If you’re on a mission to lose weight, you’ve probably tried everything from cutting down on your calories to spending hours sweating in the gym. But you would most likely have given up because nothing seems to work and losing weight feels an impossible task.
This is because you’re approaching weight loss only in terms of calories. Instead, you need to check your hormones. While calories must be kept in check, it’s hormones that largely affect your calorie intake and usage. Read on to learn how the relationship between hormones and calories can hamper your weight loss goals.
Calories Are The Only Thing That Affects Weight: A Myth
If you are looking to lose weight, you probably are following the mantra: Energy usage should be higher than energy intake. However, this might not always work well. This is because hormones in the human body have a role to play in affecting the body’s metabolic activities.1 2 3
Energy Intake: The intake of energy can be measured in certain values that are used for food consumption by human beings. It has been estimated that an average person takes in 4 calories from 1 g of protein or carbohydrates and 9 calories from 1 g of fat. However, this estimation varies from person to person depending on a person’s metabolic capacity and bowel function, which are regulated by hormones.
Hormones Are Often The Real Culprits
Hormones are the type of chemicals that send messages throughout the body to coordinate complex processes like growth, fertility, and metabolism. Hormones have the ability to influence the function of the immune system, it can affect energy usage, and even alter a person’s behavior. Hormones can directly affect the way in which the body deals with energy.4 Hormones, in turn, are affected by our lifestyle, such as diet, stress, exercise, mental health, etc.
Energy Usage: It has been found that the most important contribution to the body’s energy usage is provided by the basal metabolism, which is the energy used while resting. This is often regarded as a constant factor, depending on the person’s muscle mass and age. But most people do not take into account the role of hormones. Among the various hormones at play within your body, the thyroid gland has a very important role to play in the usage of energy and the basal metabolism.
Thyroid Hormone Imbalance
The thyroid gland functions differently for each person. This is the main reason why the basal metabolism cannot be regarded as a constant factor.5 The secretion thyroxine (the primary thyroid hormone) is heavily dependent on a person’s stress levels, eating habits, and exercise schedules.
A person with low thyroxine production in the body, a condition known as hypothyroidism, encounters a feeling that makes them eat more than usual and slows down the metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.6 So, to let the thyroid gland function well, you need to have a decent intake of calories. You must also not reduce the consumption of carbohydrates to a great extent as a drastic drop in carbohydrates can send your thyroid hormone off track. Another way you can raise the basal metabolism in the body is by creating extra muscle mass.
Recommended calorie intake: According to the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, between 45 and 65 percent of daily calories for all age groups should come from carbohydrates. The total amount of calories you need each day depends upon your age, gender, height, weight and physical activity level. Adult women typically need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day, while adult men require between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day.
Low Testosterone Affects Muscle Growth And Weight
When you take in energy, you must have the adequate muscle mass to burn the energy. Hormones have been found to be involved in the way by which energy gets stored in the body.7 Testosterone and growth hormone ensures that the energy is stored in your muscle mass. Low testosterone in the body suppresses muscle growth and its maintenance, which leads to weight gain. This hormonal deficiency is more prominent and common in men than in women. In fact, obesity also results in low testosterone production in the body, which then becomes a vicious cycle.8
Low Estrogen Leads To Weight Gain
Estrogen, also known as the female sex hormone, generally drops during perimenopause and after menopause. Low estrogen levels can lead to fat storage and weight gain as the body doesn’t burn calories effectively. Estrogen deficiency also causes leptin insensitivity as proved in animal studies, leading to the intake of more calories and burning less, which results in weight gain.9
Hunger Hormones: Insulin, Leptin, And Ghrelin
Processed food that’s available today, with all its added sugars, flavors, and preservatives can easily upset hormones that affect our hunger and satiation. Insulin, leptin, and ghrelin are the hunger hormones that naturally get impacted and influenced by the eating habits of people. This leads to the intake of more and more calories, leading to weight gain or no weight loss. 10 11 12
Insulin: Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is the fat-storing hormone. Elevated levels of insulin can disrupt metabolism and increase hunger and cravings, leading to weight gain.13
Leptin: Leptin is produced by the adipose tissue or the fat cells in the body and is the hormone of satiety. Leptin-resistant people suffer from weight gain as they do not feel satiated easily and end up taking in more calories. However, more research is needed to prove the role of leptin and ghrelin in obesity.14
Ghrelin: Ghrelin is produced by the gastrointestinal tract and it has been known to regulate appetite. This hunger hormone gets secreted when the stomach is empty. Although it has been found that in obese people, the level of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin is decreased, the role of ghrelin in weight gain is still not clear.15
Cortisol Can Also Affect Your Weight
Stress leads to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Excess cortisol in the body is associated with overeating, cravings, and less satiety. Research has found that stress-induced eating leads to weight gain in people, more so in women.16
Common Symptoms Of Hormonal Imbalance
It is common for hormones to go off balance from time to time. In women, the imbalance occurs during the years leading up to menarche and menopause. To know if you are facing an issue with your hormones, look for these common symptoms:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Low libido
- Digestive issues
- Changes in appetite
- Depression and anxiety
- Hair loss and hair thinning
- Irregular periods
- Heart Disease
- Weight Gain
- Brain Fog
- Decrease Sexual Performance
- Inability to Maintain Muscle Mass
- Heart Disease
How To Tackle Hormonal Weight Issues?
