Hormones are chemical messengers – we have over 50 different types in our bodies, they tell us when it is time to sleep, speed our heart rate in times of stress, and are also responsible for our metabolism. Understanding how these hormones work can help us take control of our weight and inform us how best to approach nutrition so that we can get the best possible results from our efforts.
Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for our hunger response, skip a meal and your levels will rise causing you to feel as if you are starving. These levels are particularly high in the morning which is why it is vital to eat breakfast, even if it is just a protein shake so that our body realizes we are receiving nutrition. Studies show that a high protein meal lowers ghrelin levels significantly more than meals high in fat or carbohydrates. Aim to get at least 20 grams of protein at each meal to keep ghrelin low after eating.
Leptin is an appetite suppressing hormone, it decreases the feeling of hunger and tells your body that you are full and to stop eating. To raise your leptin levels, focus on eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids especially those foods and supplements containing high levels of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which have been shown to stimulate leptin production. You can find EPA in cold-water fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines or incorporate it as a fish or krill oil supplement. Lack of sleep lowers leptin and increases ghrelin, therefore increasing hunger so making sure to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep is integral.
In addition, sex hormone imbalances, such as those caused by menopause or andropause, can also contribute to weight problems. Having too much estrogen causes weight gain in both men and women, insufficient testosterone levels can do the same. When estrogen levels are not balanced by progesterone levels in women it causes estrogen dominance, so not only are you having difficulty with mood, sleep, and concentration, but also with an increasing waist line. Estrogen can be spiked by diets containing too much sugar, any processed foods, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and some animal products. A healthy gut cultivates healthy sex-hormone metabolism and a flatter stomach. Inadequate levels of dietary fiber or too many antibiotics damage the gut, triggering estrogen spikes as your body cannot properly detoxify or excrete waste. Therefore, it is important to eliminate refined carbohydrates, minimize your sugar and alcohol intake, while increasing your intake of high fiber and high protein foods to attain the best nutrition for balanced hormone levels.
Once you understand how these hormones work, you can make it easier for your body to drop the excess weight. Why starve if it is just going to raise your ghrelin levels and make it harder to resist bad food choices? Instead try to focus on eating a healthy diet of whole foods, that are high in lean protein and fiber with a healthy fat content while avoiding foods high in sugar, unrefined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Healthy body, healthy hormones, healthy weight.
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