Could Your Hormones Be Getting In The Way Of Your Weight Loss?
You eat well. You exercise regularly. You’re losing weight. Everything is going as planned! But suddenly, the scale won’t budge. You’re not alone. We’ve all been there - and it’s the worst. Nothing is quite as frustrating as a weight loss plateau.
Believe it or not, your hormones could be what’s getting in the way of your success. Getting in the head of your hormones and knowing how they think and act can help you break through that roadblock and reach your goal!
Leptin, often referred to as a “satiety hormone” is produced by your fat cells. It’s the hormone that talks to your hypothalamus (the small, but mighty part of the brain that controls the release of hormones from the pituitary gland) and tells it to reduce your appetite and makes you feel full. When working efficiently, leptin signals that you have enough fat stored away and ultimately helps prevent overeating. In other words, the more you overeat, the more your body fat increases, which sends more leptin to your brain to prevent you from eating. The opposite is also true - if you don’t eat enough to meet your needs, your body fat decreases, which sends less leptin to your brain to encourage you to eat more. Sounds pretty important if you’re trying to lose weight, doesn’t it?
Because leptin is produced by your fat cells, the more fat cells you have, the more leptin is released into your bloodstream and sent to the hypothalamus. People who are overweight or obese typically have high levels of leptin circulating in their bloodstream. If you’re trying to lose weight, this is probably music to your ears! The bad news is that chronically high leptin levels can prevent your brain from receiving those signals from leptin and you actually end up eating more. This is called leptin resistance and it can really be a stubborn roadblock if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, a study has shown that individuals who are obese have leptin levels 4 times higher than those individuals of normal weight.
Ghrelin, often referred to as the “hunger hormone” is produced mainly in your stomach. When your stomach is empty, ghrelin is released into your bloodstream and tells the brain to stimulate your appetite. That’s right - this hormone’s main function is to encourage you to eat (and store) more food. The good news is that low levels of ghrelin leaves you feeling full and ultimately eating less.
When ghrelin is behaving the way it’s supposed to, your ghrelin levels naturally increase right before you eat and drop shortly after. Intuitively, you might think that people who are overweight must have high amounts of ghrelin circulating in their bloodstream. The bad news is that they might just be more sensitive to the effects of ghrelin and their levels only slightly decrease after a meal.
Reducing your caloric intake is the first step that most people take when they set out to lose weight. Unfortunately, this can leave you with elevated ghrelin levels that can make weight loss much harder since this is your body’s natural defense mechanism against starvation.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas. While it is slowly released throughout the day, it’s released in larger amounts right after eating. Insulin has a variety of jobs, but it’s mostly known for blood sugar management. It allows your cells to take in glucose for immediate energy or storage for later. It’s also the hormone that tells your body to store fat and stop breaking down stored fat. Yikes! You can see how insulin could really put a damper on your weight loss, right?
When your cells stop responding to insulin like they are supposed to, this is called insulin resistance. When someone is resistant to insulin they have high blood sugar and high insulin levels. If your insulin levels are regularly too high, this can leave you at risk for becoming obese and developing type II diabetes. Elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance are encouraged by overeating - especially overeating sugary, refined carbohydrates.
Your adrenal glands produce cortisol, which is often referred to as the “stress hormone.” This is the hormone that regulates your blood pressure. Cortisol is naturally released when your body feels stressed. Unfortunately, elevated cortisol levels can really throw a wrench in your weight loss journey. When someone is overweight or obese, they typically respond to stress with too much cortisol, making weight loss that much harder.
It’s not uncommon for people to cut back on their calories when they’re trying to lose weight. Intuitively, you might assume that the less you eat, the more you’ll lose. Believe it or not, if your diet is too restrictive your body becomes stressed and cortisol levels can shoot up and get in the way of your weight loss.
Help Your Hormones Help You
Learning that your hormones play such an integral role in appetite and weight regulation can be discouraging and leave you feeling helpless. I have good news for you! There are steps you can take and changes you can make to make your hormones work for you and not against you. In other words, you can train your hormones to help you reach your weight loss goal instead of sabotaging it.
Swap simple carbs with complex carbs.
Eating lots of simple carbs (i.e. sugar sweetened beverages, baked goods, fast food) can leave you with elevated insulin levels and hinder your ghrelin response after you eat. Embracing complex carbs (whole grains, beans, vegetables) and choosing less simple carbs is a great way to remedy this.
Get a protein in every morning.
When you incorporate a lean protein into your breakfast every morning, you’re encouraging reduced ghrelin levels. In other words, you’ll be less likely to be hungry later in the day! Prioritizing protein early in the day is instrumental in making sound food decisions later in the day.
Put movement on your to-do list.
Believe it or not, regular movement is associated with improved leptin and insulin sensitivity. Staying active is one of the best things you can do to get the scale to budge because you can end up tapping into your fat storage to help fuel your activity, storing less fat, and feeling fuller longer.
Make sleep non-negotiable.
Let’s face it - when life gets hectic, sleep is the first thing to go for most people. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep is known to decrease your leptin levels leaving you feeling hungry and more likely to eat more. Not getting enough shut eye can also make cortisol (a prominent stress hormone) skyrocket, which leaves you vulnerable to eating more and gaining weight.
Eat wholesome, nourishing food - and enough of it.
Eating a balanced meal of complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats is essential for optimizing your hormone levels. Eating enough is just as important! While a caloric deficit is necessary to lose weight, you have to be careful not to take things too far. It’s a fine line to walk, but saying no to fad diets and working with a licensed nutrition expert is a sure fire way to make sure you’re on the right track!