Not that I really needed confirmation but a new study on patients with severe obesity, those with a BMI 42.5 or higher, reported increased feelings of hunger after losing weight over a two-year period. 35 adults participated in the study consisting of a 2-year weight loss program that focused on diet and exercise. Body weight, cardiovascular fitness scores (measured by VO2max), feelings of hunger, insulin levels, active ghrelin concentrations and other assessments were taken at different intervals throughout the study.
The good news from the study is that cardiovascular health and physical fitness improved as well as insulin levels. The not-so-good news is that active ghrelin, the hormone that increases feelings of hunger also increased.
The study included group-based psychotherapy for lifestyle changes that would hopefully aid in long-term healthy weight management. The participants were encouraged to be physically active for 60 minutes a day and include both resistance and endurance exercises. The recommended diet consisted of six meals a day, with four main meals and two snacks. Dieticians worked with each participant to map out the best nutrition plan for each individual.
By years one and two of the study, the feelings of hunger increased significantly, even more so in female participants. This probably explains why it is so difficult to maintain weight loss, especially in people who were previously obese.
So, what does all this mean? Well, it means it’s hard as heck to control feelings of hunger after you lose a significant amount of weight. It’s not all in your head that you feel hungrier. You probably really are because of hormones in your body, namely ghrelin, telling you that you need to eat more.
And now what are we supposed to do about hunger armed with this information? Well, if I knew the answer to that, I’d be a very rich person. Possibly medications that decrease appetite could help but there’s always safety concerns with those. Choosing foods that are more filling, like those higher in protein over those higher in carbs may help but when your body is constantly craving sugary foods, it’s hard to resist such a strong urge 24/7.
How do you override the feelings of hunger? Hypnosis, meditation, duct tape? I don’t know but I’ll keep searching for the answer. Until then, keep soldiering on and remember that even though you might not be pencil thin your entire life, you can still be healthy by remaining physically active and forcing down more nutritious foods, even when you really want to eat a 2-pound Hershey bar.
Nobody ever said life was fair.
Silvia R Coutinho, Jens F. Rehfeld, Jens J. Holst, Bård Kulseng, and Catia Martins. “Impact of weight loss achieved through a multidisciplinary intervention on appetite in patients with severe obesity” 2018. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00322.2017