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Eating Right, Working Out and Still Can't Lose Weight? Possible Culprit: Hormones

May 26, 2010 - Elissa Goodman

IMG_5190There may be a hidden way to shed pounds, and it’s got little to do with calories or willpower. Hormones are the chief executives of the body – they affect everything: our sex lives, our stress levels, and even our immune response. So it’s not surprising they also effect our weight! Almost 200 hormones circulate in the bloodstream at any given moment. Research shows hormone imbalance in everything from what we eat, why we eat, and even what happens to the body once the food been swallowed!  

Key Hormones

The most influential hormones for weight loss are the thyroid hormone, which helps regulate metabolism, and insulin, which allocates sugar in the bloodstream. Scientists are developing strategies to shift hormone signals to help people avoid weight gain as well as lose weight.

Hormone Levels

Losing weight isn't just about counting calories.  Stabilizing hormone levels play an equally important role. When insulin is secreted in higher amounts, you feel hungrier and you eat more. Willpower does not exist when insulin is high! The neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects mood and appetite, needs proper estrogen levels to be optimal. The best thing you can do is get on an insulin-controlling plan that emphasizes protein and fiber and restricts carbs – a basic recipe for endocrine balance. By balancing insulin, doing daily interval training, sleeping well, and lowering stress, you will optimize your hormone levels. Basically, for your brain to be right, your hormone levels have to be healthy!

Cortisol & Stress

Cortisol, another hormone, increases glucose in the blood and drives our natural stress response. Too much cortisol leads to a bigger appetite and cravings for sugar and simple carbs, as well as increased belly fat. Countless studies have linked cortisol, hunger, food intake, and obesity. However, what that link is and how it can be treated is still undefined. One thing we do know is that coritsol is regulated by sleep; many studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation can elevate levels.

Leptin and Ghrelin

Leptin signals us to stop eating if we’re full. It’s connected to ghrelin – the only hunger hormone identified to date – which counteracts leptin and other hormones and tells the body it’s time to be fed. Unfortunately, we can’t count on these hormones to switch off when we’ve gotten what we biologically need from food. Ghrelin might make some people keep eating enjoyable foods even after they’re full (sound familiar?).

Estrogen and Progesterone

Progesterone is the hormone that prepares the body for pregnancy. After ovulation, it increases, leading you to eat more in anticipation of needing more calories. The theory is that when the reproductive hormone estrogen plunges in the week before your period, so does your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which your body knows will be restored by the carbs in a bowl of something delicious (think comfort foods!). Deficiencies in estrogen and progesterone may also drive menopausal women to chow down.

Getting the Right Mix

If you suspect hormones may be playing a role in your inability to lose weight, see your doctor. An internist or an OB/GYN can do a simple blood test that will check hormone levels. Once you learn what is going on with your hormones, you can create a treatment plan to try and create balance. 

Now, let's address the weight issue. Currently there is no proven miracle combo of behaviors or foods that will jump-start hormones fat-burning mode. But we can give our hormones a better chance by creating a stable environment in which they can work. 

1.    Eat Whole Foods

Try eating foods high in fiber, complex carbs, and low-glycemic-index foods like whole grains and fiber-rich vegetables and fruit. Include unsaturated fats, which will take longer to metabolize and help you stave off cravings. Eat foods in their intact form – think whole oranges instead of orange juice!

2.    Exercise

Exercising an hour per day, five days a week, will combat hormonal weight gain. That doesn’t mean a solid hour of running – even if you park the car at the end of the lot or take the stairs more often, it alters the cortisol level, helping you burn more calories!

3.    Reduce Stress

Stress-relief measures will lead to better hormonal balance.

4.    Sleep

People who sleep less have lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. Just three days of sleep disruption increases insulin resistance.

5.    Raise Endorphins

Part of why we eat is to get rid of bad feelings – so find things to take pleasure in!


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Comments

This is so weird to read this. I feel like an educated person. I read a lot and watch the news - yet I never once thought this might be an issue with me. Never has anyone said I might be over weight because of my hormones. But I do run three times a week and I eat pretty well. I think i need an new internist!

Elissa - I'm wondering if there is a certain age when hormone imbalances effect women. Is it a thing for women who are in their 40's? 50's? any age? I'm wondering if my 17 year old daughter might have an imbalance.

Thank you for an extremely informative article. It's interesting that this is rarely addressed and yet it's so relevant.

Can you take an oral medication to boost a particular hormone? What is the ultimate remedy?

Hi, these nice pictures and so awesome, and its great post & very informative post, really I get the profit from here. This color’s information is very nice.
Thanks so much for sharing it!!

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