When trying to cut weight, we are told to count calories and expend more energy than we take in. It turns out there is more to the equation. You can be doing everything right and still gain weight. Although energy input vs. output is one factor in weight management, hormones play a big part. It is essential to learn about the hormones that affect weight management for better success.
Hormones are affected by our lifestyle, and the thyroid gland orchestrates your metabolism. When we think of people who exercise too much and take in too few calories, their thyroid is working to balance the equation. The thyroid releases T3 and T4 hormones to tell the body how to use the energy sources.
Yoyo dieting can cause the thyroid to slow down and, in consequence, slow the metabolism. Especially after you come off a diet and binge on food, your already slow metabolism will not know how to manage this energy. This will cause more fat storage in the body quickly, and you will have difficulty getting it off. When you have slowed your basal metabolic rate, it will take work to get it back.
Hormones are affected by the food we eat.
Leptin (Appetite Suppressor)
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that orchestrate hunger signals to the brain.
Leptin is stored in the fat cells, and it tells the hypothalamus in the brain how much fat is stored in the body. In addition, it helps the brain regulate your metabolism.
The more fat you have, the more leptin you will have; you will eat less and burn more. In contrast, when you drop fat, you have less leptin causing you to eat more and burn less. Essentially it is telling your brain when and how much to eat.
This should be good, right? It depends. In situations where the body has too much body fat, leptin resistance develops. People who have excess weight have too much fat in their bloodstream, and the brain doesn’t receive the signal. Your body thinks it is starving when it has had enough to eat, and you then eat more. This causes your body to continue to produce too much leptin, creating a cycle of weight gain. This is known to be a primary contributor to obesity.
Insulin is another hormone that is released from the pancreas when your body ingests food like carbohydrates. It works in conjunction with hunger signals by blocking leptins’ communication to the brain. Because insulin tells the body how to store fat or use it as energy, having high levels will cause the body to hold on to fat. Therefore when insulin is high, it blocks leptin’s signal to the brain. Your brain does not think it is satisfied, causing you to eat more. This is another main cause of weight management issues.
Insulin also plays a role in blood sugar regulation. As stated above, insulin signals the brain to store or use energy. When the body has too much sugar, the excess is converted to fat. As people gain more excess weight toward the levels of obesity, insulins’ signal can malfunction. This leads to type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle-related condition.
Ghrelin (Appetite Stimulator)
Ghrelin is found in the stomach, and it works in conjunction with leptin. As we learned before, leptin tells your body when it has had enough, and both respond to how well-fed you are. Ghrelin tells your body you are hungry, and it is released when your stomach is empty. When you eat, it decreases to lower levels until your stomach is empty again. If you want to lose weight, it is important to keep ghrelin low and leptin high.
Seems simple right? In many cases, people who are overweight and obese may see malfunctions with signaling. Some studies reveal ghrelin levels do not lower as low in obese individuals after eating, making them feel less satisfied. This leads to overeating.
Keeping hormones in check
All of this information may seem overwhelming, but there are many things you can do that help regulate all of these hormones simultaneously.
- When you are losing weight, you will be hungrier. Try to keep this in mind and not give in. Follow your calorie intake. Try to drink more water to offset the hunger.
- Watch carbohydrate intake but don’t go too low. Insulin responds to carbohydrate levels, and specifically, high amounts of sugar can cause an issue. Cut the carbohydrates but cutting them too low can cause a crash with your metabolism.
- Increase muscle mass. Increasing muscle mass is shown to increase metabolism, and your body can utilize glucose (sugar) in a better way.
- Focus on fat loss vs. weight loss.
- Eat enough of the right foods, and don’t cut calories too low.
- High Protein
- Limit Processed Foods
- Get sleep. Poor sleep may be associated with leptin resistance.
- Pay attention to gut health.
These are just some of the main hormones that directly affect weight management. It is important to understand the foundational information of weight regulation before digging deeper down the rabbit hole! If you need help learning the basics of managing your healthy lifestyle, click here.