Hormones have EVERYTHING to do with fat loss regardless of your age or gender! Most people seeking weight loss don’t know how or why to balance their hormones. In this episode we talk about how hormones and fat loss are linked, what you can do to balance your hormones through diet and exercise, and how your current eating habits might be causing hormonal chaos in your body.
The Challenge: Most people seeking weight loss don’t know why or how to balance their hormones. They don’t understand the importance of hormones in the fat loss/weight loss game. Yet their symptoms point to massive hormonal imbalance. Seriously – do you have low energy? How about chronic stress? Are you hungry often? Do you struggle with cravings? How about irritability or mood swings? Trouble focusing? Weight gain or trouble losing weight? Trouble sleeping? Fatigue? Joint pain? What about depression and anxiety? Low sex drive? Infertility? Menstrual irregularities or hot flashes? Every single one of these is a symptom of hormonal imbalance and without hormonal balance you are fighting an uphill battle towards your weight loss goals.
The Solution: You can (and should!!!) balance your hormones with the foods you eat, the type of exercise you do and how much and how well you sleep. Seriously! A few simple tweaks can have a ripple effect that trigger weight loss, increased energy, improved mood, focus and much more! Once you get your hormones in balance it will feel like a whole new life! We have an amazing capacity to improve our hormonal balance through our diet and lifestyle.
Here’s the truth for you – Your hormones dictate your ability to lose fat. When you balance your hormones, everything else falls into place.
So what exactly are hormones? They’re chemical messengers in the body and they initiate communication within your body. Your hormones influence your thoughts, feelings, behavior, metabolism, libido, energy, immunity, inflammation, appetite – pretty much everything! These little signaling molecules tell your body how it needs to respond to what is happening both inside and outside the body. When our hormones are balanced we experience reduced inflammation, increased energy, decreased hunger and cravings, weight loss – especially that super stubborn belly fat – improved mood, better sleep and natural detoxification.
One common question people often ask when they start to understand the huge role of hormones on weight loss is, “so do calories really matter?” The answer is yes, calories do matter, but hormones matter just as much if not even a little bit more. Think about it for a second – have you ever cut calories and not lost weight? Or ate a ton of calories and not gained weight? Have you ever felt like you were doing everything right but not seeing results? Why? Hormones. In order to lose fat you need two things:
- A caloric deficit – you need to consume fewer calories than what your body needs to operate – this is the only way your body will allow your stored fat to be broken down to burned for energy.
- Hormonal balance – if you have a calorie deficit WITHOUT hormonal balance you’ll either burn MUSCLE instead of fat OR your body will fight any type of weight loss and respond by slowing your metabolism and you won’t lose any weight at all. Your hormones are what determine whether or not your body will burn fat, store fat, burn muscle or build muscle.
If we just focus on #1 – the calorie deficit crash dieting model – we create hormonal chaos. Our body responds by increasing hunger and cravings, slowing the metabolism, increasing the production of stress hormones, decreasing the production of thyroid and sex hormones – all this can result in depression, anxiety, and an impaired immune response. This approach is NOT sustainable and will not serve you in the long term!
We have to strive first towards hormonal balance. And here’s the great thing! When we balance our hormones, we naturally experience less hunger and fewer cravings so the caloric deficit we need happens naturally! You don’t even have to hardly focus on it!
The other awesome thing about our hormones is that they all impact each other – when we improve one, it has a ripple effect that helps bring the others in the line. On the flip side, when one is out of balance, it throws the others off kilter as well. It’s important to realize that there is a hierarchy here. There are some hormones that have a greater impact on weight loss and metabolism than others so if we focus first on nutritional strategies to improve the big dogs, we’ll have an exponential effect on improving the others with far less effort. It goes back to the 80/20 rule I love to talk about – just a mere 20% of our effortswill produce 80% of our results – we take advantage of this by focusing first on the most impactful hormones for fat loss. In this case, we’re talking about The big 3: insulin, cortisol and leptin. We’ll talk about some of the others – ghrelin, glucagon, thyroid and sex hormones in later episodes.
Insulin determines whether we’re in fat burning mode or fat storing mode. Carbohydrates control insulin and insulin controls fat loss. When we chronically consume carbs, we exhaust our short term storage and the excess is converted to and stored as body fat. Elevated insulin keeps us in fat storage mode, triggers cycles of hunger & cravings and reduces our sense of satiety. We can manage our insulin release by getting smart about our carb consumption.
Leptin is our satiety hormone. Its primary job is to regulate your appetite. Think about it as a fuel gauge for your body. It tells the body how much fat there is in reserve and what to do with it. Ideally, leptin should be the hormone that keeps you thin – as you put on a little more fat, your fat cells produce leptin and your body gets the message “ok, enough fuel in reserve, down regulate appetite, we’re good here.” When you have less fat in reserve, there is less leptin production and you don’t have that satiety trigger so you eat more, reserve more fat, and then produce more leptin to down regulate appetite.
Sounds perfect, so what the heck goes wrong? Our high carobhydate diet screws all this up! You see, our fat cells release leptin in response to high blood sugar and high insulin. So when we’re eating carbs at every meal and constantly elevating our blood sugar, our fat cells are constantly secreting leptin. What happens? Our body becomes immune (or insensitive) to the message. It’s like when you blast loud music for so long that it doesn’t seem loud anymore…you’re resistant. Our body becomes resistant to the message of leptin and we never feel satisfied. Our appetite is insatiable. So, we keep eating and eating and eating. We get sucked into a cycle that we can’t get out of. Eat carb rich meals. Secrete insulin and triggers fat storage. More fat, more leptin. More leptin, the less sensitive we are to its message, we don’t hear the satiety signals, our appetite is out of control, so we eat more! Ahh! What a nightmare!! But we can change all of this…
Ok, there is one more hormone I want to talk about today before we get into practical implementation. It is cortisol, one of our stress hormones. It is released in response to physical, emotional or mental stress. Here’s how it relates to our weight loss – elevated cortisol levels tell the body that there’s imminent danger – the body responds by PREVENTING fat burning – turning off all fat burning machinery – because it wants to reserve all fuel in case of an emergency. Your body is programmed to survive. If it perceives a threat(such as elevated cortisol), it will conserve all energy and stop non-esssential processes. This means holding on to stored body fat and not letting it be used for energy.
Practical Implementation: The strategies discussed in this episode include
- Eating to balance blood sugar and manage insulin via
- The right carbs
- At the right time
- In the right amounts
- Paired with the right foods
- Staying out of the carbohydrate cycle to manage both insulin and leptin
- Specific diet and lifestyle techniques to manage our response to stress and control our body’s release of the stress hormone cortisol
Episode 007: Why You Should Eat Carbs at Night
Episode 009: Carbohydrate Spillover – Why Your Carbs Are Making You Fat
Dietary & lifestyle strategies for hormonal balance and fat loss – The ebook