We really don’t want to change careers and become endocrinologists, and I’m guessing that you don’t, either. But when we began researching the role that hormones play in not only losing but gaining body fat, we couldn’t wait to share it with you. The latest research is clear: It’s not only our diet and strength training that helps us manage our weight, but our levels of certain hormones — specifically insulin, cortisol and leptin — that can make or break our ability to get lean and stay lean. By simply educating yourself about how to eat so that you consciously optimize the levels of three hormones, you can easily take control of a hidden hormonal powerhouse right inside your own body. Here’s the skinny on the big three that you really need to know:
What is it, exactly? This amazing hormone does a lot for you, but the simplest explanation is that it’s released from your pancreas in response to blood sugar levels to help you store nutrients from the foods that you eat.
Want to gain a lot of body fat? Then you’ll want to keep your insulin levels high all day long. Wondering how you would accomplish this? Easy. Just eat lots of food that turns into sugar the second it hits your mouth. Aren’t sure what these foods are? Think highly processed foods like cereals, cakes, Dunkin’ Donuts and most white carbohydrates, like rice or potatoes. When you reach for these foods, your blood sugar levels skyrocket and as a response, your poor pancreas lets loose a volume of insulin. Your body is now primed to store that food as pure body fat.
Want to lose body fat? Your body can’t burn body fat if your insulin levels are too high. You can train twice a week and do everything else right, but if your insulin levels are high, your body will close the door on your fat cells. The best way to ensure low insulin levels is by – you guessed it — eating foods that trigger a slow and steady release of insulin. Aren’t sure what foods to eat? Piece of cake — check out the quick tips below:
If you ever wondered why some people seem to store all of their body fat in their mid-section, meet the hormone cortisol. Known as the “stress hormone”, cortisol is released by your adrenal gland whenever you perceive that you’re under attack. For people who fall into the “Type A” category, this spells F-A-T S-T-O-R-A-G-E. The reason for this is because your central fat cells, found mainly deep in the abdominal wall, have four times the cortisol receptors on their cell membranes. Each time you stress out, the cortisol-fat mechanism switch gets turned on and your body becomes a fat-storing machine.
Among its many other important functions, what you need to know is that cortisol and insulin hang out together in your body and work as a team to metabolize glucose and regulate insulin. But guess what? When you choose foods that spike your insulin levels, you inadvertently increase cortisol levels in your body. High cortisol causes a corresponding drop in the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which, among other actions, helps to increase muscle mass. More muscle mass means a higher metabolism which scorches fat and reduces insulin. Are you starting to get the picture? Without even realizing it, every time you stress out you start a hormonal tsunami and in the process, shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to gaining lean muscle and losing body fat.
Have you ever been on a diet, hit a plateau and no matter what you do, you can’t lose any more weight? Ever wonder why people who are really fit are often seen eating pizza, drinking beer and never seem to get fat? Allow me to introduce you to a hormone responsible for both scenarios above, and a whole lot more – Leptin. Often referred to as the “satiety hormone,” leptin is released by your fat cells to communicate to your brain two important things: how fat you are and how full you are. But there’s a lot more to the leptin story you need to know if you want to get and stay lean.
Leptin levels are impacted by two main factors: how much body fat you have and how many calories you consume. If you’re eating enough food to maintain your body weight, the amount of leptin you produce will be proportionate to the amount of body fat that you’re carrying. Simply put, your leptin levels will be high. High leptin levels send a signal to your brain that food is abundant and all is well. Your metabolism is stoked and your body’s hormonal environment is downright agreeable to releasing fat stores.
But the minute you decide to lose body fat and restrict your caloric intake, all bets are off when it comes to leptin.
Conventional diets are usually accompanied by a restriction in calories, right? Unfortunately, when calorie consumption drops, so do leptin levels. Within a week, leptin levels can drop by 50% which sends your brain a strong message that you are STARVING. What happens next is that your metabolism slows down and your body creates a hormonal environment that is literally hostile to releasing fat stores. What’s worse is that as leptin drops, thyroid hormone also drops (which is partially responsible for ramping up your metabolism) and cortisol levels skyrocket. (So to make matters worse, you now have belly fat.)
So how do you keep leptin levels high at the same time you’re trying to lose body fat? Simple. You strategically eat high calorie, high carbohydrate food to consciously manipulate your body’s natural leptin levels.
Let’s say you decide you want to lose a few pounds, so you begin restricting your calories by 500 per day. By the fourth or fifth day, a few things are happening: You’re starting to get burned out, leptin levels are beginning to fall and your body is responding by shutting down the fat floodgates. It is now the perfect time to do the smart, strategic thing: EAT. But don’t just dine on a big helping of salmon and broccoli. Research shows that protein doesn’t make leptin levels surge – carbs and fat, do!
Instead, enjoy a burger, baked potato, pizza, ice cream or beer. The secret to making leptin levels soar is in the carb/fat mix. Why is this? Because it seems that leptin, insulin and carbohydrates are a fat-releasing cocktail. The huge insulin rush caused by the high carb meal is just what your body needs to send a signal to your brain that food is plentiful and all is well, thereby swinging the fat floodgates wide open.
If you want to lose body fat, break a plateau or just have some fun, try the following:
Information is power. The simple truth is that if you want to lose body fat, gain lean muscle and actually enjoy a burger and a beer in the process, you can – and now you know why. Unlike so many people who know more about their cell phones than they do their own bodies, you now understand the critical relationship between the food you eat and the hormonal consequences in your body.
And you didn’t even have to go to med school. Who knew?