Why do men lose weight faster than women?  Hormones.  Why do women gain weight more easily after menopause?  Hormones.  Why do girls put on fat and boys gain muscle during puberty?  Hormones.  The list could go on for days about the different biological functions that hormones influence.  Some of them are outside of our control, while some are more within our control than we might imagine.  Stick around for a while and read about some of the hormonal influencers of fat gain and loss and what YOU can do about them.

  1. Insulin:  We have talked for years about insulin and its role in fat storage.  Chronic elevation of this hormone leads the cells to become resistant, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, but this is a hormone that we have a great deal of control over.  The biggest contributor to insulin secretion is carbohydrate consumption, but what most people don’t know is that over consumption of any macronutrient can lead to elevated insulin levels, including protein.  The take home message here is to #1 watch your intake of fruit and starchy foods but #2 to also be mindful of overall consumption of ANY foods as that can also lead to chronically elevated insulin levels.  As insulin reigns as the top hormonal contributor to fat gain and loss, it is also one of the easiest for the average person to control.
  2. Glucagon:  Glucagon can be seen as the happy twin working in tandem with insulin, only in this case, we want HIGH levels of this hormone.  Glucagon is responsible for fat burning and will naturally be higher when insulin levels are lower.  To make things easier, the same things that we do to keep insulin levels low are what we do to keep glucagon levels high.  #1 Limit fruit and starchy carbohydrate.  #2 Eat moderate portions of any food as the over-consumption of food (essentially….chronic overeating of anything) leads to an imbalance of insulin and glucagon.
  3. Ghrelin:  Ghrelin is our body’s hunger hormone that turns on when we are physically hungry.  There are situations where psychological circumstances can impact this hormone, but that is for another article.  Ghrelin is controllable by a couple of factors.
    • Eat until you are 80% full
    • Learn to become comfortable with not being stuffed at every meal.
    • Eat a moderate amount of fat and protein at every meal to avoid spikes in not only insulin but ghrelin.
  4. Cortisol:  Cortisol can be both a fat burner and a fat storer.  Short bursts of cortisol (like in interval training) can be great for fat burning, but where it becomes problematic is in long-term, chronically elevated cortisol.  The two most common factors that lead to this are chronic STRESS and lack of consistent, restful sleep.  Meditation, prayer, warm lavender baths, daily relaxation rituals, and a consistent bedtime routine are all controllable factors that lead to lower cortisol levels.
  5. Leptin:  Leptin is a hormone secreted by our fat cells that tells your brain how much fat is on your body that is available to be burned.  However, like with insulin, our cells can become resistant to the influence of leptin, no matter how much of it we have.  As with insulin and ghrelin, eating slowly, not overconsuming any category of food, and avoiding starchy foods and overdoing fruits are all controllable factors that influence this hormone.
  6. HGH:  Human growth hormone helps the body both burn fat and build muscle.  It is known as an anti aging hormone and works in tandem with both cortisol and adrenaline.  To optimize HGH, it is critical to get adequate, restful sleep and move your body.  Being sedentary, stressed, and over-tired become the perfect storm for an inadequate level of this hormone.  The best practice for optimizing HGH is to get appropriate sleep and interval train.  Short bursts of expended energy are exactly what the body needs to put your body in peak HGH production.
  7. Adrenaline:  Adrenaline is secreted by our adrenal glands when we start to exercise, signaling the body to start burning fat.  This hormone has an influence over the other hormones cortisol, insulin, HGH, and testosterone.  It also works with cortisol, and production can be sub-optimal if cortisol levels are levels are not where they should be.  Adrenaline is most influenced by exercise.  As with HGH, short bursts of exercise are great for optimizing production of this hormone.  This is great news as simple things like running up your stairs or a quick set of jumping jacks while you are cooking dinner are great ways to fit this into your day without spending the time to go to a gym when you don’t have time.

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  • There are so many hormones in our bodies that we have no control over at all.  Really read through the list above and the simple changes you can make to gain more control over them.  Control what you can so that your body is the best it can be!!  Our next article will cover several more hormones that you can maximize through simple behavior changes, but to recap these:
    1. Get optimal, restful sleep as often as you can.
    2. Exercise in short, intense bursts.
    3. Eat foods in all food groups moderately.
    4. Watch your consumption of starchy foods and fruits.