Why You Can't Stop or Start

This is an elementary look at Ghrelin, Leptin, and insulin. Why can't you stop or start? In a word, hormones. They make us over-do things. They make us not do things. About a month ago I watched a webinar by Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School. She talked about her son (barely a teenager) who was struggling with weight. He was always hungry. They would go out to eat, and on the drive home he would be starving. I found this interesting because even though my kids aren't even in middle school yet, I'm starting to see the same trend.

As she went on to talk about hormones + how we eat, I decided that I really wanted to share her information. She gave such a simple understandable explanation. Now I know so much more about why it is so difficult to start eating gluten free + actually maintain that diet. As a bonus, I know why it's so hard to start new habits. I can see why my body (+ brain) doesn't want to stop doing what it's doing + why it's so hard to start something new.

If you struggle with weight, this will be good for you because it will help you understand what's going on inside your body. If, like me, you struggle with your gut + you want to feel better, this will also be good for you. I know, this is a long post, but I wanted to keep all the information together. Enjoy.

One thing to keep in mind as we go through this is that our brain is designed to do three basic things.

  1. Use the least amount of energy

  2. Avoid pain

  3. Seek pleasure

This means that our brain is super efficient, wants to feel safe, and to always have pleasure. Too much pleasure will cause an unbalance. Unbalance can cause over eating + mental issues. There are three parts to today's post:




Part 1: Desire

Desire is how much we want something. We create desire. Often times when we think about desire, it seems like it's just something that comes over us, but we actually create it. It might be hard to grasp that at first, but you will start to see it + understand it.

  1. Desire is dopamine in your brain

  2. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter telling you about pleasure

  3. Artificially produced dopamine (flour, sugar) causes over-desire

When we do something pleasurable, like eat a donut, our body creates a surge of dopamine. It says, Yes! This is so good!, and it wants more. So, we eat another donut. And to get the same reaction, our body has to create more dopamine than it did the first time. As soon as the dopamine subsides, our brain is going to seek pleasure again because that's what it is designed to do. And this time, it needs to be even better.

Your brain becomes confused by the artificial foods creating the surge in dopamine, and it thinks it needs that much dopamine to survive, so it keeps looking for more + more. Your brain says, Ooo, this is very rewarding, this is very good, it must be important.

Here's the problem. Your brain receptors can't handle the over-surge of dopamine. They shut down. This is where our brain is both stupid + cool. It shuts down because there is an overload, but it also says, Hey, that wasn't as pleasurable as last time (because it shut down + didn't receive it), so I'm going to find more. And then you start to need more (sugar + flour) to get the same effect. No wonder I think chocolate is VERY IMPORTANT.

But guess what? We get dopamine from ANYTHING that gives us pleasure. Every time you check your phone, you get a hit of dopamine. It beeps or chimes or buzzes, you get a hit. You realize you haven't checked it in 2 minutes, you get a hit. (Seth Godin talks about this in his post titled, Pavlov's in your pocket. Pavlov was a Russian scientist who experimented with sounding a bell when he brought food to a dog. Hearing the bell would automatically produce saliva. We are like dogs when it comes to social media.)

We live in a world that is over abundant with dopamine.


So what do we do? When we tell our brain that it can't have something, it just wants more of it. Deprivation doesn't work. We have to fix our appetite + our mind first.

Part 2: Appetite

Appetite is how much of what we desire do we want. How hungry are you really? How much do you need to eat to feel satisfied? One egg? Two? Eggs + oatmeal? Your body uses three hormones to tell you when you're hungry + when you're not.

  1. Insulin

  2. Leptin

  3. Ghrelin

Insulin Hormone

  1. It is a storage hormone

  2. When it's in your blood, you cannot burn fat

  3. Insulin increases normally when we eat whole foods

  4. Insulin increases artificially when we eat sugar + flour

    1. Insulin resistance

    2. Increases every time we eat

    3. Increases more with sugar + flour

Insulin is the most important hormone here. It takes sugar out of our blood and stores it. 'Sugar' is anything we eat. Our food breaks down into 'sugar' or, energy, to be used later. Insulin keeps our blood sugar down because it is taking sugar out of our blood. Try to visualize this hormone swimming around in your blood, looking for sugar, finding it, and then bringing it to your fat stores to burn later.

When insulin is doing it's job, getting rid of the sugar in your blood, and insulin is in your blood, you cannot burn fat. If your body doesn't ever have time to rest between meals so the insulin can get out of your blood, your body will not be able to access your fat stores, which is your energy. This could be why you're so tired all the time. It's definitely something to think about.

When we eat whole foods, (real food- not processed), with fiber, insulin will increase normally. When we eat artificial food, (processed food- sugar + flour), insulin will increase artificially. When insulin increases artificially, we get resistance.

Try to picture this again. Insulin is in your blood, grabbing sugar and storing it in fat. But, when it's artificially produced, there is too much insulin in the blood because there is too much sugar. It can't store sugar in fat because your fat won't take it, it's full. So your body thinks, I need to produce more insulin to shove this sugar harder into the fat, so it produces more insulin. (If you weren't tired before, you probably are now.) This is the resistance. The more insulin required to store, the less weight loss is possible.

