September 20, 2018 0

How to hack your hunger hormones

Posted by:Dr. Brian Mowll onSeptember 20, 2018

Most people understand that obesity is a big contributor to the development of diabetes. But what you may not know is that losing a little bit of weight, even just 7-10%, can have a significant positive impact on your glucose control.

But as anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight knows, it’s not always that easy. One of the biggest challenges to losing weight is dealing with hunger. Why is it that some people seem to be hungry all the time while other people aren’t?

Hormones and Hunger – A Love/Hate Relationship

All living organisms have a profound drive to stay alive, and human beings are no different. In fact, not only do we humans have a drive to stay alive, we also have internal mechanisms that help us achieve energy homeostasis.

Hormones control how much food we eat. If they didn’t, we’d either starve to death or eat so much we wouldn’t be able to move very easily. And that wouldn’t have been very helpful to our ancestors. Imagine trying to run from a hungry tiger but you have no energy or are terrifically obese. We simply wouldn’t have made it as a species without our hormones directing our appetites.

The two main hormones that control hunger are Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin is made in the stomach its main job is to stimulate hunger. As your stomach empties, ghrelin is released. When the stomach fills, ghrelin decreases.

Leptin is an appetite-suppressing hormone, but it is not made in the stomach. Instead, it’s made in your fat cells. The more fat you have, the more leptin your body produces, and the greater the signal is sent, “STOP EATING!”  At least that’s supposed to be the way it works.

Many people become leptin-resistant, just as they become insulin-resistant, insulin being the more well-known metabolic hormone. The more we eat, the fatter we get, and the more leptin is released, but eventually our cells stop listening to all of this leptin telling us to stop eating, and so we have no appetite control whatsoever. So we eat more and gain more weight.

While these are the two biggest appetite regulating hormones that get the most attention, there is another hormone that is incredibly important when it comes to hunger and weight loss.

Meet GLP-1

Let’s play a game… name the hormone that your body releases when you eat, that helps to bring high blood sugar levels back down to a normal range?

You might be thinking that I’m talking about the hormone insuiln.  While insulin would be a correct answer, I’m actually talking about another hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1.

Interestingly, doctors sometimes treat diabetes and metabolic syndrome by giving people a man-made version of this hormone, but the problem isn’t a hormone deficiency, the problem is a body that is battling inflammation and other root problems.

Think of GLP-1 as the boss of insulin. GLP-1 is produced in the gut and is responsible for regulating insulin secretion. When our blood sugar reaches a certain level, the GLP-1 gets to work and stimulates the beta cells in the pancreas to produce and secrete insulin.

On top of this, GLP-1 also reduces our appetite and slows the passage of food out of the stomach so you feel fuller longer.

So now you may be thinking, “Okay, great, how do I get more GLP-1?” Not so fast. Remember, you can have a lot of a hormone but that doesn’t mean your body uses it properly.

Studies have found that overweight people and those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome have higher levels of GLP-1, but obviously the hormone isn’t working properly for them. 1 Whereas healthy people have relatively low GLP-1 concentrations typically but use it effectively.

Fixing Your GLP-1 Resistance Through Food and Lifestyle Changes

Whether it’s insulin or GLP-1, the truth is, when we eat the wrong things, our body produces too much of certain hormones until eventually our body can’t use those hormones any more.

Here are the common culprits that can cause chronically high blood sugars and eventual GLP-1-resistance. Do any of these sound familiar???

  1. Diets high in refined carbohydrates like pasta, breads, cereal, etc…
  2. Chronic stress, which raises blood sugar 2
  3. A sedentary lifestyle
  4. Sleep deprivation 3

If you don’t address the root problem, it can turn into a vicious cycle quickly. You eat the wrong foods and you become resistant to GLP-1 (and insulin)… you don’t get the beneficial appetite-suppressing effects… that makes you more likely to eat more and eat more JUNK FOOD…. Which causes you to have blood sugar problems that keep you resistant to GLP-1 and on and on and on and on………

Here’s the bottom line:

If you want to lose weight and improve your metabolic health so ALL of your important hormones can do their job, you’ve got to make some lifestyle changes.

It’s important that you cut out refined carbohydrates and all junk food. I discuss this topic so much because I see every day with my own clients how their lives and health are completely transformed once they cut out processed foods and stick to only lean meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Our bodies were designed to eat these foods and these foods only. Our bodies were not designed to eat chocolate chip cookies, Doritos, or breakfast cereals. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger – I’m just sharing the truth here.

If you want to be healthy, if you want to lose and maintain weight easily, and if you want to NOT develop diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease, then eat right. Period.

It’s also incredibly important to exercise, manage your stress as best you can, and get enough quality sleep.

Final Thoughts

Whether we like to admit it or not, hormones completely run our lives. And if we want our hormones to work properly and help us control our appetite and blood glucose, then we have to hold up our end of the bargain by making smart lifestyle choices.



[1] Joaquín Santiago, Galindo Muñoz, Diana Jiménez Rodríguez, Juan José Hernández Morante. Diurnal rhythms of plasma GLP-1 levels in normal and overweight/obese subjects: lack of effect of weight loss. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry March 2015, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 17–28

[2] Paul E Marik, Rinaldo Bellomo. Stress hyperglycemia: an essential survival response! Crit Care. 2013; 17(2): 305

[3]  Gil-Lozano M, Hunter PM, Behan LA, Gladanac B, Casper RF, Brubaker PL. Short-term sleep deprivation with nocturnal light exposure alters time-dependent glucagon-like peptide-1 and insulin secretion in male volunteers. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Jan 1;310(1):E41-50


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