Just yesterday we were able to stick to three square meals like a civilized human being, but today some animal urge inside is making us devour everything in sight. Yes, it can often feel like our appetite changes on a day-to-day basis.
Hunger is the result of a complex mix of hormones, physical activity, sleep deprivation, and even emotions, particularly stress. But it changes over time. There are some general trends that stand out and are noticeable to doctors and nutrition experts. Here’s what you can expect from your hunger pangs, decade by decade.
In Your 30s
As you kick off this decade, you might find yourself subject to either uncontrollable hunger or no desire to eat whatsoever, says Tasneem Bhatia, MD, who specializes in integrative medicine. The stress hormone cortisol can play a part at both ends of the spectrum. But the natural ebb and flow of hormones throughout your menstrual cycle can also change your appetite, Bhatia says, as anyone who has polished off an entire box of Girl Scout cookies while PMSing can attest.
Around 35 or so, the effects of subpar diets can rear their ugly heads, Bhatia says. Deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals can change what you’re hungry for and how badly you want to eat it. For example, if you’re constantly on the search for, say, chocolate-covered pretzels (mmm, sweet and salty!), you could be lacking in magnesium and calcium.
You might also be, as they say, eating for two in this decade. While pregnancy can certainly increase your appetite a bit, “you don’t need huge amounts of extra food,” says Australia-based dietitian Ngaire Hobbins, author of Eat to Cheat Dementia and Eat to Cheat Aging. The body is pretty miraculous at supplying that developing bundle of joy with exactly what it needs to grow, but that might mean you miss out. If you’re hungrier than usual while pregnant, put your appetite to good use. “Eat extra foods rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins,” Hobbins says, “because the fetus gets preference over you.”
This is the decade when—lucky you!—digestion issues are more likely to show up, Bhatia says, which will understandably mess with your appetite. But your 40s may also be a decade of slowing down physically. “Appetite typically increases out of proportion to activity level,” she says.
Insulin resistance might also start to develop in this decade. When your body doesn’t use insulin effectively, sugar can build up in your blood instead of being stored in cells. And if those cells aren’t getting their sugar, aka energy, you might feel hungrier, especially for simple carbs, the quickest source of energy. “If you become insulin resistant, you have more problems signaling you’re full,” Bhatia says.
In your 50’s
For some women, plunging estrogen levels due to menopause around 50 or 51 can result in a similar pattern of craving more carbs and sugar as if you were insulin resistant, Bhatia says. Perhaps, she hypothesizes, this might be the cause of the midlife weight gain so many women face around this time.
Indeed, women’s bodies do tend to hold on to a little something extra during this decade, Hobbins says, but it’s possible it’s a sort of natural defense mechanism against health problems down the road. “Body fat is a reserve that might in fact protect you from frailty, which is really damaging as people get older,” she says. Interestingly, even if you feel hungrier during this decade, you may not be reaching for extra snacks: A 2014 observational study found that while appetite increased in women going through menopause, their actual food intake decreased.
In your 60’s and beyond
Despite what you may have heard, your stomach doesn’t actually shrink with age, Hobbins says. But there do seem to be changes to the stretchiness of your tummy that happen alongside aging that mistakenly tell the brain you’re full when you’re not, she says, leading some older folks to lose weight as they age.
If you fit that bill, this decade may be the start of a new priority when it comes to weight: keeping it on. Weighing too little as we age has been linked with higher risk of falls, hospital stays, and even earlier death. If you’re on the slimmer side of things, you can pad meals with a little extra fat, like a generous helping of olive oil or grated cheese on your veggies. “Losing weight dramatically is a red flag something is going on,” Bhatia says of people in their 60s. There’s a lengthy of list of health concerns that could be underlying such speedy weight loss over 65, so it’s worth bringing up with a doc. (Here are more health symptoms to never ignore.)
You’re also more likely in this decade to have started taking medications for various other health conditions, and pills are notorious for messing with appetite. Some change the taste of food; some dry up saliva, making the act of eating simply unappealing; while others zap your hunger pangs entirely, Hobbins says.
Perhaps most troubling, though, is that after 65 or so, dementia becomes more common, and people with dementia often struggle with healthy eating habits. Many will hardly eat, but not necessarily because their appetite’s vanished. “I’m convinced most people with dementia are actually hungry, but the brain connections to put one step after another to get rid of hunger may be gone,” Hobbins says. In other words, a person with dementia may not make the connection that he needs to put his fork into the food on the plate in front of him, then lift that fork to his mouth and chew to quiet his rumbling stomach.
The National Sleep Foundation points that insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, and/or certain biological factors. In fact, researchers recently have begun to think that this condition might be related with the brain having trouble to stop being awake.
The brain has a wake cycle and a sleep cycle (one is turned on when the other one is turned off). Insomnia appears as a problem when one of either two of these cycles are irregular.
On other cases, having trouble sleeping every once in a while may just come out as a result from stress over work or a particular situation in a given time in life. Truth is that if we could go back in time and tell our 7-year-old selves not to complain about nap time, we would.
