Hormones and weight: 5 ways to work with your body for weight loss
Understanding leptin, insulin, ghrelin and more.
Hormones are chemical messengers in your body, travelling in your bloodstream to your tissues and organs. Hormones are involved in a bunch of different processes in your body including your mood, reproduction, growth and your metabolism, too .
And, because hormones are involved in so many different areas of bodily functions, they're pretty powerful. All it takes is one hormonal imbalance to dramatically affect your entire body, including weight gain and weight loss.
If you've been on a weight loss journey for quite some time and you're still experiencing weight gain, your hormones might be a factor.
The good news is that your hormones can be rebalanced with a few simple lifestyle changes, holistic health strategies and the right support.
How hormones can impact your weight
Weight gain and weight loss aren't just impacted by the energy you burn and consume. In fact, your hormones play a key role, too. These chemicals are involved in basically all areas of health, appetite, mood, and metabolism, which all impact your weight.
Let's explore a few key hormones that can impact your weight.
Leptin is a hormone your body fat releases, helping your body maintain its current weight. The primary function of leptin is to regulate the balance between your food intake and energy expenditure in the long term.
It helps curb hunger and regulate energy so you're not craving food when your body doesn't need more energy (a.k.a calories) .
The hormone leptin is strongly correlated with weight loss. When your body fat decreases, so do your leptin levels which tells your body it's hungry, therefore, increasing your appetite and causing you to increase your calorie intake.
Leptin resistance also causes your brain to respond differently to the hormone, meaning you don't get the feeling of fullness, and in turn, causes you to eat more, leading to weight gain .
Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates how your body absorbs glucose (a.k.a sugar). Insulin is an important hormone that ensures you have enough energy to perform your everyday functions .
Insulin resistance happens when liver, muscle, and fat cells aren't responding to insulin as they usually should, which means your blood sugar levels are higher than usual. High insulin levels can cause higher levels of hunger and an increase in sugar cravings, and can lead to weight gain, too .
Ghrelin, otherwise known as the hunger hormone produced by your stomach is involved in increasing your food intake. This hormone tells your hypothalamus (a control centre in your brain) that you're hungry, helps your body store fat, and controls blood sugar .
Ghrelin levels are generally the highest right before you eat because your stomach is either empty or mostly empty, so your body releases ghrelin to signal to the brain it's time to eat. Among people with obesity, ghrelin levels are typically lower and researchers believe that feeling hungrier is associated with lower ghrelin levels .
Cortisol (a.k.a the stress hormone) is naturally produced by your body from your adrenal glands. Cortisol is released when you're stressed, which sends your body into a state of fight or flight, preparing your body to tackle harmful situations.
As a result, increased cortisol levels speed up systems in your body that you need to survive, while also slowing down other processes that aren't needed (such as your metabolism) .
Plus, cortisol increases your blood pressure and insulin production, so when your insulin levels increase and your blood sugar decreases, you can start to crave unhealthy, sugary, and processed foods.
Research has found long-term stress and increased cortisol levels lead to weight gain. A 2015 study showed that stress causes a slower metabolism and a 2007 study found that high cortisol levels increase the feelings of satisfaction we get from eating sugary and processed foods .
Oestrogens (also known as estrogen) are a group of hormones involved in women's sexual and reproductive development and health.
Ovaries produce the most oestrogen hormones but adrenal glands and fat cells also produce smaller amounts of the hormone, too. Oestrogen is involved in fat storage during healthy reproductive years.
When oestrogen levels are balanced, it helps the body perform female reproductive functions. But, too much oestrogen can lead to weight gain, especially in the waist, hips and thighs .
On the other hand, lower estrogen levels after menopause can also cause fat storage around the waist instead of in the hips and thighs. In fact, belly fat in postmenopausal women accounts for 15-20% of their total body weight in comparison to 5-8% of premenopausal women .
Is it possible to reset hormones to encourage weight loss?
When it comes to weight loss, there are a bunch of diets out there, from the ketogenic diet to intermittent fasting and even the carnivore diet, all promising to help you lose weight fast.
One of the most talked about diets is the hormone reset diet which claims that people over 35 struggle with weight loss as a result of hormone imbalances . The hormone diet is a 21-day program that is an elimination diet of meat, alcohol, fruit, grains, and dairy to reset your hormone balance .
The hormone reset diet claims that it can lead to a weight loss of around 7kg in just 21 days by balancing 7 different hormones that lead to a decreased appetite and cause you to burn belly fat.
The creator of the hormone-balancing diet, Dr Gottfied, suggests most women have at least 1 and sometimes 3 or more hormonal imbalances which can be reset by removing meat, alcohol, fruit, grains and dairy from your diet plan .
While there is evidence to suggest hormones are involved in weight gain and weight loss, there is no scientific evidence backing any specific diet plan to reset your hormone balance. But, the good news is there are some ways to reset hormones that aid in weight loss and sometimes they can be done naturally.
Eating a healthy diet
Consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be super beneficial in improving your hormonal balance and regulating insulin levels. Try to focus on eating foods from all 5 food groups and reducing your intake of processed foods and sugars.
Getting enough exercise
Movement can help to reduce stress levels, improve sleep, and also release feel-good hormones like endorphins which all contribute to weight loss.
