19 Apr ARE YOUR HORMONES MAKING YOU FAT?
ARE YOUR HORMONES MAKING YOU FAT?
You’ve been super diligent with your macros and your exercise program, but you’ve hit a plateau. After trying all the classic remedies of decreasing intake and upping cardio, you’re still not able to get over the hump. What gives?
It’s time to take a look at your hormones. Those innate communicators that signal when your body falls out of homeostasis. If it were up to our own body, it would prefer us to remain sedentary, overweight, and unintelligent, as physical exercise, clean eating, and working all require some form of energy and the body must work to produce this for us.
The problem becomes when our hormones are thrown out of whack and instead of helping us achieve our goals, they fight against is. The good news is that in most of these cases below, it is possible to regain control and balance of your hormones.
Cortisol is the body’s “fight or flight” response. In times of stress, cortisol is released as a means to make sure we survive the threat. During this time, our bodies may hold on to fat as they believe they made need it if the threat doesn’t decrease. We also have a hard time utilizing stored energy for fuel or for muscle building, which is also bad news for those of us trying to pack on the gains!
Stress can be mental and physical as well. If you are overtraining and not allowing your body to properly recovery through rest and/or proper nutrition, you can elevate cortisol levels as well.
Tying into this point, this is why it’s also important, among other reasons to be careful not to have too much of a caloric deficit. Having too high of caloric deficit results in your body going into what is affectionately known as “conservation mode” where you body tries to preserve itself. It begins to “shut down” certain processes it does not need to survive and unfortunately for us, fat oxidation is not one we need to survive, so the body shuts it down and instead, holds onto the nutrients it does receive when we do choose to feed ourselves.
Cortisol is associated with high belly fat, sugar cravings and poor sleep. Lack of sleep also leads to higher levels of the hormone, ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone (discussed more below). Makes sense why cravings happen at night then, it’s your bodies way of saying, JUST GO TO SLEEP! (see how I am making connections?!)
Getting 7.5 to 9 hours of sleeps actually helps lose weight because it boosts the hormones that controls your appetite and increases your metabolism. Sleep is a huge factor in your leptin levels which is affectionately terms the “satiety hormone” and tells your body when to put down the fork. Both leptin and ghrelin work together to achieve homeostasis in the body.
As you will read below, having an imbalance of both of these hormones can actually lead to weight gain!
Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to sugar in the bloodstream. When we ingest sugary foods, the pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the glucose from the carbs we eat for energy to be utilized immediately, or for storage if it is not needed. Foods that are higher on the glycemic index cause insulin levels to spike. During this time, your body cannot utilize stored fat for fuel as it works to process these simple sugars, so fat loss stalls. Even if you are operating under a caloric deficit, your body will not lose weight if insulin levels are out of whack.
The best course of action would be to opt for carbs sources lower on the Glycemic Index, which are mostly whole foods such as potatoes, oats, and whole grains. Fruit should be enjoyed in moderation or post workout when you’ve depleted your stored glycogen (your body’s main fuel source) and need to replenish it fast to heal and repair your muscles. This is true of other simple sugars as well.
While estrogen is good in the sense that it’s what makes women, women and allows us to have a menstrual cycle and bear children, too much estrogen in the body can have adverse affects on weight loss efforts. Too much estrogen can cause insulin resistance and more and more glucose to be stored as fat instead of utilized for energy.
For you men, don’t tune out so early! Estrogen can also be elevated in men due to excess red meat, added hormones, low-fiber diets, refined carbs, and a diet too high in trans fat. High stress as also been known to elevate estrogen levels as well has people with excess body fat.
Noticing a pattern yet? These hormones all connect in some way to either help your body function efficiently or unravel all your weight/fat loss efforts.
This hormone works opposite to insulin. If insulin stores fat, leptin burns it. Leptin is responsible for burning fat into usable energy. It is produced by our body’s fat cells and is referred to as the “satiety hormone” and tells the brain when we’ve eaten enough or have enough fat stored that we don’t need to eat anymore to burn calories from the food we eat efficiently. So the more fat we have stored, the more leptin we produce, which should signal the brain that we don’t need to eat anymore.
The issue becomes when overweight or obese people continue to eat. They may have what is referred to as leptin resistance, when the brain doesn’t hear the leptin signals, which can make the brain think it’s starving. So we continue to eat, causing a caloric surplus and increased fat/weight gain.
So reversibly, the less fat a person has, the lower their leptin levels. So as you being to lose weight, your leptin levels decrease and again, your brain may think you are starving and you begin to eat and gain back the weight.
This is also why those people following a low caloric diet may find it difficult to lose weight after some time. They are not taking in enough calories to produce enough leptin to attack the fat and use it for energy. This is also when a refeed day would be appropriate to get your intake back to a healthy level.
The best way to regulate leptin levels is through whole foods, water, decreased sugars and processed foods, daily exercise, and sleep. Weirdly enough these are all things we associated with weight/fat loss success in general!
Basically the opposite of Leptin. It is made in the stomach and tells the brain when you’re hungry and it’s time to eat. If your goal is to lose weight, understand that you will experience some hunger while in a caloric deficit. This is normal. The best way to handle hunger is to fill your diet with whole foods, ample protein, fiber, decrease refined sugars, increase water intake and get ample sleep.
While there are conditions in which a doctor may be necessary, many of these hormones can be regulated with small changes in your lifestyle.
These include but are not limited to:
- Consuming a diet rich in whole foods
- Following a High fiber diet
- Cutting out refined sugars and flours
- Limiting red meat or other foods with added hormones (i.e. dairy)
- Eating healthy fats
- Getting 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night
- Reducing stress
- Increasing water intake
- Exercising daily
No real surprise there. There is no “magic” formula here. This lifestyle is all about understanding YOUR body and what it’s trying to tell you. Look for these signs and symptoms and be able to properly fuel your body. Time and consistency will help your body regain control and balance. Remember, your body wants to be in homeostasis, so focus on maintaining that healthy balance for sustainable results long-term.