For decades, we have been told that the secret to weight control is to balance our calorie intake with energy expenditure (calories used). If we take in more calories than we use, "experts" say, we'll gain weight, and the reverse is true. If we take in fewer calories than we use and create a "calorie deficit," we'll use weight.
However, it turns out that the calorie-deficit theory of weight loss is incomplete. Research shows that calories are not the sole determiner of weight gain or loss. Instead, weight control is hormonally-driven.
This article discusses the three primary fat-storage hormones and how you can make them work for rather than against you.
The pancreas produces insulin in response to carbohydrate intake. It is considered a fat-storage hormone because it first moves glucose into the liver and muscle cells for immediate energy. Any excess glucose not immediately needed is then stored in your fat cells.
This is supposed to betemporaryfat storage, meaning that you withdraw from your fat stores the next time you need energy. But that's not how it has turned out for many people.
Instead, eating a steady diet of refined carbs, sugars, fast foods, convenience foods, etc., and snacking all day means that the insulin is constantly depositing glucose primarily into your fat stores. So, your glucose levels are never low enough for you to make any withdrawals.
Additionally, if insulin levels are consistently too high, it can lead to insulin resistance, where the cells do not respond to this hormone. The result is chronically elevated blood glucose levels that can lead to type 2 diabetes -- and weight gain or inability to lose weight. (1)
Leptin is a satiety hormone that tells the brain that you're full so that you stop eating. (2) Therefore, it helps regulate appetite, food intake, and fat storage. Produced by your fat cells, leptin tells your brain via leptin signaling how much fat you're carrying.
High leptin levels mean you have plenty of stored fat, while low levels mean your fat stores are low.
The hypothalamus in the brain -- the area that regulates appetite and metabolism -- receives these signals, adjusting appetite and metabolism accordingly.
For example, if fat stores are high, it tells the hypothalamus to shut off hunger and increase metabolism so that you can burn that fat. Conversely, if fat stores are low, leptin tells it to turn on your hunger and slow the metabolism. In this way, leptin regulates your body fat levels.
But if the brain doesn't recognize leptin signaling -- a condition called leptin resistance -- it thinks you're starving even though you're carrying excess body fat. (3) It increases hunger and reduces metabolism to promote weight gain. There is scientific evidence that leptin resistance, in turn, increases the risk of insulin resistance, promoting weight gain.
Cortisol is a stress hormone designed to keep us safe. When we face a threat, the adrenal gland releases cortisol to increase our heart rate, which triggers a release of glucose to increase our energy levels. This process is known as the "fight or flight response." (4)
It's supposed to be a short-term response to stress, with the glucose and cortisol levels returning to normal after the threat passes. But if you're dealing with chronic stress, as many people are, your adrenal gland keeps pumping cortisol, leading to elevated glucose levels. Also, remember that insulin and glucose play a significant role in fat storage.
Chronically high cortisol levels can also lead to many other health conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, mental and physical exhaustion, etc.
Given these factors, it's no wonder chronically high cortisol levels are associated with increased body fat, especially in the abdominal region.
How To Reduce Cortisol Levels
The tips at the end of this article will help reduce cortisol levels. But here is a suggestion aimed explicitly at reducing levels of this stress hormone – managing stress.
It is impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, nor would you want to. After all, healthy stress powers your motivation and helps you accomplish great things.
But chronic stress stands in the way of outstanding accomplishments and often leads to excess weight. So, to avoid these issues, you must manage your stress levels. Here are a few stress-busting suggestions.
Go for regular leisurely walks
Practice deep breathing exercises
Play with your dog or cat
Go out to dinner or a movie with friends
Binge-watch comedies on Netflix
Do aerobic exercises
Take up a hobby
Help someone out. (Studies show that helping others lowers our stress levels.)
Tips For Turning Off Your Fat-Storage Hormones
Improve Diet Quality.
The foods you eat significantly impact blood glucose and insulin levels. To help regulate glucose and insulin and improve insulin sensitivity, research suggests that you should eat more fiber, primarily from nonstarchy vegetables, which slows digestion and gradually elevates glucose levels.
What about whole grains? Grains, even whole grains, rank moderate to high on the glycemic index scale (5), meaning that they raise blood glucose levels much more than nonstarchy veggies. But, yes, it is better for blood sugar and weight control to eat whole grains instead of refined ones, but not by much.
You should also eat more healthy whole-food fats and grass-fed or pasture-fed meats and poultry and decrease your refined carbohydrates (including sugar) and heavily processed foods.
Get More Exercise
Numerous studies suggest that regular exercise improves insulin sensitivity and decreases resistance at moderate to high intensities.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services physical activity guidelines, you should do 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise every week and perform strength training at least twice a week. (6)
Exercise can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
Improve Sleep Habits
Sleep deprivation and/or poor-quality sleep has been linked to insulin resistance and obesity. (7, 8) To regulate this fat-storage hormone, you must improve your sleep habits. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Set and follow a sleep schedule. If you go to bed at the same time every night and awaken at the same time every morning, you'll train your body to sleep during that specific period.
Avoid caffeine later in the day. Caffeine is a stimulant that can prevent sleep if ingested too close to bedtime.
Avoid drinking water or other fluids at least three hours before bedtime to prevent waking up to urinate during the night.
Make sure to empty your bladder before going to bed.
Try not to watch TV or use your computer or tablet an hour before bedtime. The light from these screens disrupts your brain's melatonin production.
Practice mind and body relaxation techniques before bedtime.
Avoid napping during the day.
Try not to perform aerobic exercises before bed, as the resulting adrenaline can interfere with sleep.
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