Ghrelin: It’s OK to be Hungry

Read time: 2 minutes

In a recent post I said that it’s important to suppress the release of the hormone Ghrelin so that hunger is minimized during Intermittent Fasting (IF).

With that said, I have to be clear that Ghrelin still has its value and should not be completely villainized. (A hormone rarely acts by itself or exerts a single effect in the body.)

Ghrelin doesn’t just signal hunger, but it also stimulates the secretion of growth hormone in the pituitary gland. Growth hormone has many beneficial effects. Growth hormone does the following (from Wikipedia):

  • Increases calcium retention, and strengthens and increases the mineralization of bone
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Promotes lipolysis, or fat burning
  • Increases protein synthesis
  • Stimulates the growth of all internal organs (except for the brain)
  • Plays a role in fuel regulation
  • Reduces liver uptake of glucose
  • Promotes gluconeogenesis in the liver (conversion of stored glycogen to blood glucose, especially during fasting)
  • Stimulates the immune system

Also, ghrelin is essential for cognitive adaptation to environments — in other words, it helps enhance your awareness and acuity to things around you. And ghrelin is important to the learning process.

We should appreciate ghrelin’s stimulation of growth hormone during hunger, which is valuable if the goal is to burn fat, build lean muscle, heal tissues, increase or maintain bone strength, and strengthen the immune system.

Before each meal you normally eat, ghrelin is released, which triggers the associated hunger. So, to eliminate hunger during fasting, you’d have to skip the normally scheduled meal for a period of time so the body learns to suppress ghrelin (feeding schedule adaptation).

But since ghrelin still offers benefits, it might be a good idea to actually encourage the production of ghrelin by using a random Intermittent Fasting schedule. Instead of skipping the same meals all the time, once in while skip meals that you normally eat. This way, in hunger, ghrelin may have a chance to stimulate the production of growth hormones. (I imagine our primal ancestors had little choices of when they ate — which helped them develope positive adaptations we now understand as health benefits.)

Personally, I usually skip breakfast and lunch and don’t eat until about 4 or 5PM. Although I keep mostly with this fasting schedule for ease and familiarity, occasionally I’ll eat breakfast and lunch and skip dinner. This may enhance the growth hormone pulse released at night, when most cell reparation happens. In the morning I might do a quick workout to stimulate even more growth hormone.

The idea is to develop a regular intermittent fasting schedule that makes life easier, but now and then surprise the body by changing this fasting schedule to take advantage of ghrelin and the resulting growth hormone.

It’s OK — and perhaps good — to be hungry once in a while.

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11 Responses to Ghrelin: It’s OK to be Hungry

  1. Dan says:

    Great website Johnny! Very inspiring and informative, I will definitely be checking in often.

    Had a question for you regarding your meal size when doing IF. Say you skip breakfast and lunch, do you then have a typical dinner as if it was your third meal of the day, or do you compensate and end up eating more than usual?

    Also on a related note, I can see the benefits of mixing up which meal(s) you skip when IFing, but what about time of day you exercise? I’ve almost always felt and performed my best in the morning in a fasted state, but was wondering if there would be benefits to doing some evening training instead?

    Thanks again!

  2. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    @Dan,

    Thanks, Dan. I am pretty sure my first meal after the fast is a little larger than the average meal on a non-fasting day, but probably not by much because I’d feel uncomfortable.

    I’m conscientious with the feeling of “being stuffed” and try to avoid it. Which means I’m unlikely to stuff myself.

    So, yes, I probably compensate with the first meal that breaks the fast, but probably no more than about 15% over the regular meal. I make sure to feel happily full, but NOT stuffed.

    Then over the next 5 to 7 hours I eat another meal or two, but usually much smaller, because I’m often still satiated from that first meal. So even with the slight compensation at the first meal, I still eat fewer calories than had I followed the standard meal schedule (of 4 to 6 small meals, including “snacks”).

    I believe that the benefits (body composition, multiple health factors) of IF come from GOING LONGER between meals, and not just from eating fewer calories.

    Keep in mind the increased insulin sensitivity and fat metabolism simply by going longer between meals — 12 to 16 hours or more. These may add to improved body composition, independent of caloric intake.

    Concerning exercise: fat metabolism and insulin sensitivity is enhanced when exercising during a fast, but probably optimized when done toward the end of the fasting period. But don’t fret too much about exercise schedule, so long as you schedule it into your life.

    I typically exercise at the end of the fast, around 3 PM. But I’ve often done it first thing in the morning, smack dab in the middle of a fast (first meal being around 4 PM or 5 PM).

