Can’t stop eating? Taming your appetite could be easier than you might realise…
By Dr Sophie Duggan
Can’t stop eating? Here we go over a few simple steps to help you stay in control of your cravings.
Too often, diets leave people in a state of constant hunger. This may be fine for the first few, super-motivated days. But before long, junk food develops a powerful allure. You crave, then you cave, and then you can’t stop eating.
More and more, medics and nutrition experts are finding that if you can’t stop eating, your willpower is the last thing that you need to work on. Instead, you need to remodel your appetite by retuning your body chemistry. Insulin – a key driver of appetite – is the place to begin.
Appetite and insulin: the link
After eating a meal, the glucose from your food passes into your bloodstream. Without insulin, the sugar levels in your blood would climb high enough to cause damage to your cells, including the delicate walls of blood vessels. To counter this, the body releases insulin after a meal, allowing sugar to flow out of the blood and into cells, powering their energy-production centres as well as storing excess energy as fat.
In a state of health, cells respond rapidly to insulin. However, if we eat continuously – as many people in developed countries do – cells begin to “tune out” insulin, and become desensitized.
From here, a downward spiral follows: sugar remains in the bloodstream, wreaking havoc with arterial walls, small vessels and nerves; sugar-deprived cells, meanwhile, send out the message for more food. As a result, even though you’re taking in too many calories, you can’t stop eating due to the hunger signals shouting ‘I need more!!’.
Blood sugar climbs still further, and the body pumps out more insulin, producing a state of chronically elevated insulin, which is also in itself harmful to health. And your appetite for junk, meanwhile, continues unchecked.
Thankfully, though, regaining control over your insulin – and so regaining control of your appetite – is much easier than you might think. In addition to implementing the low-carb, Mediterranean-style diet, which you can read about more here, there are some other highly effective ways to reduce appetite so you are not constantly hungry and thinking about food.
Step 1: exercise
Exercise is one of the single most effective methods to re-sensitise your cells to insulin. Amazingly, a single bout of exercise can increase insulin responsiveness for at least 16 hours.1 And after repeated workouts, changes in muscle tissue changes create long-term added insulin sensitivity, as well as an increase in energy turnover and fat-burning.2
The experimental results bear this out. In Australia in 20153, researchers randomised 26 sedentary men to two groups: 16 took part in 2-3 exercise sessions each week, while ten remained inactive. After 12 weeks, the men who took part in exercise had lower insulin levels, increased insulin sensitivity, lower BMI, lower waist circumference, and a lower waist-to-hip ratio.
The lower waist-to-hip ratio is particularly important, as it shows that the group who were exercising were losing fat from their abdomens. Abdominal, or visceral fat, is held inside and around the pancreas and the liver, and interferes with the ability of these organs to regulate insulin release. If you can’t stop eating, losing fat from these areas is essential.
For maximal results, make time each week for resistance training as well as aerobic training.
Step 2: time-restricted eating
An emerging body of research is showing that time-restricted eating can be a highly effective way to reverse insulin resistance and curb appetite. For those who can’t stop eating, this is a real breakthrough.
In 2018 for example, in the first supervised feeding trial of its kind, researchers in Louisiana4 divided a group of men with pre-diabetes into two groups. Each group consumed three meals each day of the same foods, with the same number of calories. However, one group was limited to a 6-hour feeding period, while the other could space its meals out within a 12-hour window. After five weeks, participants paused for a seven-week “washout” period, where they returned to their normal lifestyles, and then resumed the trial but in opposite groups.
The results were astonishing. After five weeks, not only did the time-restricted eating group display improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure and reduced oxidative stress – they also experienced markedly reduced appetite, particularly in the evenings.
It can take a while to adjust to time-restricted eating, and so it is advisable to build up gradually, with expert guidance. At The Fast 800 we’re passionate about using science to bring about real-life results – find out more about how we can help you succeed with TRE.
Step 3: get more sleep
After a night of broken sleep, it’s normal to find that you can’t stop eating. This happens because your body chemistry, when you’re sleep-deprived, becomes a toxic brew of appetite-promoting hormones. This can be particularly difficult for shift workers.
Cortisol, which the body produces in response to stress, rises. Persistently raised cortisol leads to chronically raised blood sugar, with all of the disruption to insulin and appetite that follows.
Leptin, a hormone which naturally reduces appetite, falls.
Ghrelin, a promoter of hunger, rises.
In addition to creating a hormone storm, sleep deprivation also promotes the “fight or flight” setting of your nervous system, making it difficult for you to absorb and enjoy your food.
And when you don’t feel full, of course – you can’t stop eating. So if you’re struggling to control your cravings after a bad night, don’t give in to guilt. Go to bed earlier, set the alarm clock later, and let your body re-set itself.
So a simple exercise regime will deliver results right from the first workout and, over the long term, will also help to eliminate dangerous visceral fat. Time-restricted eating is also emerging as a powerful strategy to reduce appetite. And last but not least, be kind to your body chemistry and make plentiful sleep a priority.
You’ll be amazed at how easy it can be to place yourself back in control.