A Very Hungry Caterpillar

I happen to know of a caterpillar that once ate rather a lot. You might even call him a very hungry caterpillar. I personally would suggest he was overly hungry because he was only a caterpillar, that was an awful lot for one caterpillar to eat… I mean 1 apple, 2 pears, 3 plums, 4 strawberries, 5 oranges, 1 piece of chocolate cake, 1 ice cream cone, 1 pickle, 1 slice of swiss cheese, 1 slice of salami, 1 lollipop, 1 piece of cherry pie, 1 sausage, 1 cupcake and 1 slice of watermelon seems like a lot for a caterpillar to eat in one week.

But what do I know, I don’t even know what makes you hungry.

Type the word ‘hunger’ in to google and you probably won’t get what you’re looking for. Unless of course you were looking for information on the film Hunger. But I like to ask myself questions that nobody ever asks. It’s something I have in common with two year olds and puts my mental maturity on display, that and my penchant for children’s books. Today I said to myself, ‘but why do I feel hungry?’

Sure the obvious answer is because I need to eat food, but what is it in my digestive system that tells my brain it’s time to encourage me to eat? And that is how I know that typing ‘hunger’ into google does not give you the immediate results you might be looking for.

The goods news for you is that my hunger for knowledge outweighed my hunger food. So you need go no further than this blog post to find out how your brain knows what’s what.

Your desire to eat or not eat is controlled by two hormones. One makes you hungry and one makes you not hungry. Simple stuff. When you eat the hormone leptin is released into your body, high levels of leptin tell your brain (otherwise known as your control centre) that you are sated, you need no more food at this moment in time. Once you stop eating the levels of leptin begin to decrease. I’m still asking myself where the leptin goes, but where ever it does go, it goes and the leptin levels are low again.

When your body realises that your leptin has disappeared to we know not where, it releases ghrelin. And if you’re thinking to yourself ‘gosh that’s a funny word, it doesn’t look Latin, Greek or English!’ well you’re absolutely wrong. It is apparently English… sort of. The GHR in ghrelin (which I doubt is used anywhere else in English) is an acronym Growth Hormone Releasing peptide (I guess the p would have been too much in that word).

Anyway, your body releases ghrelin which tells your brain (otherwise known as You HQ) you are hungry, it’s time to make dinner. Some research has also suggested an increase in ghrelin levels when you see appetising food or in times of stress. Which would explain a few things about hunger and suggest we can very easily trick our brains into thinking it’s an appropriate time to eat.

And there you have it Leptin and Ghrelin working like a see saw to tell your brain when it’s time to stop and start eating. I think we can safely say there was something wrong biologically with that caterpillar and quite frankly he was lucky to survive.

S. Hansen

P.S. if you’ve somehow managed not to come across the book before here’s a video

The Very Hungry Caterpillar


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