But as grown-ups having trouble catching Zzz’s , melatonin pills seem like a fair option. After all, there are countless bottles stocking drugstore shelves. How much do you really know about them, though?
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone released by the brain that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm (a.k.a. your internal clock), explains David Lee, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program. “It’s secreted by the pineal gland, which is at the base of the brain and regulated by light,” he says. “It’s a natural hormone that makes us sleep, and the moment the light goes away, like in the evening, that’s when our peak melatonin [is produced].”
Are melatonin pills really safe?
Melatonin pills are not registered by the US Drug and Food Administration so it might be hard to tell if there are preservatives and additives in the pills you’re taking, says Sanjeev Kothare, M.D., professor in the department of neurology and director of the pediatric sleep program at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Some [users] have experienced a little bit of allergic reactions, not from the melatonin, but from the preservatives or additives,” he says. Lee emphasizes that it’s important to always buy the supplement from a reputable company, avoiding herbal remedy peddlers.
Kothare points that some studies in animals have been linked to depression reproductive issues, and immunological problems. While these results haven’t been replicated in humans, there also haven’t been any good studies showing the long-term safety of melatonin pills, says Kothare.
Still, Lee adds that no serious side effects have been reported. Though he does note that if you take too much of the supplement you may feel drowsy, get a headache, or experience some short-term memory loss. “Those are the common but pretty mild side effects,” he says. The important thing, Lee points out, is to take the correct amount.
“The biggest myth out there, especially for insomnia, is that more is better,” says Lee. In fact, when it comes to melatonin, less is actually more because your body already makes it. He suggests taking 0.5 milligrams if you do decide to try it. If that dosage amount is difficult to track down, buy one milligram pills and cut them in half.
Bottom line is: Unfortunately, there’s not enough solid research out there to back up whether melatonin supplements are truly an effective and safe way to get your sleep on. If you’re still struggling to reach dreamland, Kothare does have several other suggestions: Try to maintain a similar sleep schedule during the week and on weekends, limit the use of electronics that emit blue light for one to two hours before bed time, and purchase a bright light source for use in the mornings to help regulate your body’s internal clock. Your dream journal will be filled in no time.
We’re all self-critical—here’s how to become aware of the emotions we’re courting on these new interactive platforms
Our need to be social can backfire on social media, when we accidentally activate the comparing mind, which is a source of much unhappiness. Of course, this can happen offline, too. But the toll looms larger online, with of all those perfectly curated images of people’s lives inviting us to compare our insides to other people’s projection of their outsides.
For teens and tweens, who are actually hardwired for self-consciousness, the constant comparing and curating—which used to end with the final bell of the school day, when kids could go home and put on their sweatpants—is a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. Socializing and social comparison begins first thing in the morning and ends last thing at night. Predictably, psychology research consistently shows that social media is making kids unhappier and more narcissistic.
The sheer volume and instant nature of digital media means that when we log in, we are drinking from a fire hose of emotional stimulus. We can be anywhere in the world and be met by friends’ posts that trigger joy, resentment, sadness, laughter, grief, jealousy, and more—all within moments. None of us, adults or children, are wired to take in that much emotional content at once without reacting.
Research also reveals that social rewards and punishments feel the same online and off. If someone interacts with us in a positive way online, we get the same neurochemical rewards in our brain as we would in person. When we (or our children) are rejected or ignored online, we get the same feeling of rejection as we would in person. More interestingly, the sense of emotional attack activates the same part of the brain as physical attack does. Emotional pain is just as painful, just as real, as physical pain, whether it comes from the virtual world or not.
So, can we teach ourselves, and the young people around us, to approach social media feeds with mindfulness, even occasionally?
Mindful social media
Yes, social media is contributing to a new era of adolescent (and adult) social stress, but when we accept that it is here to stay, we can also see it as a new opportunity for connection and mindfulness, if we build it. Mindfulness tells us there is insight to be found in anything when we approach it with mindfulness, and that even includes social media.
Try this social media mindfulness practice to explore what your favorite sites are communicating to your subconscious:
Find a comfortable, alert, and ready posture. Shrug your shoulders, take a few breaths, and bring awareness to your physical and emotional state in this particular moment.
Now open your computer or click on your phone.
Before you open up your favorite social media site, consider your intentions and expectations. As you focus on the icon, notice what experiences you have in your mind and body.
Why are you about to check this site? What are you hoping to see or not see? How are you going to respond to different kinds of updates you encounter? By checking your social media, are you interested in connecting or in disconnecting and distracting?
Close your eyes and focus on your emotional state for three breaths before you begin to engage.
Opening your eyes now, look at the first status update or photo, and then sit back and close your eyes again.
Notice your response—your emotion. Is it excitement? Boredom? Jealousy? Regret? Fear? How do you experience this emotion in the mind and body? What’s the urge—to read on, to click a response, to share yourself, or something else?
Wait a breath or two for the sensations and emotions to fade, or focus on your breath, body, or surrounding sounds.
Try this practice with one social media update, or for three or five minutes, depending on your time and your practice.
