Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormone Behind Cravings

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, and owner of Level Up Bariatrics, LLC, a bariatric lifestyle coaching program that provides pre and post-op support for weight loss surgery patients.

After undergoing weight loss surgery, it's common to experience increased hunger. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear — given that hunger has been your nemesis for many years. Even after surgery, you may find yourself constantly craving food and wondering why you can't seem to feel satisfied. The answer to this mystery lies in the hormone ghrelin. In this blog post, we'll explore what ghrelin is, how it affects hunger, and how you can manage your cravings and weight after WLS.

1) What is ghrelin? Ghrelin is a hormone produced by cells in the stomach that stimulates appetite and promotes food intake. It functions as a hunger signal that tells the brain when it's time to eat. After WLS, your stomach size is reduced, leading to a decrease in the production of certain hormones, including ghrelin. However, studies have shown that the remaining cells in the stomach can produce even more ghrelin than before surgery, leading to increased hunger. Don’t freak out just yet — the keyword there is “can”.

2) What controls ghrelin? In addition to increased production, ghrelin levels also fluctuate in response to various factors, such as meal times, stress, and sleep patterns. Irregular eating habits and lack of sleep can cause ghrelin levels to rise, making you feel hungrier throughout the day. Stress can also trigger ghrelin production, leading to emotional eating and cravings for comfort foods.

3) What can you do to help control ghrelin? To manage your hunger and control cravings, it's essential to establish a regular eating routine and prioritize sleep and stress management. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day can help regulate ghrelin levels and prevent excessive hunger. Incorporating protein and fiber-rich foods into your meals can also help keep you feeling full and satisfied. Another way to manage ghrelin levels is through exercise. Studies have shown that exercise can reduce ghrelin production and suppress appetite. Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine can help control cravings and promote weight management.

It's important to note that while ghrelin plays a significant role in hunger and food intake, it's just one factor in a complex system of hormones and neurological signals that regulate appetite and metabolism. Weight loss surgery may alter your hormones and metabolism, and it's important to work closely with your healthcare providers and bariatric dietitian to establish a plan for long-term weight management and overall health.

If you're experiencing increased hunger and cravings following WLS, ghrelin may be the culprit. By understanding how this hormone affects hunger and what you can do to manage it, you can take control of your cravings and maintain a healthy weight. Prioritizing a regular eating routine, incorporating protein and fiber-rich foods, and incorporating exercise into your daily routine can all help regulate ghrelin levels and promote overall health. Work closely with your healthcare providers to establish a comprehensive plan for long-term weight management and well-being.

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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