Hunger vs. Cravings
By Thomas DeLauer
Indulging in a craving is great in moderation. But often times, we begin mistaking our cravings for hunger. HYLETE Community Captain, Thomas DeLauer, is here to help you identify the differences with an explanation of the biological breakdown.
Once you‚Äôve learned how to distinguish your cravings from hunger, try out this tasty brussels sprouts recipe.
About Thomas DeLauer
From 280 lbs. to the magazine covers... All by living a lifestyle that is honest and real. Thomas DeLauer brings nutrition expertise along with a unique perspective on health and wellness that is everything HYLETE.
The following is a transcription of the above video:
Hey, are you hungry or are you craving something? There's a big difference both biologically and psychologically. What I want to do is help you understand whether you're truly hungry and truly need to eat something, and the hormones that are involved there, or if you're craving something, and the hormones and the neurotransmitters that are involved there.¬†
All right. First and foremost, we want to talk about what is truly happening when you're hungry because being hungry is about survival, whereas cravings are more about psychology, what you actually want or how you're feeling at that point in time, and what you're really trying to utilize as a void-fill, for lack of a better term. When we look at hunger, it's pretty simple. You have some hormones that stimulate specific areas of your brain that tell your brain to either turn on or turn off hunger signals.
When it comes down to cravings, it's a little bit more complicated. Things like fat and sugar, they trigger specific neurochemistry in your brain that kind of trigger these electrical signals that throw things off. What I want to do is give a biological breakdown of what happens with hunger first, and then I'll explain what's happening with cravings so you can have a better understanding of what's truly happening in your situation.
It all starts in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the orchestrator of your brain. It is what triggers all kinds of different things to happen. And inside the hypothalamus, you have all kinds of nerve responses, and these given nerve responses do different things, and in the case of hunger, what ends up happening is the brain releases a specific protein known as Neuropeptide Y, and also another one known as Agouti-related peptide. These two proteins trigger the release of all kinds of electrical impulses that cause you to be hungry. It's not as simple as hormones. It's more about the electricity in your brain and what kind of message it's sending down to your stomach.
On the contrary, we have another neuron that causes another situation, and it sits right next to the neurons that release those proteins in the hypothalamus. This one is called Melanocyte-Stimulating hormone, and Melanocyte-Stimulating hormone is an inhibitory hormone. What that means is it stops you from being hungry. These two different electrical impulses sit right next to each other, and you can see how very easy it would be to trigger one or the other and cause a different waterfall of different reactions within your body, whether you're totally hungry or totally satisfied.
But, it really does come down to three hormones, and they're epicentered in the gut, in the fat, and even in the pancreas. The first one that I want to talk about is Ghrelin. Ghrelin is one that you've probably heard about before, and it's mostly classified as a the hunger hormone, and in reality, it is but I'll explain a little bit more in a second. What Ghrelin is is a hormone that lets your body know your stomach is emptied or full. Once your stomach is emptied, your stomach releases Ghrelin, and this Ghrelin travels up to the hypothalamus and triggers that electrical signal to produce those proteins I talked about like Neuropeptide Y.
That's how the process starts, but Ghrelin isn't what makes you literally feel hungry or literally feel full. That's the job of another hormone known as Cholecystokinin, also known as CCK. CCK is produced in the upper portion of the small intestine, and CCK is what literally tells your brain to have you stop eating. To give you an example, researchers have looked at mice that were literally eating, and then inject them with CCK, and they immediately stop eating, like immediately while they're eating. That shows you the power of CCK.
The other one that we want to talk about is leptin. Leptin is a hormone that's created by fat cells, and believe it or not, Leptin triggers your body to stop being hungry. The more fat that you have, the less hungry that you ultimately are. However, now this is a topic for a different day, the more Leptin that you have, the more Leptin-resistant you become, so you need more Leptin to do the same job. It's not always as cut and dry as it seems, but our body fat plays a big role with how hungry or not hungry we are.
And then of course, there's insulin which is produced by the pancreas, and insulin obviously is going to cause you to have these blood sugar rises and falls that can trigger other actions on the hypothalamus. These hormones act on the brain. They trigger the electrical signaling, and voila, there you go. You're legitimately hungry, and it all has to do with how much food is in your system and how much blood sugar is in your system, which is a great segue in the world of cravings, which really has not much to do with whether you're truly hungry or not.