Noticing how social media makes you feel can help you discover how to use it more mindfully. As you become more aware of the emotions you’re actually inviting into your day when you visit social media sites, you’ll be able to make better decisions about how often to visit those sites.
And, keep in mind, the science of social media is more complex than we might think. For example, research shows that the more we look at others’ carefully curated social media status, the worse we tend to feel. But, the opposite is also true: if we look back at our own updates, we often see the positive aspects of our life presented and tend to feel better. So consider scrolling through your own updates sometimes, as you look at everyone else’s.
Technology does not define us, despite social media trying to put us into categories and reduce us to a series of likes and interests. Examining and changing our own relationship to technology opens the door for us teach through example and to practice new ways of making technology foster community and wellness.
Where do our prejudices come from? Why are some people more biased than others? Is it possible for individuals, and society as a whole, to truly defeat prejudice? In these pages, leading scientists, psychologists, educators, activists, and many others offer answers, drawing from new scientific discoveries that shed light on why and how our brains form prejudices, how racism hurts our health, steps we can take to mitigate prejudiced instincts, and what a post-prejudice society might actually look like.
Bringing a diverse range of disciplines into conversation for the first time, Are We Born Racist? offers a straightforward overview of the new science of prejudice, and showcases the abundant practical, research-based steps that can be taken in all areas of our lives to overcome prejudice.
Giving it a 4-out-of-5-stars, a reviewer wrote:
“Short and punchy. The first third of the book is an excellent digest of brain science and how we are wired for prejudice. The middle third focuses on professions (teachers, police, etc.). The last third is less academic: tips on interracial relationships and loving ourselves despite of negative media/cultural messages. I’ll be using some of this material in my classes. Very student friendly. The articles are easy to grasp and only 4-7 pages, not scary for less than avid readers. Definitely worth checking out if you’re at all interested in the psychology of racism.”
Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology by Jason Marsh, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton and Jeremy Adam Smith was published on june 29th by Beacon Press.
This review was originally published on Good Reads.
Recent statistics in the US show that over 40% of students are affected by trauma. The Trauma Informed Positive Education (TIPE) model aims to connect and prepare trauma affected students to understand and apply positive education to their own lives in school and beyond.
A new project is recently being undertaken at the Centre of Positive Psychology and the Youth Research Centre at the University Melbourne. Research goals: How to bring Positive Education to students affected by trauma.
According to leading neuropsychology researcher Allan Schore’s work, students who have experienced trauma are less receptive to the more cognitive-based lessons (e.g., a student analyzing their own explanatory style) that are typical in positive education curriculum. This means that positive education lessons need to be adapted if they are going to be of benefit to trauma affected students.
In The Trauma Informed Positive Education (TIPE) model, the positive education lessons with trauma affected students follow a careful, developmentally-informed sequence. First, the lessons need to be based ‘in the body’ and focused on teaching students how to regulate their physical and emotional reactions (e.g., ‘body mapping’ techniques where students are taught to identify where they feel stress in the body and are then giving opportunities for students to map their own de-escalation before the lesson begins). As the teacher sees skills in regulation growing, the lessons can move forward to focus on building safe attachment and teaching students how to build their relational skills (e.g., building empathy and attunement to others through collaborative experiences such as circle time that provide an emotional intelligence lens). The third phase of teaching positive education to students can incorporate character strengths and more cognitive-based lessons.
During some field research for the program, Shelly, a teacher from a school located in a rural area of the state shared: “I’m here to teach the students who want to learn.” This particular school sits in a former manufacturing region where over one-third of the students are known to child-protection agencies. Researchers know that Shelly has an incredibly challenging job to do, and her students arrive to the classroom hypervigilant, dysregulated and unready to learn.
Not an easy task for educators sharing the same conditions in all kinds of environments and contexts around the world, yet the project is driven to challenge this reflection in the service of giving all children the opportunity to develop their character strengths, learn how to apply a growth mindset, and practice resilient thinking throughout the classroom curriculum.
“In classrooms like this, we have seen some positive education lessons go well–and go terribly awry! We feel for frustrated teachers who are searching for a way of working within positive education principles with students affected by trauma, only to see their carefully planned “mindfulness-minute” never really have a chance in the context of dysregulated students, poor classroom management, escalated emotions and exasperated teachers”, states on the IPEN article Can ALL students benefit from Positive Education? Positive Education for Struggling Students.
After working with TIPE and being coached through the first two terms of the school year, Shelly (her name was changed) came to understand that in order to best serve her students, she needed to improve their capacity to learn by developing their regulatory and relational capacities. Finally, mid-year, she felt courageous enough to introduce mindfulness to her fourth grade class.
The teacher also shared that due to her students building readiness to take on heavier cognitive lifting within their learning, they were able to better understand the reasoning behind positive primer activities before their academic lessons. By mid-year, the class compiled a ‘positive primer toolkit’ and now they vote on the brainbreaks that they need each day.
As a conclusion, researchers fervently advocate that positive education is for all students; but teachers working with challenging students need careful guidance about the neuroscientific developmental sequence required and offer TIPE as a way to support teacher practice and positively shift whole-of-school culture in schools that are challenged with trauma-affected students.