Back in the day when I was young, I am guessing it was easier to know if you were “full”. These days I find many of my patients are very confused about this. Now that we know a lot more about the physiological contributors to feeling both hungry and full it is easy to figure out why back then people didn’t struggle as much.
So what are some of the contributors I am referring to? This topic is so complex that I am going to only focus on three:
(1) Balanced Meals: we now know there are messengers that respond to what we eat that communicate to our brain that we got what we needed. For instance, if we do not include adequate protein with our meals, our belly may feel “full” but our brain will tell us we are not satisfied because of a messenger called NPY (Neuropeptide Y). If we do not consume adequate carbohydrate our serotonin levels will fall and likely trigger a craving for something sweet later on. Back in the day, getting “three square meals” a day was the norm (and you were very lucky if you ever got a dessert, and that was probably on holidays and birthdays!). Today, things are different. Family meals barely exist as families tend to be busier, children tend to be glued to computers and video games, and family meals have fallen by the wayside. A typical “meal” for many teens I have seen is a package of Ramen Noodles (not much protein there, more snacking will be needed).
(2) “Sensory Satisfaction”: research has demonstrated that when you eat while distracted (such as while watching the TV or on the computer) you do not get an adequate release of dopamine which tells your brain you are satisfied and can stop eating. Need I say more? With one small TV in the home, 3 channels to choose from, and the remote not invented yet, back then we all ate at the table.
(3) Fitness: studies show that people who are active are more in tune with their hunger and fullness. In other words,one of their fullness messengers (called PYY) works better. Back in the day, there was no choice but to be active. There was nothing to do in the house, so kids played outside. We had to walk 2 miles to school and then back home, etc etc etc.
So, feeling “full”, a very normal physiological function is no longer that easy. Working on having balanced meals, shutting off the TV and sitting at the table sounds like simple advice, but more important than most people realize. And getting outside to play now that spring is here is a good idea too!!