Hunger has an emotional and hormonal component. Or perhaps these are one and the same process. But it makes more sense to consider them two separate factors since they can be manipulated to decrease hunger cravings.
Our patients who use continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) tell us that their cravings for foods, especially rich, tasty foods, increase when they have a glucose crash.
Low blood sugar = hunger cravings
Another factor that drives hunger is wildly fluctuating blood sugars. You get a big spike, a big crash, another big spike – this leaves your body craving more food.
Wild blood sugar swings = hunger cravings
The balance of insulin, ghrelin, and leptin seems to play a role in hunger. And often, it’s insulin’s initial spike that sets off the downstream cascade of hormone changes.
We don’t yet have any medications that can target these hormones effectively. Until that day comes, there are tricks you can use to curb these hormones.
Besides the hormonal factors we discussed above, emotional factors can also affect our hunger cravings. However, they share a similar pathway as the hormones, where glucose may be at the center of it.
Elevated stress levels seem to drive hunger cravings. And eating high-carb, high-fat foods decreases the associated anxiety.
High stress = hunger
Poor sleep, especially staying up late and not getting restful sleep, drives hunger. Ask any shift worker about their food cravings on their graveyard shifts.
Poor sleep = food craving
Okay, enough. This getting depressing and repetitive. What can we do? Let’s dive into that. After all, the body didn’t come with an instruction manual, and each body is unique and different.
Decreasing Hunger Cravings
Here are a few things that seem to work for those who’ve battled hunger cravings and learned to overcome them. It’s never perfect, but these are tried & tested in the Glucose Goddess community and our own here at DNH.
1. Food Order
Eating a sweet cookie while waiting for your lunch spikes blood sugars because the chewed sugars make it right to the small intestine for maximum carbohydrate absorption.
Habits aren’t easy to learn, but they tend to stick if you practice them long enough.
Eat something else that slows down sugar absorption, and then have the same cookie, and the results are much better. Of course, you can take this too far, but the idea of having a salad before a heavier meal has some merit.
2. Carbohydrate Ratios
Eating something with many simple carbs and little fiber, protein, or fat creates a problematic blood sugar situation.
A sandwich with mostly bread and little else is less desirable. We have our patients add some tomatoes, mustard, lettuce, meat, or anything really to buffer the carb absorption from the bread.
Give yourself room to not be perfect or else it’s easy to burn out from life.
3. Stress & Sleep
A restless night of sleep, too little sleep, or going to bed too late all elevate cortisol levels, which might affect insulin, which shoots down blood sugar. This causes a potent feeling of hunger.
Add to that a stressful day, and it’s tough to have many dietary wins. First, it’s okay to have some off days; give yourself room not to be perfect, or else it’s easy to burn out from life.
However, on days when you haven’t slept much, haven’t slept well, or when you’re experiencing a lot of stress it’s a good idea to have some better food options available and snack readily, but snack on better options (if you can.)
For some of our patients, caffeine is an appetite suppressant. For others, it might suppress the appetite but also cause glucose rollercoasters.
On days when you haven’t slept much – the days when you might crave the most caffeine – that’s when you should try to abstain. This is when the glucose response is most sensitive to any stimulant.
Though not a stimulant, we treat alcohol like coffee. As in, it’s likely fine for most, but some people really get wrecked with alcohol. They get dehydrated, experience strong diuretic symptoms, and their blood sugars, well, you know.
Drink alcohol on a fuller stomach when possible. Avoid it late at night, and the fewer mixed sugars it has, the better. Of course, we want our patients to enjoy their alcohol, but if getting buzzed is the goal, we encourage high-quality liquor over wine or beer.
Fasting is quite helpful for some of our patients; whether it’s calorie restriction or timed feeding patterns, some swear by it. But in others, it sensitizes the body to glucose.
When breaking your fast, it’s good to have a lower-carbohydrate food or at least a high-carb food with a lot of fiber, protein, or fat. Also, break it slowly, and be sure to hydrate adequately before having something carb-heavy like a pizza or bread.
7. Aerobic Exercise
Almost all of our patients benefit from resistance training. Many also benefit from zone 2 aerobic exercises. But quite a few experience blood sugar problems when doing intensive cardio exercises.
Monitor your symptoms after an exercise. For the next few hours and the next 48 hours, do you feel headaches, malaise, or develop strong food cravings? Perhaps the exercise intensity needs to be adjusted.
8. Eating Slowly
Chewing well and eating food slowly is a great skill to develop. The slower carbohydrates transit through the upper intestine, the slower the rate of rise of serum glucose – that’s a good thing.
Enjoying our food with friends means we are talking between the next bite, we are chewing while listening, and we’re pacing our meal before finishing our plates.
9. Postprandial Exercise
Some meals – the carby ones – benefit from some exercises after ingestion; postprandial exercise. A walk around a park – a good old forest bath – or a gentle stationary bike ride may help prevent serum glucose spikes.
The theory is that the muscle spits out more glucose receptors, which take up the sugar in the blood and store it safely inside muscle cells as glycogen.
Which exercise is best? We favor resistance exercises over aerobic ones.