Hormones and weight gain; you need to understand that there is a really big relationship between your hormones and possible weight gain, but it is not something that is often covered by weight loss books or weight loss programs. Your hormones may be contributing to you either gaining weight or not losing weight and it may be something that you have never considered before in your weight loss plans. The good news is that you are not completely at the mercy of your hormones and you can make some simple lifestyle changes that will help to control your hormones and weight gain.
First of all, what are hormones?
Hormones are special chemical messengers released by cells and glands in your body and carried in your blood. When they reach a receptor, the cell “reads” the message and carries out the job it is told to do. Think of a key and a keyhole, with the key being the hormone and the keyhole the receptor. When you put the key into the keyhole and turn it, it opens the lock. If you put the wrong key in the lock, it won’t open and that is how hormones work. They have to find the right receptor before they can tell the cell what to do.
The hormone insulin is probably one of the best examples, as most people have heard about it even if they are not quite sure what it does. I will be doing a post specifically on insulin soon for the hormones and weight gain thread. Insulin is produced by a small organ that sits just behind your stomach called the pancreas. As soon as you start to think about food, your body starts to produce insulin. When you start to eat, if you are eating carbohydrates (sugar, bread, rice, pasta, potato, fruits and vegetables), your pancreas produces more insulin. As the carbohydrates are broken down further into glucose, the simplest form of sugar that can be used by your cells, more insulin is produced. Insulin moves the glucose into the cells of the muscle or other cells to be used for energy or into the fat cells where it is stored. Excess glucose is taken to the liver where it is converted into triglycerides (fat) and stored. In terms of hormones and weight gain, insulin can be a big contributor, but more of insulin later.
These short 5-6 minute videos by Jon Gabriel from The Gabriel Method explain perfectly how too much insulin in your blood stream can contribute to you gaining weight.
Insulin – video 1: Insulin, blood sugar and Type-2 diabetes
Insulin – video :2 What happens when your body becomes insulin resistant
Insulin – video :3 How to balance your blood sugar levels
Leptin and grehlin hormones and weight gain
Two hormones that you may not have heard about before are leptin and grehlin which were only reported in 1994 and 1999 respectively. The role of leptin is to send signals to your brain to signal satiety or to tell you that you are full, while grehlin’s role is to make you hungry so that you will eat.
Latest research has shown a strong connection between these two hormones and weight gain. The research revealed that chronic sleep deprivation causes the “hunger hormone” grehlin to increase, while the levels of leptin that tells you that you are full decreases. The decrease in leptin means that it takes longer to send the “full” signal to your brain, easily allowing you to eat too much.
Your body is not replenishing the energy it needs through a good night’s sleep, so it works to get that energy by making you want to eat extra calories. I know this is very true for me. If I have had a very late night (or early morning), I know that by the afternoon, I will be craving sweet foods, and when you are feeling tired it is very hard to resist those urges!
Stress, hormones and weight gain
Stress can contribute hugely to an imbalance of hormones and weight gain. When we lived as cave dwellers, we developed the “fight or flight” response which you have no doubt heard about. It prepared us for fighting off the enemy or fleeing large animals viewing us as lunch. Today we don’t have those sorts of stresses anymore, but we do have other modern day stressors that trigger the same physiological “flight or fight” response. Jon Gabriel covers stress, hormones and weight gain in full detail in his book, The Gabriel Method, and stress control is a very important component of his “no diet, diet”.
When under stress, you also produce more of the “hunger hormone” grehlin. It is thought to play a role in helping with anxiety and stress induced depression, which explains why we reach for the comfort foods that sooth us. Stress can also stimulate insulin to be produced. This ensures that glucose can quickly be moved into the cells for that fight or flight response, but it can also make you feel hungry.
The hormone cortisol is also produced when you are under stress and it is sometimes nicknamed the “stress hormone”. One of the roles of cortisol during stressful times is to stimulate the quick release of carbohydrates and fats so that they can be metabolised for quick energy release to fuel you for the anticipated fight or flight.
You can begin to see the relationship between stress, hormones and weight gain. Our hormones mobilise to make energy ready for that fight or flight response, they make us hungry but we don’t actually need all of those extra calories because we are not actually going to fight or run away anymore.
Keeping your hormones balanced
If you consider hormones and weight gain to be one of your weight loss challenges, then here are the two best strategies. First of all, make sure that you get a good night’s sleep, which means at least 6-8 hours. The second thing that you can do is to manage your stress levels to keep them to a minimum. If you can’t escape the stresses, try to change how you respond to them. I find that meditating for 10-15 minutes a day really helps me to remain calmer and more focused.