One of the difficulties faced by people who try to acquire healthier habits is the daily struggle with the ravenous hunger in the evening. Few people know that the most common cause of such problems is the insufficient amount of food eaten during the day and over-fasting, which disturbs normal secretion of glucose and insulin.
Let's take a closer look at the latter and see how it affects our sense of energy, hunger, and even the desire to eat sweets.
Glucose, the fuel we run on
For humans, food is primarily a source of energy. The main fuel that drives the complex machine of the human body is glucose, which must be maintained at a constant level. This makes it possible for us to operate normally when hungry, rather than hibernate. The body uses many different mechanisms and substances to regulate the level of sugar, but the most important substance in this constant process is insulin.
What happens in your body when you are hungry?
Imagine you wake up in the morning. You feel a slight hunger and you start thinking about breakfast. At this point, the sugar level is slightly depressed after an overnight fast and the body attempts to increase it.
Suppose you eat porridge with fruit and nuts. By digesting this food, your body will absorb the glucose extracted from the porridge. The level of sugar in your blood gradually increases, and to keep everything under control, the pancreas releases some insulin to bring glycaemia back to normal. You feel a rush of energy as satiation replaces hunger.
You go to work and face a crisis – a series of looming deadlines. There is no time to eat, so you skip breakfast and lunch. You come home, feel weak, a little dizzy, you sense an imminent headache and increasing tension. At this time you are in a state of hypoglycaemia – the level of sugar has dropped very low.
You go to the kitchen and prepare a quick dish from a proven menu. In the meantime, you impatiently snack on various ingredients, and when you start eating, you have the impression that your hunger only grows, instead of decreasing. You end up eating a very large portion. At this point, the level of sugar in your blood begins to grow rapidly, and in response the pancreas secretes large amounts of insulin.
Immediately after the meal you are overcome by an intense feeling of drowsiness, and very shortly you feel a strong desire to go through your fridge again or eat something sweet. This means that you are back to hypoglycaemia. Your pancreas, in response to an oversized meal, produced too much insulin, which in turn brought down the level of sugar in your blood too low. Whether you reach for a snack depends only on your willpower. Do you recognize this scenario?
It is important to realize that, apart from daily occurrence of ravenous hunger and constant snacking (which can lead to obesity), such a repetitive scenario – fasting during the day, followed by an oversized meal – is the fastest route to insulin resistance and all the complications that it brings.
How to avoid hunger pangs and daily snacking?
Contrary to popular belief, it's not the carbohydrates that are the main problem. Proteins and fats, as well as carbohydrates, affect blood insulin levels. The amount of food consumed also plays an enormous role. How can you control your hunger pangs most effectively?
The main meals during the day should be roughly of the same volume – make sure none dominates the others in terms of the quantity of food.
- Avoid fasting – try to eat at regular intervals.
- Be sure to plan and eat a regular dinner.
- If there is a time during the day when you often get hungry, it's the clearest sign that you should schedule a snack at this time.
- For your source of carbohydrates (groats, rice, pasta, bread), choose wholegrain products and make sure they are only a supplement, not the main part of the meal.
- Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel satiated – do not be afraid of it: intuition is the best compass you have when it comes to keeping the amount of food you eat under control.