You’ve been trying to avoid high calories foods and you make sure you are doing cardio a few times a week…but the scale just won’t budge! In fact, you’ve gained a few pounds. You’re frustrated and ready to give up. It seems like you’re doing all of the right things, but you just can’t seem to make progress..
I have to tell you this – ‘Eat less and exercise more’ is an extremely oversimplified equation for weight loss. There are many other factors that can interfere with your weight loss goals. Specifically, your body’s hormones.
Let’s discuss how your body’s little chemical messengers can be hurting your weight change efforts. There are 3 key hormones they play large roles in appetite regulation and fat storage.
Your appetite regulating hormone
Leptin is a protein made from fat cells, which tells your brain when you have enough energy in storage. It’s essentially like your energy thermostat! It tells your body when to put down the fork.
However, in some people, their leptin thermostat does not function properly, which leads to weight gain. This is known as leptin resistance.
When you have leptin-resistance, your thermostat is essentially broken. Your leptin levels rise and are trying to tell the brain “hey, I have enough energy stored, I don’t need to eat so much!” but your brain isn’t able to hear this message. If your brain doesn’t hear the leptin signal, this will lead to weight gain as you continue to eat more.
What is the cause of leptin resistance? Inflammation, elevated free fatty acids and high levels of leptin in the bloodsteam.
What To Do:
- Avoid processed foods, which may increase inflammation,
- Consume high amounts of soluble fibre and adequate amounts of protein for appetite regulation
- Lower triglycerides by consuming low glycemic index carbohydrates
- Get adequate physical activity and rest to help reverse leptin resistance
Your stress hormone
Cortisol is needed to respond to stress, however it is important that cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, a lot of us are chronically stressed, and our cortisol levels actually don’t end up returning to normal. This leads to chronic fatigue and burn out.
Rising cortisol levels encourages the conversion of blood sugars into fat, for long-term storage. This was a useful mechanism for survival for our ancestors, when food was scarce, however it’s not so useful in today world, where food is plentiful.
Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain. One way is via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat (the type deep in the abdomen). The second way cortisol can be involved in weight gain is through consistently high blood glucose. When cortisol is high, insulin is supressed (more on insulin next), which prevents blood sugars from entering the bodys cells, to be used for energy. This sends signals to the brain that you are hungry, which can lead to overeating. Elevated cortisol can also lead to cravings for high-calorie foods.
What To Do:
- Reduce your stress – include stress-reduction strategies in your daily routine! Identify what is the route cause of your stress and address this.
- Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet – these strategies include:
- Boost consumption of whole plant foods
- Meet recommendated intake of omega-3’s, minimize omega-6
- Eliminate trans fats and minimal intake of saturated fats
- Eat a low glycemic load diet
- Alter caffeine intake – caffeine can increase cortisol levels, although chronic caffeine consumption can lead to a degree of physiological tolerance It may be best to not drink caffeine first thing in the morning, as our own cortisol levels peak between 8-9 am. It’s best to consume caffeine during the times when our own cortisol levels are lower, between 10-11:30, for most people.
- Take a magnesium supplement, which can help with stress relief and help you sleep better
- Practice mindful eating, which can help eliminate stress eating
Your sugar hormone
Those who know someone with diabetes, may be familiar with insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps us use sugar, by carrying it into our cells so it can be used as fuel or stored as fat. Insulin is required for our bodies to use energy, however sometimes this insulin system doesn’t work properly.
Simply put, insulin is the key and our cells are the lock. When we are insulin resistant, the key has trouble opening the lock. This prevents sugar from getting into our cells for energy, which can increase fatigue and cause cravings for carbohydrates. When insulin isn’t working properly, the body stores fat easier and could lead to higher cholesterol and triglycerides.
What To Do:
- Get the right amount of protein at the right time – aim for 20-30 g of protein at each meal, which help with blood sugar balance and appetite regulation
- Eat smaller, frequent meals, every 3-4 hours
- Follow the glycemic index and eat only low glycemic index foods
- Physical activity allows our cells to be less resistant to insulin, taking in blood sugar more easily