Hormones and weight gain: insulin and leptin
I’m sure you've heard people saying that weight is affected by hormonal changes. Hormones do indeed play an important role in regulating our diets and assimilating nutrients into our systems.
But do hormones make you fat? Hormones, on their own, definitely do not.
Hormones carry out important tasks and they are influenced by food, which is fuel for the body. If the fuel is low quality or consumed in the wrong quantities then hormones will react accordingly, often in an adverse manner.
I will focus today on two important groups of hormones: insulin and leptin. What are the objectives of these hormones? How do they affect the processes in your body? What can you do to help them work the way they are supposed to?
Insulin is a hormone produced by our bodies to provide proper functionality of organs and tissues. It is produced by the pancreas.
Insulin is very important in your body. When you eat, food breaks down into nutrients. Protein breaks down into amino acids. Fat breaks down into fat acids. Carbohydrates into glucose, etc. These nutrients are then transported into the bloodstream. Then, insulin helps to transport nutrients into muscles and fatty tissues. It gives the order, “Open the doors and assimilate!’
If this happens correctly and the nutrients are assimilated, then insulin levels should drop back down to normal. The same process happens every time you eat.
However, if you constantly eat too much food and feast on sweets, then cells in your body may develop ‘insulin repletion’ or insulin resistance. The probability of experiencing insulin resistance increases significantly if your diet is frequently rich in sugars, refined carbohydrates (such as pastries, cakes, candies, etc.) and fast food. Insulin resistance is a very dangerous condition that can lead to serious illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
How to keep your insulin level within healthy limits
Avoid completely (or at least minimise) your sugar intake. Also, glucose and fructose, which raise insulin levels in the system, can also lead to developing insulin resistance when consumed excessively. These substances should be avoided.
Avoid refined carbohydrates. Replace pastries and cakes with quality carbohydrates, and consume them in the right amounts. To make healthy food choices a lot easier, the Dietless App nutrition plan contains all the necessary calculations for your everyday carbohydrate limits.
Consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. For example, fatty fish (like mackerel) helps to lower and stabilise insulin levels.
Consume magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is often observed in people with high insulin levels. Consuming foods with magnesium can help to stabilise insulin.
Drink green tea. Studies on the effects of green tea have observed a positive effect on lowering blood sugar and insulin levels. It certainly doesn’t hurt to replace coffee with green tea.
Leptin is produced by the body’s fat cells. This hormone reduces appetite and makes you feel full.
Leptin can be labelled as a ‘mediator’ or an ‘operator’ because its purpose is to communicate with the hypothalamus – the part of your brain that regulates appetite and the amount of consumed food.
Leptin notifies the brain that you have stored enough reserves of fat, which prevents over-eating and unhealthy eating.
Obese and overweight people have an abnormally high level of leptin. It’s often 4 times higher than that of healthy weight people. If leptin balance is off and the system is not working as it should, the person has developed ‘leptin resistance.’ That means the leptin signalling system is paralysed and the message ‘stop eating!’ will not reach the brain. The person does not understand that the stomach is already full and that eating should be stopped.
A malfunction in this signalling system can also create the yo-yo effect, wherein regardless of a strict diet, you can’t actually manage to lose any weight. The body stays the same weight, or even worse, more weight-gain occurs thereafter. This is what happens when you try to limit your diet abnormally through severe calorie restriction. Leptin levels drops too low which signals to your brain that you’re starving, forcing you to eat more.
That’s why it’s difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the short-term results of dieting with the wrong eating habits.
How to improve leptin’s ability to work
Avoid acidic food. Foods that are usually acidic include junk food, traditional sweets, salty foods with lots of additives. This includes convenience foods and sweetened drinks.
Eat less alkaline food. Eat as much natural produce as you can and, if possible, make your own food. The Dietless App offers hundreds of exciting and tasty recipes that help you make healthy choices.
Exercise regularly. Moderate and regular exercise also improves the work of leptin.
Get enough sleep. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough have lower levels of leptin, resulting in increased appetite.
You are in control
Hormones can only function according to how they are orchestrated. Guess what, it is you that plays the conductor! You can affect your bodily functions significantly with your lifestyle and choices. That’s why I recommend that you consider your options carefully.
It’s always easier to prevent the problems than to deal with the consequences.
Erik Orgu – Founder of Dietless
About Erik Orgu
Erik is a nutritionist, personal coach and dietary advisor – and the author of Dietless by Erik. His meal plans have helped thousands of people lead healthier lives. On this blog he writes about what he has learnt along the way.Write to Erik