Leptin Hormone

  1. Tells us we have enough fat on our body

  2. Tells us when we are full

  3. Tells us to use up our energy

Leptin is my favorite. It's satisfaction. Leptin is the hormone that says, I'm good, I don't need to eat anymore, I've had enough. Leptin comes alive a couple hours after we eat and tells us to get up + move, to use up our fat stores. But guess what? If you have too much insulin, leptin will be blocked, and the signal won't get through to your brain. It's why we over-eat and say, I'm stuffed, I ate too much, or, I shouldn't have eaten all of that. You can't feel full if leptin can't get through to your brain. You can't feel energetic if leptin can't get through to your brain. That's why having your insulin balanced is so important.

Ghrelin Hormone

  1. Tells us we are hungry

  2. Causes hunger, growling, stomach pains

  3. Stops sending hunger pains when our stomach is full

Ghrelin, grrrowling. That feeling you get when you must. eat. NOW. It's just a hormone. It's a hormone that is volume based. The stomach is empty, it needs to be filled. It doesn't count calories, it counts volume. It doesn't count concentrated foods because it doesn't recognize their volume. You will feel hungry until it's full. So, if you are on a diet, and you are trying to eat less, you will go through withdrawals. If you are going off sugar + flour, you will have withdrawals. The withdrawals are dopamine withdrawals because you are changing what your brain is used to getting. It is not easy to go through.

I deal with this so often. I like to bake, and I like to eat what I bake. Even if it's not gluten free, I usually still eat some. If it is gluten free, I usually eat a lot. And for what? It makes me feel gross + tired + crabby. It's really not worth it. And then going through the withdrawals. The headaches, the dizziness. But then, when my body is clean again, the ENERGY! I hope I can really stick to my healthy diet because I feel so good when I do.

Dopamine withdrawals can take about 10 days for our bodies to adjust. You will experience extreme hunger + cravings because of hormonal imbalance. That can take up to 6 weeks to balance out. Take it one day at a time, and soon you will be a fat burner instead of a sugar burner. Remember how your brain is wired to use the least amount of energy, or to be super efficient? Your brain is just doing what it does. It's going to seek sugar (dopamine) from outside of the body because that requires less energy than it would take to break down the fat that is already on the body. This makes it even harder to be fat-adapted. So, yes, it's going to be hard, but oh-so-worth it.

So, you have to cut down on your desires + change your appetite. That sounds hard. It is hard. It is tough. And that is where your mind comes in to play.

Part 3: Mind

It all comes together in your mind. Your mind is where you control your desire + your appetite. If you can control your mind, you can balance your hormones, and feel great. You need to be in the right mindset for this to work; you have to want to work. You have to make it fun + worth it for you, in your own way.

  1. We're taught that if we aren't happy, something is wrong

  2. We need negative emotions to experience positive emotions

  3. Feelings are healthy + harmless when we allow them

Brooke talked about how we have an over-desire for food, and therefore, an over-appetite. Then she talked about how we over-eat because we ignore our emotions. Sometimes we escape into food to try to feel better. When this happens we are almost not even conscious of it. Our brain is just seeking that dopamine.  We distract ourselves with food. We create our own over-desire. But, we have the power to fix it.

Start paying attention to your emotions. Are you eating them? Try feeling them instead. In a nice way. If you're upset or sad, find out why. If you're half-way through a box of donuts and it dawns on you that you're halfway through a box of donuts, decide to stop. Say, 'Wow, I wonder what's really going on that my brain thinks I can fix with a box of donuts?' Always be kind to yourself. Be curious + try to understand. And then you can start to move to a place where you want to be.

We can choose to be in control. We can feel our emotions. Emotions are harmless. After all, it's just a vibration in your body. Be present with yourself. Allow yourself to feel.

The Solution

So, now what? Keep it real.

  1. Be really aware

  2. Eat real food

  3. Be really clear

You keep it real by being aware. Start noticing when you are eating. Are you 'resting' between meals? If you are going to give your body time to rest (literally hours), you need to make sure you eat a large meal with healthy fats. Be prepared for your brain to do its job. What are you going to do when you realize you're snacking or eating gluten or some other pleasure? What if you go out to eat? What if you go visiting? Have a plan + stick to it. You always have a choice about what you eat.

Yes, you will still go through the withdrawals if you cut out or cut down on the sugar + flour, but stick with it. Be super clear on why you are doing it. The health benefits are awesome. You will have more energy. You will sleep better. Keep telling yourself why you are doing it. Our brains need repetition. Remember, the brain wants to use the least amount of energy possible, so keep telling it what you want + why you want it, so it doesn't have to think about it.

You know it's going to be hard, it's always hard to re-wire our brains. It's supposed to be hard. The brain wants the same thing over + over so it can use less energy and be efficient. So ask yourself, what can I do to be more conscious of my hormones today? Maybe today that means drinking more water. The important thing is to do something. A month from now that will be 30 somethings, and that is a great start. Do it your way. And be kind.