If you’ve struggled with weight loss trying all kinds of kooky diets, yet with little to no success, your hormones may be to blame. You may ask why? What do hormones have to do with weight loss? Let’s just say, hormones rule our lives. Released by various bodily glands directly into the bloodstream, one job of the more than 60 hormones your body makes is to act as messengers regulating your hunger affecting your appetite, and how much and what you eat.
When attempting weight loss, the primary focus is on lifestyle changes in eating and exercise habits. While those factors are very important, understanding hormones’ role in weight gain is a third factor to consider.
Hormonal balance matters and if certain hormones are out of whack, weight loss might be futile. But with a few simple “hormone hacks” to safeguard and support your dieting and exercise efforts, your weight loss journey will not be quite so bumpy.
Hormone hacks not only help you fight back against weight gain but may cut back on developing diseases associated with weight gains such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic kidney disease.
Let’s get started:
Ghrelin and Leptin
You may think you’re in control of what you eat, but you’re wrong. The hormones ghrelin and leptin are. The choice of when and how much to eat is regulated by these two hormones. That’s because seeking and eating food are matters of life and death, essential for you to survive. Your body’s appetite-regulating systems are skewed, tipping in favor of food consumption.
Ghrelin is a powerful hunger-stimulating hormone secreted by stomach cells telling your brain you’re hungry, thus stimulating appetite. It also promotes efficient energy storage, contributing to weight gain. Ghrelin is what directs your “go” signals to eat which are hunger and appetite.
Leptin is released by your fat tissue and is produced in direct proportion to body fatness. It works with the brain helping you experience a feeling of fullness in order to stop eating. Leptin is what directs your “stop” signals of satiation and satiety preventing you from eating for several hours or until the next meal.
Hormone hack: The trick here is to suppress too much of the “go” signaling from ghrelin. Sufficient protein throughout the day will help. Aim to eat between 25-30 grams of protein at each meal and 10-15 grams of protein at a snack. Protein takes longer to digest helping create satiety after eating. This means your “go” signal to eat produced by ghrelin, will be reduced significantly. Regular protein intake also may increase leptin sensitivity in the brain.
Stress reduction using exercise, meditation, or adequate sleep, are also healthy habits good for quieting the production of ghrelin.
If you gained weight during the pandemic, you’re not alone. The enduring stressfulness of our situation very likely spiked the stress hormone cortisol made by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is released when your body is under chronic stress. Your body assumes you’re being chased by a tiger instead of a prolonged worldwide pandemic, in addition to other major stressors of daily life. Cortisol is often the culprit of weight gain, especially around the belly area. That’s because high levels of circulating cortisol lead to muscle breakdown and a redistribution of body fat in the abdominal region.
Hormone hack: Get stress levels under control. Granted, we will never fully eliminate stress but practicing stress management helps. Discover what helps you relax. Everyone is different so what helps others may not be suitable for you. Commonly used stress relievers include yoga, meditation, gardening, exercise, prayer, reading, being outdoors, and the list goes on.
Adaptogens may be a possible solution for stress management. Marketed to help the body handle stress, adaptogens are non-toxic plants (herbs and mushrooms) used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions. Eaten as part of a meal, consumed as supplements or brewed into teas, adaptogens appear to help your body better handle physical or emotional stress.
Another suggestion: Power down from all electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime and leave them out of the bedroom. This means no mindless “checking” in bed which means lack of sleep. A great night of sleep is a natural stress-reliever
Got a craving for anything sugary? Consuming too many sweets from pastries, cookies, or sugary beverages, cause blood sugar to spike sky high. As sugar floods your bloodstream from the breakdown of these foods, the hormone insulin, released by the pancreas, is needed to escort that sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of the body to lower blood sugar levels. But, one too many cookies or sugary drinks can lead to insulin resistance where bodily cells have become insensitive to insulin blocking sugar from entering into cells. Cells are not being fed sugar tricking your body into believing you need more sugar, craving it even more. You end up caving in to this craving consuming food high in sugar and wonder why weight loss is so hard. It’s a vicious cycle.
Hormone hack: Work on stabilizing your body’s delicate balance between insulin and blood sugar. Start by ditching fast-burning sugary foods and beverages and instead choose slow-burning carbs helping smooth out insulin levels. Include more vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, essentially foods full of fiber that break down more slowly preventing blood sugar and insulin spikes.
T3 and T4
A small but mighty butterfly-shaped gland near the front of your neck is your thyroid. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland, helps your thyroid gland release two chemicals (T3 and T4) that manage your metabolic rate, the rate at which you burn calories. If your thyroid is releasing too little T3 and T4, weight gain and fatigue can occur.
Hormone hack: Go nuts and go fish. The thyroid produces T3 and T4 with the help of selenium, a mineral found in high amounts in Brazil nuts, tuna, and halibut. To keep your thyroid working well, 200 micrograms a day optimizes levels of thyroid hormones. Eating just three Brazil nuts or seven ounces of cooked yellowfish tuna helps you achieve that amount.
The hormone is simply known as “T,” which helps you burn fat while building muscle. If you’re running low on this double-duty hormone, weight loss may seem impossible. Low testosterone in men is common with 1 in 4 men over the age of 30 who have it.
Men struggling with fat gain should have their testosterone levels checked first. If low, testosterone replacement therapy may be necessary. Stress has a major impact on testosterone too – practice good stress-reducing techniques. Adequate sleep is another factor affecting testosterone as sleep apnea has been linked to low T. If you’re sleeping at least 7 hours a night but still feel tired during the day, talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and IGF-1
Puberty is when your body is flooded with HGH and IGF-1. The pituitary gland produces HGH which stimulates the production and secretion of IGF-1 by the liver. Both are growth hormones helping break down fat using it for energy and muscle building. But when in short supply, numbers on a scale begin to creep up.
Hormone hack: Stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime. Food will slow down the natural surge in growth hormones during the early hours of the night. If you want to try intermittent fasting (8 hours allowed to eat with 16 hours of fasting), this can lead to major increases in HGH levels. Reduce sugar intake as an increase in insulin lowers HGH levels. Exercise at high intensity (sprinting, playing basketball, etc.) can effectively raise HGH levels. Also, losing at least 10 pounds can raise levels of IGF-1.