They affect cravings, metabolism and your ability to maintain your weight. Here’s how to make them work in your favor.

As your body’s master chemicals, hormones can have a profound effect on your emotions, appetite and metabolism. It’s easy to blame the occasional mood swing or candy craving on your hormones.  After all, your body is being told what to do by your hormones.

However, weight-loss specialists are still divided over how much impact your hormones actually have on your waistline; ultimately it is you that makes the choice between fresh cherries and Cherry Garcia. But scientists say the following are six weight-related areas in which hormones do play a definitive role. Knowing what they are, and how you’re affected by them, can help ensure that your weight-loss plans stay on track.

1. Your appetite

Your pancreas produces two main appetite-regulating hormones:  insulin and glucagon. When you eat, your pancreas pumps out insulin, which helps transport nutrients into your cells for use as energy. It also tempers your desire to eat. When you don’t eat, or when you exercise for an extended period of time, your pancreas produces glucagon, which triggers the breakdown of stored energy sources and makes you feel hungry. Although insulin is generally an appetite suppressant, it can turn on you if you consistently fail to eat a balanced diet. “Eating erratically or consuming sweets in excess can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and a quick corresponding rise in insulin; such surges actually stoke appetite, creating a desire for more sugar,” says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fight Fat After Forty (Viking Press, 2000). In other words, if you eat a lot of highly processed carbohydrates, the increased insulin output may make you hungrier—for cookies, cakes and candy. “However, eating foods that are high in fiber and protein slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream, which normalizes the insulin response,” explains Dr. Peeke.

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

Know when you are the hungriest and plan your meals and snacks to coincide with those moments – after a workout or during your mid-afternoon energy slump. (A food diary can help you pinpoint these times.) Choose foods that make you feel full while also providing nutritional sustenance. Load up on vegetables and protein (extra-lean beef, seafood or poultry) and use a small amount of fat (salad dressing, reduced-fat cheese, olive oil) for satiety. For a snack, combine a piece of high-fiber fruit with a serving of protein.

2. Weight gain

Consistently overeating creates a vicious cycle: Your pancreas produces more insulin in response to more food. As you put on pounds, still more of the hormone is needed. Large fat cells can become resistant to insulin, so your pancreas needs to pump out more and more of it. Research consistently shows that chronically high insulin levels cause cravings for carbohydrates. Even worse, insulin resistance can ultimately lead to Type 2 Diabetes, a deadly disease that has reached epidemic proportions among children. Age also reduces cellular response to insulin; researchers suspect that this is one reason women gain weight as they get older. Although decreased activity plays a distinct role, insulin resistance may also be a factor.

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

It’s critical to balance what you eat with how often you exercise in order to prevent weight gain. Eating a healthy diet and exercising (briskwalking or bike riding) at least 30 minutes a day five days a week can help improve insulin sensitivity.

3. Stress eating

In response to high-stress situations, your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, which ensures that you have the fuel you need to fight off a barbarian, flee from a tiger or just get through a crazy deadline at work. Without it, your body would be unable to sustain the high state of alertness required under intense pressure. Unfortunately, cortisol also boosts cravings for simple carbohydrates and fat – concentrated sources of calories that are easily converted into usable energy. In fact, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that women who secreted high levels of cortisol ate more and showed a preference for foods that were packed with sugar and calories. But here’s the really bad news: Chronic stress puts your body into cortisol overdrive and that turns your flat abs into flab. A high cortisol output gives you a spare tire, says Dr. Peeke. “Because abdominal fat is close to the liver, it can be quickly mobilized to fuel large muscle groups.” Coincidentally, a larger waistline also puts you at risk for insulin resistance.

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

Daily exercise inhibits an overzealous cortisol response and reduces the effects of stress in general. Increase your activity to at least 30 minutes five times a week – the minimum the government recommends for optimal health. Also, develop a stress-reducing plan – an after-work pedicure, walk or yoga class. Taking time to relax helps boost the production of beta-endorphins, chemicals that inhibit cortisol production.

