Why we eat more than we feel we 'should'

“You eat with your eyes, and not with your stomach.”
-My grandfather

My grandfather passed at age 95 within 6 months of a duodenal cancer diagnosis, but before that, he was still driving, never wore glasses, had all his teeth, fixing everything he could around the house, up at 6am, and sharp as a tack (& happy as a clam). In fact, even at age 88, he climbed a ladder to sweep leaves off of our shed at our country house, and encouraged 9 year old me to join him. The only person who wasn’t thrilled was my mom (his daughter) where even the mountains produced an echo of her voice when she found out. Oops.

He was a slender man, never quite understood weight, and I heard this phrase the few times I would leave food on my plate (sometimes after round 2). In my defense at the time, I was in gymnastics, and a growing girl. Perhaps it was more than just hunger, but a fear that there wouldn’t be more. Or some underlying emotion I wanted to either ‘stuff down’ and ‘feel full/complete’ at the same time. I also could have just accidentally overestimated. However, that was his way of conveying that you’re eating too much and you’re going to gain weight.

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Decades later, there are some physiological reasons for this. We have a hormone called neuropeptide Y (NPY), one of the most abundant hormones in the brain that helps stimulate appetite when we’re hungry, and also involved in reproduction, mood, etc. This hormone is pretty potent, has a preference for carbohydrates (sometimes fats), and can really be on high alert when we eat by the time we’re starving. In other words, if you wait too long to eat (a stress on the body), or stressed while eating, you’ll probably eat more- and this is why. However, hormones like estrogen (yes, men have it too), progesterone, testosterone (ladies, you have this too), all regulate NPY- best when they’re in balance of course.

Here’s how you can balance your hormones & train your body to potentially lessen the effects of NPY:

  • Drink more water- At least half your body weight in ounces, and add 2-3 glasses. Your urine should be very light yellow to almost clear. Both water and food make our stomach expand to tell us we’re full- in other words, they have the same signal. So sometimes if we think we’re hungry, we’re actually thirsty. If you still feel hungry shortly after, by all means- eat. Water is also helps our liver process all those hormones.

  • Eat before you’re absolutely starving- Almonds, or handful of mixed nuts, a hard boiled egg, apple, organic turkey stick- protein is incredibly satiating, and then after that settled, add another glass or two of water and it can hold you over til your next meal. Even greek yogurt (my favorite is Kite Hill Almond Milk based- also seriously tastes just like the dairy version, maybe better!). Further, holding off on food (or deprivation) can trigger our cortisol (stress hormone), and more NPY! In addition, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone don’t respond well to stress- knocks them off balance. Which does exactly favor less NPY production…

  • Take time out to eat- It can be done. You just need to make the time. I may get some kick back on this, as I’m reflecting on my own life too, and know that it can also always be a work in progress. So I’ll ask you to be present. Can you take at least 20 minutes out to nourish your body, settle down ALL of your hormones, as there’s other hormones that tell us we’re hungry- and they take about 20 minutes to realize we’re actually full. Plus, you’ll digest your food a whole lot better when you can emulsify it in your mouth first, so it doesn’t just ‘sit’ in your stomach.

There also may be some emotional reasons (maybe hormone-related too), as food is a basic need, and different foods affect our brain differently (such as reaching for a candy bar in certain moments is much more likely than a bowl of kale- unless you just don’t like kale). Yes, you can test for neuropeptide Y, and you can test for hormones. However, your best range is YOU. I can help you figure this out, and then naturally address the best way to work on satiety.