How important are hormones in balancing our weight? We have the will power to exercise regularly and eat healthy. But how can we make our hormones cooperate and support our healthy lifestyle?
Let us have a look and understand these influential hormones and see what makes them work either for or against us.
Say hello to ghrelin! Produced in the stomach, this is a hunger hormone. Ever experienced those intense hunger pangs sometime after you have skipped a meal? That is ghrelin at work. This is why, while attempting to lose or maintain a healthy weight, it is important that you never skip meals. Being on an empty stomach makes you crave food that is high in empty calories (which offer no nutritive value), salt, fat and sugar. Ghrelin is at its peak in the morning after sleep. This is why it is important to eat breakfast. Aptly named, it helps you ‘break-the-fast’. You need to fill up on a healthy breakfast with healthy sources of protein. Include egg whites, nuts and seeds to lower ghrelin levels.
Ever wondered why those quick fix crash diets do not work out on a long-term basis? Crash dieting causes ghrelin to increase. If you are able to sustain such a diet for 1 year, your body will still have elevated levels of ghrelin. Your body tries to achieve a state of homeostasis or balance. Ghrelin constantly sends out hunger signals. This is why weight maintenance can be harder than weight loss.
This is a fat hormone, it can help suppress appetite and can be your weight loss buddy! It indicates when you are full and when you need to stop eating. The more fat cells you have in your body, the more leptin they release. This is called leptin resistance and is not good since it numbs the brain’s response to leptin. Another sabotage is sugar. Small amounts of sugar found in fruits (fructose) does not pose a problem. However, table sugar and processed foods burden the liver which cannot break them down fast enough to be used for fuel. These sugars are then converted to fats and enter the blood stream causing an elevation in serum triglyceride levels. These sugars get stored in the liver.
This in turn forms a vicious cycle. When fructose is converted into fat, leptin levels increase (fat produces leptin). Excess amounts of the hormone circulate in the body making it resistant to the ‘full’ signal. This makes you overeat so you regain weight and are back to square one!
Stressful situations cause the body to release cortisol. This hormone is closely interlinked with weight gain, it increases the amount of visceral fat. Ever noticed that when you are stressed, you crave sweet or salty junk foods? This is because cortisol drives you to those food choices (they momentarily help release tension). Caffeine consumption from coffee and tea can also increase cortisol levels. This is why those working ‘graveyard shifts’ should not rely on caffeine to help them pull through. This causes the body to hoard and hold onto fat that it does not need.
What can you do instead? Avoid downing cups of coffee to focus on tasks or stay awake. Try including exercise into your daily routine. When you feel sleepy, drink water. This helps prevent dehydration so you stay focussed and alert. The next suggestions are for all of us- surrounding ourselves with positive people helps one stay happy. This can help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels. It also releases ‘happy’ or feel good hormones called endorphins.
Lean people may have higher levels of this hormone. Adiponectin helps muscle use carbs to release energy. This boosts metabolism, which in turn burns fat. The hormone can be increased by regular exercise. It is important to include strength training to build muscle effectively.
We cannot miss insulin while discussing hormones and weight! Being overweight causes insulin levels in the body to get affected causing an imbalance. This could render insulin ineffective in regulating glucose. Instead of burning excess sugar, they get eventually stored as fat. It is important to maintain a healthy diet along with regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity in cells. Aerobic and resistance training activities help burn calories and glucose. Studies have shown that insulin sensitivity improves with moderate intensity resistance training. It is also important to reduce stress and get enough sleep.
With inputs from:
9. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete
10.Traxler et al., Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition201411:7, https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-7© Trexler et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
11. Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss, Sumithran et al.,N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1597-1604October 27, 2011DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1105816