Most of us associate the term “hormones” with reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, or thyroid. These usually get the blame for our weight woes, especially as we enter the menopausal years. While one or more of them may or may not be a factor for you, did you know you have hormones which dictate your eating habits and fat storage?!
Hormones are chemical messengers which regulate many functions in our bodies including appetite, metabolism, blood sugar control (fat storage), sleep, stress, and cravings.
So feel free to let go the self-blame and guilt game, because willpower is no match for The Hormone Gang!
Keep reading to learn just how powerful these guys are, and how to ensure they work for you, instead of against you!
4 Hormones Which Control Your Weight:
Consider this your fat-storing hormone. When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose, which we use as fuel.
Insulin’s job is to regulate the amount of glucose in your blood. It helps the body store excess glucose as fat for later use by the body.
So, a high carb diet leads to high glucose/blood sugar, which leads to higher levels of fat storage. You follow?
The average diet is indeed high carb, especially of the processed variety (sugar and/or grain-heavy). So if you’re scale-stuck, assess your diet first. If you’ve already “cleaned up” your carbs and still can’t shed fat, insulin resistance may be the reason.
Studies of obese subjects reveal their cells no longer respond to insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. Since glucose is not being taken up into the cells, the body produces more insulin to try and deal with it. Now you’re stuck with high levels of insulin.
And high levels of insulin is associated with being overweight or obese.
A 2013 study found that 75 percent of the weight-loss response in obesity is predicted by insulin levels and levels of inflammation. Seventy five percent!!
Not willpower, nor caloric intake, nor exercise. Just insulin and subtle inflammation we all produce naturally, both of which are higher in those with more body fat.
For a thorough, evidence-based review of the role of insulin and insulin resistance in obesity and excess weight, check out this book, The Obesity Code, by Dr. Jason Fung.
While insulin is a primary determinant of weight, cortisol comes a close second.
Known as the stress hormone, cortisol is released in response to emotional or physical stress.
It prepares the body for “fight-or-flight” by raising blood pressure and blood sugar in those rare emergency situations.
But….when cortisol is elevated for a prolonged period, it sets the stage for metabolic issues, insulin resistance and associated weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Worth noting, as abdominal obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Prolonged stress > chronically elevated cortisol > insulin resistance > fat storage, especially in the abdomen area.
Secreted in fat cells, leptin makes its way to the hypothalamus, causing the brain to send out signals to reduce food intake. Obese folks are found to have high levels of leptin. But research has found their brains no longer respond to leptin; a state known as leptin resistance.
Insulin resistance and leptin resistance go hand in hand, but the finer details of their cross-talk are not yet well understood. Regardless, it’s a Double Whammy!
Oh, and more bad news… Leptin also plays an important role in the regulation of the reproductive system, thyroid gland, adrenal glands and growth hormone production. As I say often, everything in the body is connected!
Ghrelin stimulates hunger. It increases before meals to stimulate hunger and is supposed to decrease after meals. When leptin resistant, insulin resistant and stressed out (high cortisol), ghrelin doesn’t shut off, constantly telling your body you are starving.
These hormones are impacted during a calorie restricted diet and remain so for up to one year! This explains why people gain back the weight they lost and then some.
Now you see why you’re giving in to temptation more than you like! Told you it wasn’t your fault!
When your hormones are out of whack, you crave sugary or starchy carbs. You might feel hungry more than you should and/or never quite feel full and satisfied. You might have a hard time sleeping – thanks Stress and Cortisol!, which then sets you up for eating the foods which supply a quick energy boost (sugary, starchy foods and/or caffeine. PS – chocolate has caffeine). After which comes the energy crash. And the cycle is vicious.
Fret not, finding balance in these four hormones is easier than you think! Don’t forget that they are all connected.
Here are some tips to settle down The Hormone Gang and encourage weight loss.
I call it the 4S approach (Sugar/starch control, Supplement, Stress reduction, Sleep).
Sugar/starch Control: Minimize sugar in all its forms, but especially table sugar. Sugar provokes insulin secretion. White sugar has the added disadvantage of being highly refined and is known to provoke inflammation.
If you need help getting off sugar or choosing the best sweeteners, be sure to sign up for my FREE 6-Day Break Up With Sugar Challenge!
Cut back on grains, even whole wheat and whole grains. Most of my clients find they’re eating far more grains than they think when I ask them to do a food journal.
Think breads, cereals, pastas, granola bars, many canned and bottled foods, pizza, hamburgers etc. What are your typical breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners?
These commercially made products are almost always made with standard wheat, which contains more insulin-provoking starch. This applies to whole wheat products as well.
And most grain products, even “whole grains” promote inflammation, because they are not prepared as traditional grain products used to be.
You can read my blog about wheat here, for my recommendations on which grains will keep you off the blood sugar/insulin roller coaster.
Keep your insulin levels in check by avoiding carb-heavy meals. Look for balance on your plate; a combination of some quality protein, quality fat, and complex carbohydrates (non starchy vegetables and whole grains I recommend). Eating in this way will allow you to keep insulin, leptin, and ghrelin in check.
Add in those healthy fats! They support the manufacturing of hormones and keep you fuller, longer. This makes them a perfect swap for those refined carbohydrates you’ll be cutting back on. You can grab a printable cheatsheet of the best healthy fats here.
Supplement: My go-to supplement for efficient resolution of hormonal symptoms such as cravings/appetite, low energy, irritability, and poor sleep is Balance, by EVOLV Health.
Balance contains standardized levels of the most scientifically validated natural molecules for supporting the body’s ability to cope with whatever hormonal distress is going on. It positively interacts with our reproductive hormones AND insulin AND has been shown to decrease inflammation. Check out the details here.
Stress Reduction: Actively manage your stress! Remember, high cortisol causes weight gain and interferes with sleep. This sets you up for cravings and high insulin levels. Choose whatever form of stress relief works for you, just do it EVERY. DAMN. DAY! (PS, this is not a license to drink alcohol every day! Keep it clean and productive people!!). Even if you’re not feeling overly stressed, life is full of mini-stressors. You’d be amazed at how a few moments of conscious breath can instill a sense of calm.
Sleep: Make sleep a priority. The good news is, when we manage our stress effectively, sleep can improve alot! Sleep experts recommend between 7-9 hours each night. If you need help with sleep hygiene and how to set yourself up for a good night sleep, check out this article.
Seriously, without proper rest your hormones cannot be happy.
Bottom line: Do some “hormone math”! Sugar intake + Grain intake + Stress level + Sleep quality =
Work on one small thing at a time, rather than trying to do a 360 turn. Taking a quality hormone balancing supplement while you’re working on the other areas can provide some immediate support.