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4 Ways to Outsmart Hunger Hormones

Sluggish afternoons, vending-machine cravings, and a growling stomach (even though you just had lunch) can pack on the pounds and erode willpower. But tackling those healthy-eating hurdles may be about more than just self-control: What and when 
you eat is also determined by hormones—which are, in turn, infuenced by both your biology and your behaviors. Here’s how to harness four of the biggest players in your internal hunger games.

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Hunger Hormone: Leptin

Named for the Greek word leptos, meaning “thin,” leptin is produced by fat cells and released into the bloodstream as you eat. When the body functions properly, it tells you when to stop eating. Overweight people, however, can produce excess leptin and may develop resistance to chronically elevated levels. Their brains ignore the satiety signals, leaving them hungry even after meals.

Make it work for you: Regular exercise—especially moderate- to high-intensity interval training—can help keep leptin levels functioning properly, according to a study from Tehran University in Iran, as can getting seven to eight hours of sleep
a night. For people with leptin resistance, research shows that electroacupuncture (which uses needles that carry a small electric current) may help lower levels and suppress appetite.

Hunger Hormone: Ghrelin

Leptin’s counterpart, ghrelin, is known as the appetite hormone; when leptin levels are low—as in, when you haven’t eaten in a while—ghrelin levels are high. After a meal, ghrelin levels drop and usually stay low for several hours while you digest food.

Make it work for you: The same habits that help control leptin—sleep and daily exercise—can keep ghrelin in check. One study, published in the journal Clinical Science, also found that diets high in protein suppressed ghrelin longer than high-fat diets. The over-the-counter weight-loss supplement Vysera-CLS ($99 for a one-month supply) may also help keep ghrelin levels from rebounding temporarily—as well as help to prevent blood-sugar spikes— after meals, promoting feelings of satiety.

Hunger Hormone: Cortisol

This stress hormone is produced as part of the body’s fght-or-fight response during times of physical or emotional trauma. It can provide a temporary boost of energy and alertness, but it can also trigger high-carb, high-fat cravings. When levels are continually elevated, it also causes calories to be stored around the middle, contributing to dangerous (and hard-to-lose) belly fat.

Make it work for you: The best way to keep cortisol at bay? Chill out. Research shows that relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and listening to soothing music reduce stress hormones. Or, consider a quick fx: In one study from the University College London, stressed-out people who regularly drank black tea had cortisol levels 20 percent lower than those who sipped a placebo drink; in another from Australian researchers, those who chewed gum had levels 12 percent lower than those who didn’t.

Hunger Hormone: Estrogen

Sex hormones fluctuate throughout the month, depending on your cycle and whether you’re using hormonal birth control. In general, estrogen is at its lowest on day one of your period. It climbs for two weeks, then takes a dive in weeks three and four of your cycle. Falling estrogen causes serotonin levels to drop and cortisol to rise, so you may feel cranky and hungrier than usual—which can lead to bingeing, especially on fatty, salty, or sugary foods.

Make it work for you: Indulging PMS- related cravings won’t improve symptoms, so help balance out your hormone levels— and satisfy your appetite—with complex carbs like whole-wheat pasta, beans, and brown rice.