It's a grim reality but most of us who lose weight on fad diets, will regain it and more within a few months of stopping. Not to say that weight loss is impossible, because it's not! But it’s more complex than the calories-in calories-out mentality.
Hormones have a huge impact on our appetite, metabolism, and weight. Learn how you can naturally balance appetite hormones: ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and cortisol, with these nutrition and lifestyle tips.
Hormones are chemical messengers. They travel through your bloodstream carrying “messages” to tissues and organs, signalling what action they should take next. Hormones affect many different systems such as metabolism, sexual function, development, and mood (1). They can influence the function of your immune system and even influence behavior.
Appetite hormones work together and impact one another, creating an intricate balancing act that controls how you eat, your weight, and predisposition to some diseases. The main hormones associated with metabolism, appetite, and satiety levels are ghrelin and leptin. Even small shifts in these can drastically affect your body’s ability to regulate calorie intake and expenditure (2). Insulin and cortisol impact how your body uses and stores energy.
Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” because it signals to the brain when it's time to eat. It also influences taste sensations. When it's higher, you may think high-calorie foods are tastier, which therefore makes them more difficult to resist (2). When you eat a balanced meal full of whole foods, ghrelin levels go down for a few hours.
Leptin, also known as the “satiety hormone”, decreases hunger levels. Leptin signals to your brain, when you’ve had enough to eat. Since leptin is made by fat cells, the more body fat percentage you have, the more leptin is produced (2). Meaning when your body has excess weight, it should signal to your brain that there’s enough energy stored.
The problem is that when too much leptin is available, overtime, you may be prone to developing leptin resistance (3). This is when your brain no longer responds to the hormone and continues to signal to eat more and reduce calorie expenditure. This also happens with insulin.
Insulin regulates appetite and blood glucose, or blood sugar. Insulin allows cells to absorb glucose and use it for normal daily functions and exercise. Elevated amounts of insulin overtime can cause weight gain because too much glucose will get converted into fat. Eating more calories than your body needs will also lead to excess glucose levels (4)
Cortisol is a steroid hormone often referred to as the “stress hormone. Cortisol helps balance blood sugar levels and regulates metabolism. Cortisol helps you prepare for stressful fight-or flight situations by bringing energy to muscles and increasing blood pressure.
Overtime, high stress can lead to chronically elevated levels of cortisol. This can cause increased appetite and weight gain, particularly visceral fat, which impacts weight related disease (5).
It's normal for hormones to fluctuate throughout the day but the key is to find overall balance and prevent or correct hormone resistance. Hormone levels can be improved by focusing on lifestyle habits such as getting good sleep, reducing stress, and eating healthy foods.
Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to hormone balancing. The circadian rhythm is a biological clock that controls your sleep-wake cycle and metabolism. The regulation of cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin are highly correlated with this sleep rhythm (6).
Stress can lead to increased levels of cortisol and insulin. To help balance stress-related hormones, try to practice these on a daily basis:
What you eat has both an immediate and long-term impact on your hormones. Certain foods can potentially have an impact on restoring or putting hormones in imbalance. Create a better balance with these nutrition tips:
Keep in mind that some hormonal imbalances may not be able to be corrected by diet and lifestyle alone. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms related to hormone imbalance, contact your physician.
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