How These 5 Hormones Affect Your Weight
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. To effectively manage one’s weight, it’s therefore crucial to dig deeper and understand how these key hormones function.
Table of Contents
Thyroid Hormones: The custodians of metabolism
Our lifestyle choices significantly impact our hormones, starting with those originating from the thyroid gland. This small yet powerful gland operating in our neck region regulates metabolism — the process by which our bodies convert food into energy. Those who engage in intense workouts while maintaining a minimal calorie intake might not realize that the thyroid is actively working to restore balance. It does this by releasing two hormones known as T3 and T4, directing our bodies to utilize energy.
However, frequent irregular eating habits or ‘yo-yo dieting’ can lead to a sluggish thyroid, effectively decelerating metabolism. Binge eating following a strict diet can confuse an already slow metabolism, leading to rapid fat storage that’s challenging to shed. Therefore, maintaining a stable and healthy diet helps keep our metabolism — and weight — in check.
Hormones are affected by the food we eat.
Leptin: The Appetite Suppressor
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that orchestrate hunger signals to the brain.
Leptin, primarily stored in fat cells, informs the hypothalamus (a small region in our brain) about the amount of stored fat and helps regulate our 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. Leptin’s efficiency relies on a balanced body composition. In overweight or obese individuals, the body may develop leptin resistance. People with excess weight have too much fat in their bloodstream, and the brain doesn’t receive the signal that it is full. 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: The Sugar Regulator
Insulin is another hormone 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 or use fat 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, insulin signals can malfunction. This leads to type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle-related condition.
Ghrelin: The Appetite Stimulator
Ghrelin is found in the stomach, and it works in conjunction with leptin. As we learned, 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, keeping ghrelin low and leptin high is important.
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 you can do many things to 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; specifically, high amounts of sugar can cause an issue. Cut the carbohydrates, but cutting them too low can cause a crash in 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.
Understanding the role of these main hormones can provide a foundation for better weight management. Through balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and mindful lifestyle choices, it’s possible to harness the power of these hormones and work towards your health goals.