I am a ghrelin addict.
Ghrelin is a hunger hormone. Your body secretes it when you haven’t eaten for some time. It makes you hungry, and blood levels plummet once you eat.
Yet ghrelin is so much more than hunger.
Ghrelin is neurotrophic. It enhances learning and memory — in fact, it is “essential for cognitive adaptation to changing environments and the process of learning.”
Ghrelin stimulates the secretion of growth hormone.
Ghrelin increases cardiac output.
Ghrelin increases the concentration of dopamine in the substantia nigra, the brain’s center of reward and addiction.
That is why ghrelin is a rush.
Ghrelin is why hunger motivates us, and why it’s so hard to get motivated to learn or do anything when you’re full of food. Brains are metabolically expensive, and ghrelin sends our brains into overdrive when we need them—which is when we’re hungry.
Ghrelin is one reason fat people get fatter. If you can’t resist hunger—if a little shot of ghrelin just makes you walk straight to the cupboard and grab a snack—you’ll never know the sublime pleasure of feeling your brain kick into overdrive, the hot satisfaction of really digging into a tough problem with all your strength. You’ll just sink back onto the couch and flip channels and get fat.
Ghrelin is yet another sign that humans are hunters, not farmers. Is hunger a useful motivator to plow and sow and weed, when the reward of harvest is months away? No. The only reason for hunger to make us smarter is that we are hunters, and our minds must be honed to a sharp edge in order to find and kill big, dangerous animals and defend our kills from the other predators, and that is what ghrelin does—but only when we’re hungry, because we didn’t co-evolve with refrigerators.
I am a ghrelin addict.
I dance on the knife edge of keen mental acuity and dopamine rush.
The rush cannot last forever. If I am smart I simply eat, and accept the lull. If I am not smart, I push it too far and crash into starvation and depression.
I am not anorexic! I love to eat, and I eat like a warrior, and I have never purged, ever. But in order to do my best, most inspired work, I must dance on that knife edge as long as I can.
The hunger gnaws at my insides until I can feel my gut twisting itself into knots. Yet I gladly suffer the pain in order to wield ghrelin’s power. It is my cursed sword and its power is terrifying and intoxicating and it exacts its price from me, and I pay that price with an evil grin, because it is a power I could not wield any other way.
I am a ghrelin addict, and this is my story.