Mindful Eating–Can We Outsmart the Ghrelin and Leptin?
Consider this: we are living in an extremely fast-paced society. We move rapidly from one activity to the next, sometimes not even taking the time to really think about what we are doing when we are doing it. I think that this is especially true when we are eating. We sense that we are hungry, so we go to the refrigerator or pantry and grab the first easy-to-consume food that we find. Or, we have two or three activities scheduled during a mealtime, so we hurry to the fast-food drive-through and scarf down a really unhealthy, calorie-dense dinner while on the way to our next “thing to do”.
One of the questions we ask all our patients at their first visit to our office is, “what is your health goal for the coming year?”. And guess what? Probably 80% of the responses are “to lose weight”. I do know that some weight-loss diets out there maintain that they work because you don’t have to think about what you are eating; all you have to do is to just consume the pre-packaged meals. People DO lose weight on these diets, but many times they gain back some or all of the weight that they lost. I think that is because these diets don’t teach people or get them into the habit of really THINKING about what they are eating WHILE they are eating it! And how many times have you taken your lunch to your desk and eaten rapidly while trying to get some of your work done? (I admit that I am guilty of this!).
I have been reading numerous articles lately about the practice of “mindful eating”. This concept actually comes from Buddhist teachings, and is a form of meditation. It is a sort of practice of slowing down your eating and concentrating on all of the sensations that you perceive from a bite of food. While it is not practical to start doing this all at once and at every meal, the articles I’ve read suggest starting out by having a “mindful meal” once a week. Put some candles or flowers in the center of the table as a way of expressing appreciation for the food that you have been given and creating a serene environment. Try not talking to your tablemates for the first 10 minutes or so, and just concentrate on how the food looks and smells, noticing the colors. Take a bite of food, then put your fork down. Chew slowly and try to chew each bite at least 20 times. This exercise is about experiencing your food more intensely, especially the pleasure of it! Also contemplate the origin of the food you are eating, the farmers, truck drivers, and laborers whose work brought it to you. You may find that you enjoy your food a lot more, and also that you feel full and satisfied sooner than you would ordinarily. This practice can quiet the mind and give to you a real sense of feeling restored. Studies have shown that those who regularly practice mindful eating consume less calories and tend to eat a healthier diet, and this can help with life-long weight control!
So what do GHRELIN and LEPTIN have to do with it? Ghrelin and leptin are hormones that work in a kind of “checks and balances” system to control feelings of hunger and fullness, explains Michael Breus, PhD, a faculty member of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full. Studies have shown that when people eat their favorite foods, blood levels of ghrelin increase significantly, causing them to crave more of the food even though they are full. When you don’t get enough sleep, (less than 8 hours a night), you tend to have lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin and body fat. However, there are those who are obese and have high levels of leptin circulating in their blood. Scientists theorize that some people who have sleep apnea, while they THINK they are getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night, are getting far less because of interrupted sleep. Ironically, those who have sleep apnea also tend to be obese, suffering the viscious cycle of not sleeping well, which tends to decrease leptin levels and increase ghrelin levels, making them continue to consume more calories than their bodies need. PLEASE see your doctor if you don’t get good sleep and are gaining weight!
On the other hand, some folks have blood tests that show large levels of leptin, but they are still obese and tend to overeat. This is thought to be the result of receptors in the brain which do not recognize leptin. So, our response to leptin may be more individual than we think. Experts say our environment, dietary habits, exercise patterns, stress levels, and particularly our genetics may all influence the production of leptin and ghrelin, as well as our response to them. Weight loss and enough quality sleep may greatly affect your levels of leptin and ghrelin, or they may not, depending on these factors.
Try practicing some “MINDFUL EATING”, and you may be able to outsmart your hormones!
Blessings to you,