When it comes to fighting the flab, there are more players in the game than just diet, exercise and self-control. Numerous hormones are at play. Get to know the four most influential hormones that are crucial to slimming down – and how to make them work to your advantage.
HUNGER HORMONES: GHRELIN AND LEPTIN
Two important hormones that shape our appetite and hunger signals are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, one of the many hormones produced by your fat cells, acts as an appetite suppressor. The more body fat you have, the more leptin you produce. However, chronically elevated leptin levels can result in a leptin resistance – meaning the leptin signals are no longer being heard. Not only does hunger increase as a result of this resistance, but metabolism comes to a grinding halt, making weight loss very difficult.
Leptin’s counterpart, ghrelin, is known as the appetite stimulator, which is your brain’s cue to send out the “chow down” signal. The emptier the stomach (when you haven’t eaten in a while), the more ghrelin is produced. However, too much ghrelin decreases the body’s ability to burn fat. So why starve if it’s just going to raise your ghrelin levels and make it harder to resist poor food choices?
Balance It out: Sleep tight
Multiple studies have shown that falling short on shut-eye causes changes in brain activity by stimulating hunger-inducing hormones. But you’re not exactly craving carrot sticks. Instead you’ll be tempted to look for a quick hit of energy — the kind that lives in vending machine. Practice good sleep hygiene by hitting the hay the same time each night. Set up your bedroom for optimal comfort by keeping it cool and free of disrupting noises, including tech toys.
STRESS HORMONE: CORTISOL
Ever wonder why a hectic day sends you diving face-first into a bag of chips? Stress and cortisol go hand in hand. Anytime you’re faced with a stressful situation, your body pumps out cortisol to meet the challenge, ramping up an appetite, including the motivation to eat – most likely high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” to quell the tension you feel. Whilst this may provide a temporary boost of energy and alertness, the sudden burst of energy goes straight to the ‘reward’ centre in the brain – and the vicious cycle continues resulting in mindless overeating, and possibly an expanding waistline. What’s worse, cortisol also encourages your body to hold on to body fat in the last place you need it: deep in your tummy.
Balance it out: Take five
Stress eating tends to be mindless eating. Before you even realise, you’ve polished off that entire bag of chips. So when you’re faced with a craving, pause for a few minutes and think about the last time you ate: was it less than 2 hours ago? In which case, it’s not ‘physical’ hunger. Taking 5 minutes to re-assess will give yourself the chance to make a different decision, like drinking a large glass of water or taking a 10-minute brisk walk.
METABOLIC HORMONE: INSULIN
Every time you down a carb-laden meal or sugary drink, it sends your blood sugar levels to soar. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone whose job is to determine whether blood sugar gets used right away for immediate energy, or stored as fat. Too many refined starches and sugary carbs can heighten insulin response, which adds to body fat storage.
Balance it out: Eat balanced meals
You can control the amount of insulin your body produces by trading processed, refined carbs like baguette for whole-grain and low GI versions, such as brown rice, sourdough or quinoa which contain more fibre to keep hunger at bay. Combine these carbs with lean sources of protein (fish, egg or beans) at every meal to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, making for a more even-keeled insulin response.