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The Science of Hunger Explained

Have you ever wondered what it is that makes people hungry? In a world where obesity and related health troubles are directly tied to increased food consumption and the types of food we eat, why can’t people just start eating less? Just take the recent COVID-19 pandemic, for example. When the data around the disease started coming out, we saw that people who are overweight, diabetic, and have other related health issues are at a much higher risk of experiencing serious effects after contracting the coronavirus.

With so much going on, why wasn’t there a wave of people with a renewed focus on dieting and losing weight? One of the big challenges around losing weight and changing diet and lifestyle obviously is hunger. Our bodies adjust to the amounts of food we eat regularly, and sudden changes to food and diet are a massive challenge.

Why? Because feeling hungry is no fun! It’s hard to maintain control when your body is screaming at you to eat whatever it can find. It’s one of the main reasons why so many diets fail in the first two weeks. A couple of days go fine, you lose a bit of weight, but then your body starts reacting. The hunger comes in, and it’s hard to overcome.

What makes us feel hungry, and is there a way to combat feelings of hunger to prevent meltdowns and diet failures. Sticking to diets and using ways to beat back hunger can help you lose weight, feel better, and protect yourself from disease and other health conditions that threaten your overall wellness. Let’s take a look.

What Is Hunger?

Hunger, at its most basic level, is a chemical reaction in your body. It’s a feeling that is uncomfortable and sends a very direct message that your body wants you to eat some food. Your stomach rumbles, you can get cramps, and you literally feel empty in your stomach.

Food is what powers us. Every animal, including humans, needs calories to survive. When we eat food, our bodies convert the food and the calories in them into energy. Any excess calories leftover is turned into fat and stored in our bodies. When your body doesn’t have food in the stomach or the digestive system, your body starts to freak out a bit and becomes worried that it will run out of a vital energy source. That’s when you start getting hunger signals.

Hunger Often Strikes at the Same Time Each Day

People report that they feel hungry at the same time each day. There’s actually a very simple reason why that is. We usually eat in routines. People eat standard breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. There may be some variance on the weekends or at a party, but people generally eat meals in the same small time window.

When your stomach breaks down foods for digestion, it’s busy moving things around and full of purpose. If you arrive at your mealtime, however, and there is no food to manage, the stomach starts churning like it normally would. The only problem, though, is that there’s no food there, so you’re feeling your body’s receptors messaging your brain’s hypothalamus that it needs food as soon as possible.

Another symptom of hunger is poor mood and feelings of lightheadedness. These symptoms are likely tied to dips in your blood sugar. As a result, your mood becomes altered, and, at least in the short term, you can be grouchy and laser-focused on getting a snack or your next meal.

Habit can also trigger feelings of hunger. We are all creatures of habit, broadly, and when you skip a meal or start eating less, your body wants to know what’s happening. It takes weeks to build new habits and help your body adjust to a new normal if you’re trying to lose weight or make other meaningful changes to your diet.

Hunger After Physical Activity

Running, lifting weights, hiking, and other forms of exercise are also hunger triggers. It’s easy to understand why. Your body just expends a great deal of energy, and once you slow down, it starts looking for replenishment. When you exercise, your body burns down the food in your stomach and digestive system. Perhaps surprisingly to some, human bodies hold on to fat and other energy stores rather stubbornly. The body tells you it wants food before it starts burning through fat as a last resort.

Peptides & Hunger

There are many things that can, of course, help curb hunger pangs. For instance, drinking a lot of water, eating a high-protein diet, and other things can reduce feelings of hunger while your body adjusts to new diets and other changes. Add to that the plethora of health shakes, bars, and other meals aimed at limited caloric intake without sacrificing taste, etc.

Melanotan 2, or MT-2, is a synthetic version of alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone developed in the 1980s that, in animal models, shows promising results when it comes to curbing hunger. There is good evidence to suggest that MT-2 reduces fat storage and hunger behavior in animal models. Indeed, in animal subjects given MT-2 they showed a reduced preference for fatty foods and overall food consumption. MT2 has not yet been approved by the FDA and  still requires more research to determine the future medical possibilities.

Adrien Kartier
the authorAdrien Kartier