Follow these five lifestyle strategies to balance your hormones effectively:
- Make a diet plan that is hormone-balancing. Eat low-sugar foods, high-fiber foods, and healthy fats. Avoid the consumption of highly processed foods and high-sugar foods from your diet.17 In this way, you will eat healthy, consume lesser calories than usual, and also, keep your gut healthy.18
- Eliminate toxins from the body on a daily basis. You can drink green tea to get rid of toxins, boost metabolism, and regulate insulin levels. This ensures that you maintain a healthy weight and prevent the risk of diabetes.19
- Exercise every day to regulate insulin, cortisol, and thyroid levels and prevent weight gain, diabetes, and heart diseases.20 Regular exercise also keeps the testosterone and estrogen under control. Low estrogen leads to abdominal fat in post-menopausal women, which is why exercising becomes even more important as you age.21 Apart from a healthy diet, exercise is the key to good health as it boosts metabolism as well.
- Limit or avoid the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol induces stress in the body which releases the cortisol in the blood. Elevated cortisol levels in the blood can lead to abdominal fat and weight gain.
- Practice yoga and/or meditation, and get ample sleep. Yoga and meditation are holistic therapies for good health. Practicing yoga and meditating on a daily basis have proved to reduce stress to a great extent. A decrease in stress leads to a decrease in the secretion of cortisol, which helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Regular yoga clubbed with a healthy diet and optimum sleep helps in balancing your hormones.
Remember that one needs to obtain an optimum physical composition in their body with respect to their hormones. Calories, undoubtedly, play an important role, but the gain and loss of weight also depend on how your body responds to the intake, storage, and usage of calories. And this function is regulated primarily by hormones, which are crucial to maintaining good health.
If you think you have some form of hormonal imbalance, it is recommended that you first consult with your doctor for the appropriate treatment.
|↑1||Ahima, Rexford S. “Revisiting leptin’s role in obesity and weight loss.” The Journal of clinical investigation 118, no. 7 (2008): 2380.|
|↑2, ↑11, ↑14, ↑15||Klok, M. D., S. Jakobsdottir, and M. L. Drent. “The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review.” Obesity reviews 8, no. 1 (2007): 21-34.|
|↑3, ↑4||Jung, Chang Hee, and Min-Seon Kim. “Molecular mechanisms of central leptin resistance in obesity.” Archives of pharmacal research 36, no. 2 (2013): 201-207.|
|↑5||Boothby, Walter M., Joseph Berkson, and Halbert L. Dunn. “Studies of the energy of metabolism of normal individuals: a standard for basal metabolism, with a nomogram for clinical application.” American Journal of Physiology–Legacy Content 116, no. 2 (1936): 468-484.|
|↑6||Leslie, R. D., A. J. Isaacs, J. Gomez, P. R. Raggatt, and Richard Bayliss. “Hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid function in anorexia nervosa: influence of weight gain.” Br Med J 2, no. 6136 (1978): 526-528.|
|↑7, ↑12||Meier, Ursula, and Axel M. Gressner. “Endocrine regulation of energy metabolism: review of pathobiochemical and clinical chemical aspects of leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin, and resistin.” Clinical chemistry 50, no. 9 (2004): 1511-1525.|
|↑8||Fui, Mark Ng Tang, Philippe Dupuis, and Mathis Grossmann. “Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management.” Asian journal of andrology 16, no. 2 (2014): 223.|
|↑9||Ainslie, D. A., M. J. Morris, G. Wittert, H. Turnbull, J. Proietto, and A. W. Thorburn. “Estrogen deficiency causes central leptin insensitivity and increased hypothalamic neuropeptide Y.” International journal of obesity 25, no. 11 (2001): 1680.|
|↑10||Konturek, P. C., J. W. Konturek, M. Cześnikiewicz-Guzik, T. Brzozowski, E. Sito, and S. J. Konturek. “Neuro-hormonal control of food intake: basic mechanisms and clinical implications.” Journal of physiology and pharmacology: an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society 56 (2005): 5-25.|
|↑13||Rodin, Judith. “Insulin levels, hunger, and food intake: an example of feedback loops in body weight regulation.” Health Psychology 4, no. 1 (1985): 1.|
|↑16||Epel, Elissa, Rachel Lapidus, Bruce McEwen, and Kelly Brownell. “Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 26, no. 1 (2001): 37-49.|
|↑17||Stanhope, Kimber L., Jean-Marc Schwarz, and Peter J. Havel. “Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: Results from recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies.” Current opinion in lipidology 24, no. 3 (2013): 198.|
|↑18||Badman, Michael K., and Jeffrey S. Flier. “The gut and energy balance: visceral allies in the obesity wars.” Science 307, no. 5717 (2005): 1909-1914.|
|↑19||Liu, Kai, Rui Zhou, Bin Wang, Ka Chen, Lin-Ying Shi, Jun-Dong Zhu, and Man-Tian Mi. “Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 98, no. 2 (2013): 340-348.|
|↑20||Borghouts, L. B., and H. A. Keizer. “Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review.” International journal of sports medicine 21, no. 01 (2000): 1-12.|
|↑21||Irwin, Melinda L., Yutaka Yasui, Cornelia M. Ulrich, Deborah Bowen, Rebecca E. Rudolph, Robert S. Schwartz, Michi Yukawa, Erin Aiello, John D. Potter, and Anne McTiernan. “Effect of exercise on total and intra-abdominal body fat in postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial.” Jama 289, no. 3 (2003): 323-330.|