  3. I did not know ghrelin stimulated HGH. That’s great information. I always like to be just a little hungry. I can’t stand feeling “full”. It feels so unnatural to me. I am due to have a baby any moment now, so once I am through the whole breastfeeding thing (which took my first two years!!!!) I am giving IF a try. I think I kinda do it instinctively anyway. Thanks for the great site!

  4. Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

    @Meredith,

    Over 15 years my wife has gained 30 pounds of excess weight — it’s one of those things you turn around one day and realize it’s gotten away from you.

    She tried many weight loss diets but they never worked for more than a month or two, mostly because of plateaus or regains, and then she’d fall off the diets, discouraged.

    About 8 months ago she started Paleo and intermittent fasting. At her last weigh-in, the scale indicates that she lost 30 pounds.

    She eats only until she’s *just* full, and skips meals when she’s not hungry. Sometimes when she’s hungry, she gives it a few minutes to half an hour, and finds out that it goes away.

    She reports that this lifestyle poses very little challenge and she feels that she can live like this for the rest of her life.

    I wanted to tell you this because she originally wanted to lose the weight before she becomes pregnant (hopefully 2010). She wants the best possible condition to bear a child, and the best chance for the child to come into the world healthy.

    She discovered along the way that she feels a million times better, and concluded that no woman should ever require any particular reason to lose weight or get healthy, other than to do it simply for herself.

    Now we have to do research into whether or not paleo and IF can be maintained, or modified, through the pregnancy period and then post-pregnancy.

    If you or anyone have info or lead, please share here!

    • Grok says:

      If you or anyone have info or lead, please share here!

      Johnny, ask Cordain. I see no problem with paleo, but longer IF not sure I’d do if it was me.

      WAPF might have a good amount of info about pregnancy too that would basically follow paleo guidelines.

    • Twyla says:

      Johnny,

      I read your reply post regarding your wife having lost 30 lbs while doing forms of IF’g, and with great success, having benefitted not only from the weight loss, but from learning to have better control over hunger cues, etc.

      I’ve just begun IF’g, AND THIS IS MY QUESTION: When your wife began IF’g, how did she manage her hunger during her menstrual cycle, those few days before when it is seemingly impossible to control hunger and/or to get satiated (at least for most women I know)?

      How should women try to most effectively deal with this insatiable hunger at this time of the month when trying to do IF’g (specifically, I’m doing LeanGains, 14 hr fast, 10 hr feeding)?

      Thanks for any insight.

  5. Josh says:

    What do you think of the idea of carb (starch/glucose) loading every few days a la Rob Faigin, Vince Gironda, etc, to maintain glycogen stores, Thyroid levels and leptin sensitivity? Ever just slam down a couple yams?

    • Grok says:

      Every few days seems a little frequent. Once a week might be alright. Guys like Joel Marion advocate once a week cheat days (not just meals) for leptin. Joel advocates every 5 days in very lean individuals.

      Certainly no expert or very well researched here, but most the stuff I’ve seen says the carb cycles should be throughout the day, not just one meal. 200-300 carbs wants to come to mind.

      Joel also claims from testing with clients, it’s best to use junk food. Like real junk food!

      For me (I feel Johnny is on board here too), health is more important than body composition.

      My current plan is low-cal/lower-carb, with one higher-cal/moderate carb day a week. Without going into too much detail, I can usually pull off 1-3lb weekly loss with a very low amount of exercise (I’m lazy).

    • Johnny from The Lean Saloon says:

      Hi Josh,

      I’m familiar with Faigin’s optimized hormone diet, and agree with almost everything he has to say.

      BUT, I’m an advocate of keeping things simple. I believe that thyroid responses have more to do with overall calorie intake than macronutrient ratios. Also, I don’t put too much stock on T3 levels (high or low) as a response to intermittent fasting (IF), as these levels seem to be transient and naturally cyclical — so long as you’re not on a *permanent* calorie-restricted diet (CR). IF, as you probably already know, is not CR.

      In the end, my diet varies a lot; that is, paleo is not necessarily ALWAYS low carbs, as sometimes root (such as yam, as you mentioned) can be consumed without causing harm, or without impeding fat loss.

      If you are restricting your calories for weeks on end, then T3 can be suppressed. In this situation, a short period of thyroid stimulation through high-carb consumption has been shown to work, too. But this weight loss method is basically CR, and it’s is not my area.

      I strongly believe in losing fat permanently and without complexity. This means an eating lifestyle that’s sustainable.

      I believe the combination of paleo nutrition and intermittent fasting is the *easiest* and most sustainable way for most people to achieve PERMANENT leanness.

  6. Pingback: Intermittent Fasting and Exercising: Fat Burn, but Not Necessarily Fat Loss | The Lean Saloon

  7. Pingback: Intermittent Fasting and Lemon Water | The Lean Saloon

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