4. PMS cravings

They’re not just in your head. Normal fluctuations in the hormones progesterone and estrogen during the weeks before your period do create cravings for chocolate, sweets and salty snacks. In fact, in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that women consume more during the 10 days after ovulation. “It’s your body’s way of triggering energy storage in anticipation of the added metabolic demands of pregnancy,” explains Dawn Jackson, R.D., a Chicago-based dietitian.

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

Don’t deprive yourself. “If you fight your cravings, they’ll only come back with a vengeance,” she says. However, going overboard can fuel negative emotions such as guilt, which nobody needs dur-

ing a bout of PMS. Use your good judgment and shop around for portion- controlled treats: a single wrapped chocolate, a one-ounce bag of baked chips or an ice cream sandwich.

5. Your womanly shape

“Estrogen is a sex hormone that helps pad the hips, thighs and lower abdomen with fat stores in anticipation of pregnancy and motherhood,” says Judith Reichman, M.D., a gynecologist with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Studies show that weight gain is also a possible minor side effect of the use of oral contraceptives, which contain synthetic estrogen.) These fat stores not only protect a growing fetus but also fuel the production of sex hormones throughout your life, helping to regulate your menstrual cycle. Cursing your curves is a futile exercise. “Your shape is mostly determined by genetics,” says Dr. Reichman. In fact, striving to achieve a super-slim silhouette if it’s not your genetic destiny can be detrimental to your health. “Compulsive exercise and excessive calorie restriction can curtail estrogen production, which hampers your sex drive and ability to conceive,” says Dr. Reichman.  “It may also put you at increased risk for osteoporosis.”

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

If your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or above, you are at risk for major chronic illness like heart disease and cancer, and you should consider embarking on a weight-loss plan. But don’t take it too

far; a BMI below 18.5 places you at risk for bone deterioration. {Link to site article} (Find out your BMI at activehealthywell.com.)

6. Weight maintenance

New research has revealed that maintaining your weight loss after dieting may not be a matter of willpower. In fact, a hormone called ghrelin makes it more difficult to stay at a healthy weight once

you reach it. Ghrelin is a potent appetite booster and, in a cruel twist of fate, dieting seems to spur it into action – a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that diet-induced weight loss can cause ghrelin levels to jump as much as 24 percent.

OUTSMART YOUR HORMONES:

Despite the obstacle that ghrelin presents, regain isn’t inevitable, according to Anne Fletcher, R.D., author of Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from People Who Have Lost Weight and Kept It Off (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). In her interviews with more than 100 people, Fletcher noted that a positive outlook plays a key role in preventing’ rebound pounds. In fact, researchers with the National Weight Control Registry, a database of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for at least a year, have found that successful weight maintainers are less likely to indulge in negative thoughts regarding their weight. The majority of Fletcher’s subjects had other factors in common too. They monitored their weight at least once a week, kept track of their diet, ate portion-controlled low-fat foods, refused to give in to judgmental self-talk, viewed their new eating habits as permanent and exercised on a regular basis.

Other hormones that regulate weight

Cortisol

Often, hard-to-budge weight is a symptom of a hidden medical problem. You could have hypothyroidism (sluggish thyroid function), a condition that slows down your metabolism and makes it tough to lose weight, or Cushing’s disease, characterized by high levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood. A glut of cortisol triggers weight gain, mostly in the trunk and face.

Ghrelin-Leptin

Within the past few years, science has linked our ravenous appetites to genes and hormones. Among the hormones that fuel these urges are ghrelin and leptin, known as the “hunger hormones.” Ghrelin is produced mostly by cells in the stomach lining. Its job is to make you feel hungry by affecting the hypothalamus, which governs metabolism. Ghrelin levels rise in dieters who lose weight and then try to keep it off. It’s almost as if their bodies are trying to regain the lost fat. This is one reason why it’s hard to lose weight and maintain the loss.


Sources: Hormones: Are they the cause for your weight gain?

Fitness, How Not to Die, Women’s Hormones, Women’s Moods


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Christy is a Certified Wellness Coach and has a passion for empowering and educating individuals. She has over 10 years experience in the Health and Wellness industry and continues to pursue health and wellness activities through weight training, aerobics, and dance. Connect with us on our Google Plus Page Active. Healthy. Well.