Sleep plays a vital role in every area of your health. Getting a good night's rest is essential in producing and regulating hormones in your body. Not getting enough sleep consistently can cause a hormonal imbalance and disrupt your circadian rhythm too, which can all lead to weight gain.
Reducing stress levels
We all know how bad it feels when your stress hormones are out of whack. Too much cortisol can cause weight gain, high blood pressure, mood changes, and even interfere with other hormones like oestrogen and progesterone.
How long does it take to reset hormones?
Everybody is unique and different, so there's no specific timeline for how long it takes to reset your hormonal imbalances. This all largely depends on the individual person, your diet, how much exercise you're doing, your stress levels, and the type of hormones involved.
For example, some hormonal imbalances can be reset at a faster rate through lifestyle changes like improving your diet and doing regular exercise. Other hormones (like cortisol) can take longer, especially if you've just been navigating chronic stress.
A hormonal imbalance due to hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) as a result of the thyroid gland not producing enough thyroid hormones can improve within 2 weeks of thyroid replacement therapy which gives the body manmade thyroid hormones to increase low levels of the natural thyroid hormone .
How to reduce your metabolic age
Your metabolism works throughout the entire day and night, converting the fuel you've consumed into energy so your body performs all its functions.
A fast metabolism burns calories at a faster rate, while a slower metabolism burns fewer calories, which means more fat is stored in the body. Those with a faster metabolism tend to eat more but not gain weight as fast.
To understand your metabolic age, you need to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which tells you what calories your body can burn while resting. Then, you compare your unique BMR with other people in your age group to understand your metabolic age.
A good metabolic age should be relatively close to your actual age, for example, if you're 40, then a healthy metabolic age should range between 35-45 .
If you've calculated your BMR and are unhappy with where it stands, there are plenty of ways to reduce your metabolic age.
Get enough sleep
We all know how important sleep is for weight loss and it's also involved in your metabolism. Various studies have shown that sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can lead to metabolic syndrome, including weight gain .
Getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep can increase the body's ability to stimulate the metabolism .
Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet is super important when it comes to your metabolism, but the type of food you eat also makes a big difference.
Foods high in protein, fibre and fats make you less hungry after your meal, which lowers your chance of snacking throughout the day. Plus, not getting enough protein makes it harder to increase muscle mass and losing muscle can even slow down your metabolic rate .
Get enough exercise
When it comes to losing weight, the type of exercise you pick matters. Strength training has been shown to have benefits on your metabolism, where lean muscle mass helps you burn calories at a faster rate while you're resting . Plus, high-intensity exercise like HIIT training can change your body composition to improve your metabolism .
Stress hormones play a massive role in weight loss and weight gain, where too much stress can lead to your body holding on to fat and preventing you from building muscle.
Research shows that high cortisol levels are associated with abdominal fat and can even lead to inflammation .
How to approach weight loss
With so many crash diets out there, all promising to help you lose weight fast and balance your hormones like the hormone reset diet, it's hard to navigate weight loss in a healthy and sustainable way.
But, achieving a healthy weight without causing more nutrient deficiencies by excluding food groups is possible and it's better for your overall health too.
If you're looking to approach weight loss healthily and sustainably, here are some options to consider.
Consulting a health professional
Losing weight can be challenging, especially if you suspect hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies are at play. A health professional can help you get to the bottom of your hormone imbalance and help you treat it.
They might identify issues like insulin resistance, hypothyroidism or excess cortisol levels, which are all involved in weight loss and help you on the journey of lowering cortisol levels.
Eating a healthy diet
Instead of focusing on fad diet plans like the hormone reset diet, eating a nutritious and balanced diet plan can make all the difference when you're trying to lose weight.
Eating processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and other certain foods causing weight gain in moderation and focusing on eating foods high in protein, fibre, and healthy fats to make you feel fuller after your meals is a great starting point.
Plus, since inflammation can contribute to hormonal imbalances, eating anti-inflammatory foods like green leafy vegetables, berries and olive oil can help you achieve a hormonal balance .
Getting enough exercise
Consistent exercise plays a massive role in balancing hormones like insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormones, and other hormones. Strength training helps to build muscle mass which aids in burning calories and reduces the impact of high chronic cortisol levels.
If strength training isn't up your alley, even light exercises like yoga and Pilates can be super beneficial in weight loss and balancing your hormones.
In fact, one study showed that women who worked out for 1 hour a day, 3 times a week for 60 days doing yoga and light dancing showed improved balance, flexibility, muscle strength and oestrogen levels too. Yoga had various health benefits as a form of exercise and in reducing stress levels .
Consider holistic weight loss programs
If you've been on a weight loss journey for quite some time and have found that diet and exercise alone haven't been doing the job, other factors like your hormones and biology might be at play.
That's where Juniper's Weight Reset Program comes in. Designed for long-term and sustainable weight loss and management, this program takes a holistic approach to weight loss.
We aim to get to the root cause of weight gain through clinically proven treatments. Plus, we help you make the lifestyle changes that help you not only lose weight but keep it off through health coaching around nutrition, movement, stress and sleep and 1-on-1 health tracking to measure your biometric health and check in on your goals.
Ultimately, weight gain and weight loss are difficult to navigate, especially when your body is working against you and your hormones are out of whack. But there are plenty of ways to reset your hormones in a healthy way.
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