Hormones have been shown to have a huge effect on our ability to gain and lose weight. Unfortunately, there are plenty of factors that can affect our hormones: environment, diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress, physical activity and many more. There is also the fact that everyone reacts differently to these factors and everyone’s hormones fluctuate at different levels when dealing with changes. This blog talks about a couple big hormones that effect our hunger and satiety.
Also known as “the hunger hormone” because it stimulates your appetite. Ghrelin is released primarily in the stomach but also from the small intestine and pancreas. High ghrelin levels lead to increased hunger cues. Eating carbohydrates and protein can help diminish ghrelin levels.
If you go too long between meals ghrelin levels can start to effect the food choices you make. High ghrelin levels can lead to cravings of refined sugars and simple carbohydrates instead of a healthy mix of protein, fat, vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
Ways to control ghrelin levels:
- Exercise before eating: ghrelin levels have been shown to be lower after exercise.
- Eat protein at every meal: protein has shown to lower ghrelin levels the fastest and control satiety
- Don’t skip meals and let too much time go between meals.
Also known as “the satiety hormone” since it stimulates your brain to know it is full. Leptin is secreted by the fat in your adipose tissue when you have started to store body fat because you have consumed enough calories. Leptin also helps regulate your metabolism. This works because once your body knows that it is full because of the leptin it will then kick start your metabolism to start burning the calories you just ate.
The confusing part of this hormone regulation comes from the fact that when leptin levels fall during weight loss, since you are in a state of calorie deficit and you are not adding to your fat stores, your body actually stimulates hunger and increases appetite because your body is sensing that it needs more energy to maintain your current body composition. This means that during the process of losing weight your body will fight the weight loss with changing hormone levels and stimulating more hunger.
People who are obese or overweight may have developed leptin resistance. This happens when you are able to keep eating even after leptin has been released. Therefore, your body continues to secret leptin in higher levels and you become resistant to the satiety cues your body is trying to send you. This leads to your brain never thinking that you have consumed enough calories and therefore your ability to overeat doesn’t get controlled. Leptin resistance can also cause your metabolism to slow down because your brain thinks that your body is never getting enough food. Leptin resistance leads to uncontrolled hunger while also slowing down your ability to burn calories.
Ways to control Leptin Levels:
- Avoid high inflammatory foods: refined sugar, highly processed foods.
- Eat foods high in fiber to stimulate satiety: whole grains, fruits, vegetables
- Exercise: this may help regulate hunger and satiety with energy balance.
High insulin levels have been linked to weight gain in numerous studies. Insulin is not only the hormone that will take the glucose out of your blood and put them into the cells for energy, it is also the hormone that takes excess calories and stores them as fat. If you have an excessive amount of insulin circulating in your blood then any time you over eat calories it will easily be stored as fat.
Some studies have shown that someone who is the range of an obese BMI (30+) have about 20% higher levels on insulin than someone with a normal BMI (20-25). Controlling insulin levels is important to get your hormones back into homeostasis. This can help stop you from being in a “fat storing” cycle and switch to be able to be in a “fat burning” cycle.
I have added a link that breaks down the effect of insulin and leptin in an easy to read way. This is based off of Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code. He has also written many books on dietary interventions. We are not saying that you need to start utilizing things like intermittent fasting.
Ways to Control Insulin Levels:
- Reduce refined sugar intake
- Eat less refined grains
- Eat a diet of moderate protein and with a good amount of healthy fats
- Eat less processed foods
- Consume more natural whole foods
There are a number of other hormones and body mechanisms that help us control our food intake and how our bodies process the food we eat. The biggest point is that hormone balance is vital to weight loss AND weight maintenance. Focus on eliminating highly processed foods and beverages and getting more natural foods into your diet.