You fall into the house after a long and difficult day. You register that you are hungry, so you wander over to the fridge to find something to eat. Smiling at you, are a range of healthy options – an apple, a tub of yoghurt. But, all of these suggestions do not register as viable options to tame your hunger. You aren’t looking for real food, you’re hungry for nice things.
In my case, top of the nice things would be chocolate. But the definition of nice things could include ice cream, cookies or potatoe chips. By definition, the “nice things”, also known as comfort foods, are loaded with calories and not an ideal pre-dinner or in some cases, dinner, selection.
Blame the hormones
No, this has nothing to do with the female hormones which are typically blamed for most hormone problems. The “hungry for nice things” is caused by your gut hormones, otherwise known as incretins.
The incretin responsible for your problematic munching is ghrelin.
Ghrelins official role
Officially ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It is pumped out by the gastrointestinal tract when you haven’t eaten for sometime i.e. you’ve been “fasting”. It alerts your brain that the digestive system is empty and needs replenishment, instructing the brain to stop all other voluntary activities NOW, to feed it.
Stressed gut produces ghrelin
Two sets of mice were subjected to the equivalent of “mouse hell” by researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Centre. One set of mice had undergone a little genetic tinkering, which stopped them from being able to produce ghrelin, the other set were normal.
The mouse “hell day” involved having to shack up with a dominant “bully” mouse. Just like humans, close encounters with particularly obnoxious individuals wears down the nerves, leaving a very stressed out, unhappy mouse in its wake. At the end of the bullying attack – the mice were given an option to slip into a side chamber filled with pleasurable munchies.
The normal mice were quick to unwind, by slipping into the chamber of munchies, for a little pig out. The mice deficient in ghrelin stoically endured the trauma without compensatory grazing.
Ghrelin was the connection, between the stress and the munching in the mice.
Stressed out humans also munch
In the presence of stress hormones, the GUT just begins randomly sending the message “Feed me, feed me – NICE things, NOW” irrespective of whether it is truly hungry or not.
The GUT response is more than likely an attempt to restore a measure of sanity, by providing a truck load of calming nutrients such as tryptophan quickly. These feel good chemicals will lower the levels of anxiety and depression and relieve the STRESS.
Plan backfires when your life is STRESS
Flooding the body with feel good chemicals, via the gut, is a clever method to give you the ability to get through the stress of a particular rough day.
But when everyday is rough, it ends up switching the appetite into overdrive. Eating too much, of the “wrong” things, on a routine basis puts on the pounds.
Dial down the stress
So the good news is, that the burning desire to scoff down NICE food following a rough day is not an inditement of your weak willpower, but a hormone imbalance brought on by stress.
The bad news is, even if your boss is a bully – you need to find ways to shrug off the negative vibes, because eating to relieve stress, creates the stressful condition of hefa-lumpitis.
PS. If you can’t control the stress, for heaven sakes, hide the nice stuff away.Ghrelin mediates stress-induced food-reward behavior in mice. Journal of Clinical Investigation, (2011) 121 (7) :2684-2692. Jen-Chieh Chuang, Mario Perello, Ichiro Sakata, Sherri Osborne-Lawrence, Joseph M. Savitt, Michael Lutter, Jeffrey M. Zigman.
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