Why You Feel Hungrier after Weight Loss

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By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

March 9, 2018

  • Losing weight is tough. Keeping it off is even tougher.
  • Train your hunger hormones for successful weight loss
  • Developing a healthy balance for life-long results

Losing weight can be a real struggle. But despite popular belief, most people are able to do it on their own. The real battle is keeping it off after you lose it. Only about 20% of dieters succeed at maintaining their new weight.

The sad part is that people often blame themselves for their inability to prevent the pounds from creeping back up. But in many cases, it’s not entirely their fault. Rather, it’s the way that our hunger hormones respond to weight loss.

You see, when you drop pounds after being overweight your levels of ghrelin increase. This is the hormone that sends hunger signals to your brain when it’s time to re-fuel. At the same time, levels of leptin – the “I’m full” hormone – decline.

The problem is, even a year or two after weight loss, these hormones don’t return back to normal levels. This puts you in a constant state of hunger that is hard to deal with. And it places you squarely at risk of regaining all of that weight you lost.

The key, then, is finding ways to regulate these hormones for better long-term success.

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Your Hunger Hormones Need a Good Night’s Sleep, Too

One factor that has a profound effect your ghrelin and leptin levels is the amount of sleep you get each night. People who sleep less than six hours a night have higher ghrelin and lower leptin levels than those who get eight.

Just as importantly, a lack of sleep leaves you feeling weak and fatigued. So the next day it’s easier to skip your physical activity and rely on sugary pick-me-ups instead.

So let’s say you and a co-worker go on a weight loss journey together. You both reach your goals and are trying to maintain them. However, you start gaining weight again while your weight loss buddy doesn’t.

One of the first things I would look at is your sleeping patterns. Chances are good that you aren’t sleeping as well as – or as long as – your friend.

Due to the overwhelmingly consistent link between poor sleep habits and obesity, it’s extremely important to adopt these healthy sleeping habits if you want to maintain your weight loss.

The foods you eat also have an impact on your hunger hormones. When you eat foods high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, it quickly sends your ghrelin levels skyrocketing. In comparison, powering up your day with high-quality proteins tends to suppress ghrelin secretion over much longer periods of time.

This is one reason that I recommend focusing in on protein-rich meals in the morning and early afternoon. These are the kinds of meals that will keep you energized and feeling full during the most active parts of your day.

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Here’s a perfect example. It turns out that people who eat two eggs for breakfast have lower ghrelin concentrations and still feel fuller by the time dinner rolls than people who start their day with a bowl of oatmeal.

And by the way, if you’re still concerned that there may be a link between eggs and cardiovascular risk, rest assured. Both the egg and oatmeal eaters showed no differences between LDL/HDL ratios, glucose, triglycerides or liver enzymes.

Other good protein choices include wild-caught fish, plain Greek yogurt, almonds, avocado, pasture-raised poultry, beans, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and grass-fed beef. (Tip! Including a few plant-based carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans will help keep you feeling fuller, longer by supporting your fiber needs.)

Balancing Energy Expenditure with Energy Intake

I find that my patients (and most people in general) tend to get more exercise during the weight loss phase of their journey… then cut back on physical activity after they’ve reached their goal.

I agree that this makes a great deal of sense. Logic tells us that if we weigh less, then we need to expend less energy to maintain a healthy weight.

However, keep in mind that your ghrelin levels remain high after weight loss. So you feel hungrier all of the time. It’s almost as if your body resists the idea of weight loss and still wants to receive the same amount of fuel it did when it was overweight.

Well, if you feed your body based on your hunger levels (rather than your weight) … and then exercise based on your weight (rather than on levels of food intake)… the scales will eventually tip back against you.

You should also know that a single bout of exercise can suppress appetite and decrease ghrelin levels by about 16%. And since ghrelin is the big enemy in this scenario, the more you can lower it, the better off you will be.

Ultimately, maintaining your new weight is all about helping your hunger hormones adapt to your body’s smaller status. The more you can do to meet this balance, the more successful your long-term results will be.


Shlisky JD, et al. Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Nov;112(11):1785-97.

Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.

Missimer A, et al. Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin while Maintaining the LDL/HDL Ratio. Nutrients. 2017 Feb; 9(2): 89.

Schubert MM, et al. Acute exercise and hormones related to appetite regulation: a meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014 Mar;44(3):387-403.

Coutinho SR, et al. Impact of weight loss achieved through a multidisciplinary intervention on appetite in patients with severe obesity. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2018 Jan 23. [Epub ahead of print].

Sumithran P, et al. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-

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