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Understanding how your appetite works

Everything in you (your internal bodily processes) and around you (the environment) helps to control your appetite.

Your continuous need for energy drives your appetite because you need the energy in food to survive.

Early humans had to fight to survive and that meant eating as much as they could because they never knew when food would be available again.

Over time, our environment has evolved to the point where tasty, pleasurable food is readily available and most of us can sit to enjoy it.

Our hardwired survival instincts and the convenience of food nowadays means that it's all too easy to overeat.

The science bit

There's a part of your brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for monitoring energy balance and controlling your eating behaviour.

Hopefully, you'll never have a reason to find it, but if you did it's located on the underside of your brain at the back, just above your spinal column, and is roughly the size of an almond.

One of the main roles of the hypothalamus is to make sure there is a balance between what you eat and the energy you burn every day.

It does this by controlling your appetite and your desire to be active.

There are millions of signals and receptors detecting nutrients and hormones in your body.

If this alert system detects food and drink in your system, it acts by sending a message to control your food intake and satisfy any hungry feelings.

However, if your stomach is empty, it releases a hormone called ghrelin, which triggers that familiar hungry feeling.

Are you still with me? We've got a little more to go and then I'll explain how it affects you dieting.

Right, as you eat and drink, your stomach starts to fill and that hormone ghrelin starts to find that it's not needed, so you begin to feel full.

*This is important ...

The quicker you eat the less likely you are to notice this happen, which is why you overeat - you miss the signals that your body is telling you to stop.

By slowing down your eating, you are more likely to notice feeling fuller as the ghrelin stops being produced, and guess what, it makes it a lot harder to overeat.

There are also a number of other hormones that play their part in controlling your appetite.

But it's also worth remembering that they are not just managed by how much food is available in your body.

Food that contains protein or carbohydrates can help ghrelin levels drop more quickly, which will make you feel fuller for longer.