term or if the effects can be translated throughout the rest of the day. “While each person reacts differently, I think most of us anticipate feeling hungry and, therefore, automatically eat post-workout whether or not we are actually hungry. In addition, eating post-exercise may be a targeted strategy to help replenish energy stores or promote muscle protein synthesis, which athletes will do whether or not they actually have an appetite.” (Here’s how to make sure you’re refueling properly after exercise.)
At the end of the day, there are many things that why there are days when you feel hungry/less hungry. But if you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss or gain, consult with a health-care professional.If your appetite is like a roller coaster, consider keeping a food diary for a few days and rating your true hunger levels before and after eating, as well as what else is going on in your life that day. You may find patterns with your increased (or decreased) appetite that can help you figure out what’s going on.
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