Hunger Hormones

Are you really hungry or is it just your hormones? Last week I was intrigued by this statement: “Tired people tend to eat more because two hormones linked to appetite regulation are altered, namely ghrelin and leptin.” I was reading one of our own articles and comments made by Lee van Breda, a nutrition advisor. I have since learned that experts call ghrelin and leptin the “hunger hormones”. This is because they work together to either increase or decrease our appetite.

Thanks to a consistent lack of sleep, Michelle and I are not only constantly tired, but we find that we’re always hungry too. So, reading this triggered a need to learn a little more about these “hunger hormones” and what we can do to try and manage them. I also specifically wanted to know if there’s a “cheat sheet”. Are there supplements I can potentially take to help keep these wayward hormones in check.



Ghrelin and leptin play an important role in controlling appetite and satiety. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, causing you to (want to) eat. It is one of the main contributors in giving people the “munchies” and potentially causing them to overeat. It’s understandably also referred to as “the ghrelin gremlin”.

Leptin on the other hand, suppresses appetite by sending a message to your brain to say you’re full so you’ll stop eating.

Hunger hormones

In a properly functioning brain, the two hormones are released on and off to regulate normal feelings of hunger and satiety. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can alter ghrelin and leptin levels. Less sleep results in you having higher levels of ghrelin, so you’re going to be feeling hungrier. To make matters so much worse, less sleep also results in lower leptin so it takes longer for you to feel full.

So basically, when you don’t get enough sleep you have a greater appetite and tend to overeat because your body isn’t getting the message that it’s full. A lack of sleep can literally give you “the munchies”!



Hormones completely run our (bodies, minds and) lives. If we want our hormones to work properly and help us control our appetite then we have to hold up our end of the bargain by making smart dietary and lifestyle choices. By changing what you eat and making some lifestyle changes, you’ll be able to exert some influence over these hunger hormones naturally.


Make smart dietary choices

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it so many times before but here’s more science to add. Research has shown that fatty foods tend to interfere with the body’s ability to receive the messages that it’s full. So, in order to manage our hunger hormones and appetite, science advises us to:

– Not overly restrict calories. This can have the opposite effect and increase ghrelin levels.

– Eat more lean protein. Apparently, this can help control one’s appetite. Protein tends to ward off hunger, prevent loss of muscle mass during dieting, and increases secretion of satiety hormones.

– Eat more nutrient-dense, high fibre foods as these can help decrease hunger.

– Say “no” to highly processed and fatty foods that cause interference.

– Include some omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help you to feel full for longer.


Manage stress

Research has shown that more ghrelin is released directly in response to stressful situations. This explains why so many people, writer included, have the tendency to eat when they’re stressed. I am definitely a huge stress-eater!

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Choose high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Instead of doing steady state cardio, research has shown that “burst training” like HIIT is one of the best ways to manage hunger and eating behavior by manipulating ghrelin and leptin levels. “Burst training” can also increase muscle mass, which means when you do eat more, you’re better able to use the extra calories without gaining fat.

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Get enough sleep

As Lee advised in our article  End your year on a healthy high, the average person needs 7 – 9 hours of sleep a day.  If you consistently get less than this, you’re going to mess with your hunger hormones which can lead to weight gain.



Medical practitioners strongly advise against weight loss programs that involve the use of artificial hormones. Companies marketing leptin or ghrelin supplements don’t actually have any of the hormones in the pill itself. Instead these supplements contain compounds that affect the hunger hormone levels and consequently, appetite. Typically, they are made with natural plant extracts. Before resorting to taking any supplement however, you should consult with a medical practitioner.

If, like me, you’re just not managing your hunger hormones “naturally”, leaving you often feeling hungry and it’s interfering with your ability to manage your weight, then supplements may be a viable option. Make an appointment with your doctor to first check to see if there are any underlying medical issues, and if not, what supplement or medication options would be best for you. I’m booking an appointment first thing in the morning.




(Related Post: End your year on a healthy high; Five reasons to take a quick catnap )

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