Have you heard the term “hunger hormones?” If you have trouble losing weight and feel hungry all the time, don’t underestimate the importance of three hormones in your body: leptin, ghrelin and insulin.
Leptin and ghrelin regulate appetite. When we get hungrier, we tend to eat more. When we eat too much for our body’s needs and ability to properly metabolize nutrients, or when we eat too much unhealthy food, we can become overweight or gain weight back.
Leptin decreases hunger and is secreted primarily in fat cells. It usually correlates to fat mass — the more fat you have, the more leptin you produce. Ghrelin increases hunger and is secreted primarily in the lining of the stomach. Both hormones activate your hypothalamus and both hormones and their signals get messed up with obesity.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help balance blood sugar and get glucose into your cells. The stronger your cravings and the higher your diet is in sugars, the higher the insulin levels are. This makes it much harder to lose body fat and contributes to the vicious cycle of imbalanced hormones.
How Does Leptin Affect Your Hunger and Weight Loss?
Leptin is an important hormone, which stimulates metabolism, reduces appetite and signals the body to burn fat. It’s known as the “starvation hormone” because it notifies your brain when you have enough food in your stomach and your energy levels are sufficient. At your ideal set point weight, adipose cells produce a given amount of leptin, which maintain the internal energy balance needed for necessary cellular function and proper weight management.
Leptin’s main role is to tell the brain how much energy is on hand and how much may be needed. Leptin is highest after a meal, when it tells the hypothalamus to reduce food intake. Because it is secreted by body fat, leptin levels generally rise in proportion to total body fat mass. Women tend to have higher leptin levels than men thanks to their higher body fat percentage. Studies suggest leptin increases during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle due to the effects of estradiol and progesterone.
When a surge of leptin is prolonged, the brain receptors designed to receive the message become desensitized or resistant to leptin and are no longer able to respond to the signal. Despite the excess of leptin the person with leptin resistance actually suffers from symptoms of low levels of the hormone. The overweight person may be feeling hungry more often and store fat too readily. Instead of feeling satisfied, his / her brain instructs the body that it needs more food. It’s a vicious cycle.
Decreasing the factors that cause leptin resistance and inflammation is essential, as is decreasing fat mass. You can start by avoiding excess fructose since this might induce leptin resistance. Additionally, you can avoid refined foods, sugars, GMOs, industrial vegetable oils, conventional, industrial dairy, and meat. Don’t skip meals to keep your blood sugar balanced, get enough sleep, remove environmental toxins, spend time outdoors and choose high intensity and weight lifting exercises.
How Does Insulin Affect Your Hunger and Weight Loss?
Insulin resistance is similar to leptin resistance and they also share common signaling pathways. Insulin resistance occurs when there’s lots of insulin being produced for too long (for example, with a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrate), but the body and brain have stopped “listening” to insulin’s effects.
Consistently, high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. One way to regulate this is to send hunger signals to the brain, which leads to overeating. The unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.
People with insulin resistance feel tired most of the day and especially after meals, they are hungry all the time, have sweet cravings, which usually are not relieved after eating sweets, and might feel continuously thirsty.
How Does Ghrelin Affect Your Hunger and Weight Loss?
The hormone ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone that plays a vital role in meal initiation and contributes to weight gain. It tends to rise before and fall after meals. Being an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin is also one of the main contributors to cravings. In addition, it’s released directly in response to stressful situations, explaining why so many people have the tendency to eat when they’re stressed.
Other hormones play an important role in your weight loss too! Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function) and imbalances in sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) are also common causes of an inability to lose weight, in addition to muscle loss, poor sleep, memory problems, and sexual difficulties. Find a doctor who can help properly assess the functionality of all these hormones and make sure all factors to losing stubborn weight are uncovered!