Cravings are more of a dopamine response, and dopamine is something that allows us to feel good. Recreational drugs, things like that that allow us to get that sense of reward really quick, or just that pleasure that comes along with satisfying an itch. To give you an example, there was a study that was published in the ""Journal of Neuroimagery."" This study took a look at test subjects that had consumed a nutritional beverage to completely stop all hunger hormones. What they did is they gave these test subjects a drink that would make it so that they're literally not hungry. They're not producing Ghrelin. Their body's producing CCK, and they're in a great situation as far as hunger goes.
But then they had them think about tasty beverages and tasty food, and they did a brain scan. They found that even when they were satiated, the MRI showed that these test subjects were activating the same portion of their brain when thinking about food that would be activated when they were on any kind of recreational drug, showing that it's working along the same dopamine pathway.
But what exactly does that mean? What is dopamine, and how does down-regulation work, and why do we get these cravings? Well, an example I like to give is looking at your phone. You might find that you have this urge to look at your phone frequently, and the more that you do it, the more you feel you need to do it. You need to check your email, you need to check your text messages, all kinds of things. That's a perfect example of a neurotransmitter response with dopamine. You're satisfying something. You feel the need to check something.
Well, the same thing is kind of happening at a subconscious level with food. Every time we eat something that even tastes remotely good, or actually just satisfies even the feeling in our mouth or in our stomach, we feel like we need it more and more. We go down this vicious circle of feeling like we need food when in reality, what's happening is it's triggering dopamine receptors that are allowing you to feel good. You're getting that feel-good neurotransmitter, but what ends up happening down the line is your body always tries to keep in balance. When you elevate your dopamine, your body says, ""Wait a minute. Dopamine levels are too high,"" so it starts taking away dopamine receptors so that you don't get your dopamine as high.
What ends up happening? Well, you still want your dopamine high so you eat more, and you consume more. It's the same kind of thing with recreational drugs. People need more and more and more because their dopamine receptors are going away. This is happening with food and MRIs are proving it. What ends up happening when you have fewer dopamine receptors, and you're not consuming food? You start feeling unhappy. You may not even realize it, but you are subconsciously kind of unhappy until you get that instant gratification of eating something like that.
And that's why it's also been shown that people that are more prone to addiction obviously end up having harder, stronger cravings. If you're someone that is developing a pathway for yourself of repetition, repetition, repetition and constantly seeking out the reward system through any kind of avenue, you're going to trigger the same kind of response with food too. Let me give you an example. If you're getting obsessed with checking your phone all the time, then chances are it's going to be easier for you to develop cravings.
But let's take a look at sugar for a second too because sugar is a whole different world. Sugar does some other crazy neurochemistry stuff. It actually specifically acts upon what are called D1 dopamine receptors, which means it triggers a huge dopamine spike, but it also deactivates D2 receptors. When you deactivate D2 receptors, you're eliminating the ability to balance dopamine out. You're really being one-sided, skyrocketing it up and getting rid of the ability to balance it.
How can you start to control these cravings? Well, obviously there's a lot of different things you can do from a psychological standpoint, but let me give you some food options. The first thing is getting a little bit more protein's going to do it, doing it in the right way, but specifically getting Tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that obviously is in many proteins, but you can also take a Tyrosine supplement specifically that'll help you out with that. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, so if you can allow your body to create dopamine a little bit easier, you're sort of cutting out the middle man, and you're allowing your body to create it seamlessly so it doesn't have to work as hard and you're able to get to that reward sensation a little bit easier.
The other thing that you can do is eat probiotic-rich foods. This has nothing to do with satiating the gut. We're not talking about hunger hormones. We're talking about the effect on the brain and cravings here. What's interesting is L Rhamnosus and Lactobacillus Plantarum have been shown, specific probiotics, have actually been shown to encourage proper dopamine utilization within the body. We're talking about the connection between the gut and the brain, the enteric nervous system, a very, very powerful thing here, and that is one of the things that you can do today that'll start making an impact also today.
The other interesting thing is something known as Velvet Beans. If you're on a ketogenic or low-carb diet, you don't want to eat a lot of these, but Velvet Beans are very interesting because they actually contain L-Dopa which is the legitimate precursor to dopamine. If you consume something that has L-Dopa in it, it's going to cause you to have that little bit of a dopamine spike without having to reach into the cabinet to get something else.
And lastly, if you make sure that you keep your magnesium levels up to snuff, you can be in a situation where your body can more easily process dopamine and flush this entire process out better. You want your body to be in homeostasis. That's where we want to be. Homeostasis means no cravings. Homeostasis means balance, it means clarity, and that's what we want our bodies to do. Every time we shift the lever way too far to one side, we throw things off completely. As always, I want to make sure that you're taking control of your body and taking control of your mind, and the best way to do that is through education. Keep it locked in here on my videos, and I'll see you in the next one.