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How do hormones affect your weight?


How do hormones affect your weight

Have you been watching what you eat, doing all the CV under the sun and still not seeing the results you want? Well what if I told you that, for the female body, weight management doesn’t just come down to diet and exercise? What if I told you that your hormones play a HUGE role in the way you regulate your weight and body fat? Yes ladies, unfortunately for us, it’s not as simple as cutting calories and upping the treadmill usage… but for some of you that may come as a relief. A relief to know that actually there’s a third party involved, and knowing that, could really help with your weight management goals! Well keep reading…


Your hormones influence energy expenditure (the number of calories you burn) on a daily basis. Because of this, fluctuations in hormone levels may lead to weight gain or loss, as well as body fat accumulation in specific areas of the body.


I have outlined my top 6 hormones that can affect your weight and what you can do to help balance them out!


Leptin

Leptin is a hormone that is released from your fat cells in adipose tissue and is sometimes known as 'the skinny hormone'. Leptin sends signals to the brain which tells the body it has had enough fuel and can start burning fat for energy. When working well, leptin can give you a better metabolic rate, better mood regulation and improved brain and memory function.


People with higher levels of fat, tend to have higher levels of leptin... now you'd think that by having more of a hormone that tells you to stop eating would be a good thing right? Wrong. Constant high exposure to leptin can build up resistance to it as well as its appetite-suppressing effects, leaving your brain thinking it needs more food. More food intake results in more body fat, results in more leptin production, resulting in more resistance to leptin, and this vicious cycle generally leads you to the obesity train.


So, what can we do to ensure we have a healthy balance of the 'skinny' hormone and really reap its benefits?

  • Consume more healthy fats in your diet, for example; avocado, coconut and fish oils.

  • Limit added sugars in your diet

  • Ensure you get sufficient sleep. 8-10 hours of decent sleep can help improve leptin sensitivity, reduce your cravings and improve your hormone balance overall.

  • Exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. Adequate exercise can help improve leptin resistance in people with diabetes as outlined by The National Institution for Health.


How do hormones affect your weight

Ghrelin

Ghrelin is like the sister hormone to leptin, but instead of suppressing appetite, it stimulates it. This hormone is produced and released by the gastrointestinal tract, mainly the stomach. Levels of ghrelin rise before eating and fasting and is lower in people with higher levels of body weight. Higher levels of ghrelin hormone, means your brain is receiving signals to tell your body it is hungry… when really, your body doesn’t need any fuel (calories). If consumed, and the body doesn’t need it, those extra calories will be stored as fat.


Ghrelin levels are also increased after dieting. Ever finished one of those quick fad diets and find that the weight comes back on quicker? That’s because these fad diets are messing with your hormones! Ghrelin production starts ramping up and your brain wants more food, this could help explain why strict diet-induced weight loss can be so difficult to maintain. So, what can we do?

  • Well firstly, stop with the fad diets and maintain a stable weight. Yo-yo dieting and/or drastic diet changes can really disrupt your hormones, and not just ghrelin.

  • Try to limit (I’d say avoid, but let’s face it, we’ve got to live a little) sugary foods.

  • Eating slow releasing carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains) and lean protein can keep you feeling fuller for longer and decrease ghrelin levels

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water increases the volume in your stomach, and a full tummy turns away the ghrelin signal.


Insulin

Insulin controls how the body uses glucose and allows the muscles, liver and fat cells to use this energy source so they can function effectively. Blood glucose increases when you eat and the pancreas releases insulin to lower the blood glucose back to a normal range. The more glucose in the blood, the more insulin is released. Side note: excess glucose that isn’t used is converted and stored as fat.


Consistent high levels of insulin (caused by sedentary lifestyles and overeating) will eventually cause your body to become resistant to this important hormone, resulting in a difficulty burning fat. In severe cases, this can also lead to type 2 diabetes. Try these things to help keep the insulin hormone in balance:

  • Consume less added sugar in your diet

  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes

  • Increase the amount of soluble fibre you consume

  • When eating carbohydrates, try and stick to more complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain foods, legumes, chickpeas, green peas)

Cortisol

Cortisol is released by the body when you’re under stress. This sends your body into fight or flight mode, temporarily pausing regular bodily functions. This release of cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism which creates a surge of energy. Now, this was great for surviving Palaeolithic times when we weren’t top of the food chain. A saber-tooth tiger jumping out at us requires quick-acting metabolic messengers to make us fight or (most probably in this case) run for our lives! Cortisol, along with adrenaline serves this purpose well.


Unfortunately, our hectic lifestyles cause our adrenal glands to think we are in danger, so cortisol levels tend to be either chronically high or very low. High levels of cortisol lead to cravings for sweet, fatty and salty foods and increased appetite. So, long story short – sort your hectic life and stress levels out. Take time out for some meditation, yoga, reading, self-care, any activity really that makes you happy, to help de-stress your mind and body.


Thyroid Hormones

Your thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism and fat burning potential. When you eat less (for example during strict diets), your thyroid slows down to accommodate the reduction in calories. When back to a regular eating pattern, your metabolism is still operating in it’s ‘slowed-down’ state. Just think… you’re eating the same calories as before, but now your metabolism is burning even fewer calories – the perfect storm for fat gain. So, what can be done?

  • Exercise. Exercise naturally boosts the metabolism and stimulates thyroid production.

  • Consume more iodine. Iodine enables the body to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that activates the thyroid. Foods rich in iodine include; eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt.


How do hormones affect your weight

Estrogen

Estrogen is one of the two main sex hormones found in women, and is primarily responsible for the growth of the breasts and uterine lining, muscles and brain cells. Levels of this hormone that are too high OR too low are not good, so it is important to have a good balance.


High levels of estrogen increase the thyroid binding hormone, TBG, which makes the thyroid less effective. A less effective thyroid, results in a slower metabolism.


When estrogen drops (generally around menopause, but this isn’t always the only case), the distribution of fat changes. If you are metabolically challenged with conditions such as menopause or polycystic vary syndrome (PCOS), your hormones fluctuate all over the place! This makes it difficult to maintain the correct hormone balance needed to burn fat and keep it off. A good balance of estrogen makes the body more insulin-sensitive and less stress-reactive. This is great for the body’s composition and one of the main reasons younger women who menstruate normally find it easier to burn fat and keep it off, compared to those going through the menopause or who are metabolically challenged.


Lower levels of estrogen also cause you to become more sensitive to cortisol and its negative effects – one reason why women are more stress reactive than men.


It can be hard balancing out such a detrimental hormone to the female body such as estrogen, and some resort to medical solutions, for example hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But there are some natural things you can do to help towards maintain estrogen balance:

  • Eat enough protein

  • Take part in regular exercise

  • Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates

  • Learn to manage stress

The bottom line

Like I said, it’s not as easy as cutting calories and ramping up the exercising, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not seeing consistent or fast results. Weight management is a journey and one where you should be working out what is right for your body so it is sustainable and the healthiest package for your body. At the end of the day, we only get one, so we need to look after it!

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