We all know that feeling. A gooey slice of chocolate fudge cake is placed before you. The anticipation of tasting that sweet deliciousness is almost too much to bear. Everything in the background melts away and nothing else matters in that moment. The little voice in your head tells you to push it away, but you decide to hell with it, and dig in. But after the last bite you berate yourself for giving into the momentary pleasure. You should have been stronger. “Why couldn’t I control myself?!” you scream inside. And the cycle continues…
While sound decision-making plays a critical role in weight management and can be improved with practice, you should know that there might be a very real root cause of your impulsive behavior. And it may have to do with your hormones.
Research out of Sweden has demonstrated that a hormone called ghrelin, which is responsible for signaling to the body that it is time to eat, can actually increase impulsive behavior. The laboratory research showed that exposure to higher levels of ghrelin in a specific part of the brain had a direct effect on decision-making abilities, which resulted in test subjects forgoing a greater reward in favor of short-term, momentary satisfaction.
While the research is in its early stages, you might come to the conclusion that higher ghrelin levels lead to increased calorie consumption and therefore higher body weight? But here is where the complexities of weight loss science pull a real gotcha. It turns out that people with higher body mass index (BMI) actually on average produce lower amounts of ghrelin. So what’s going on?
There are several hormones that play a role in proper metabolism and weight management; but there are three that just may run the show. These are ghrelin, insulin, and leptin. First ghrelin, as described earlier, tells the brain “I’m hungry!” After you start to eat, insulin kicks in with its regulation of the sugar introduced into the body by the food. Then as you fill up, leptin whips out the stop signal when you have reached your point of satiety. In people with healthy weights, these hormones work in sync beautifully. But in people with higher body weights, it is known that they can develop what is called insulin and leptin resistance. When resistance exists, the body doesn’t know what to properly do with the nutrients or when it is really time to stop eating. In this scenario, ghrelin is the one left standing, which may explain the reduced impulse control. There are no “cops” around to stop ghrelin from tempting you to steal from the literal cookie jar.
If you really want to keep ghrelin’s impulse control effects in check, the logical conclusion, as always, is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. There is no need for you to fall victim to hormonal games. At the end of the day, it is you who is always in control!