‘Maybe you’re hormonal.’
Chances are you have heard this phrase plenty of times. Apart from being incredibly annoying and dare I say it a little bit sexist, it’s also a little misinformed. The truth is that yes, I am hormonal. I am always hormonal. So are you. Hormones are always working in different ways within our bodies and can impact differently people differently. Here are some of chief hormones when it comes to weight management, what they are doing to your body and how you can be friends and not foes.
I decided to do this blog post after chatting with a friend. We have both been on the pill for years and have both recently come off it for one reason or another. Since doing so we have both noticed changes within our body and mind. The culprits? Hormones. Hormones get a bit of a bad rep but they are not bad, they’re actually pretty crucial, but it struck me in that conversation how little some people (including myself) understand them. I can’t offer a definitive answer to all of your hormonal woes because people response so differently. However, I thought I would do a bit of research on some of the hormonal basics when it comes to weight management and how we can be more in tune with our hormones.
The 3 basic types of hormones
Okay, so to get us started there are 3 basic types of hormones secreted from the endocrine glands.
- Amine, which are simple molecules.
- Peptides, which generally form proteins and are made from chains of amino acids.
- Steroids, which are derived from cholesterol
Some key players when it comes to weight management
There are loads of different types of hormones in the body, but here are some of the key players when it comes to weight loss and gain and what they do to your body.
First up, Testosterone. This can be found in the ovaries and the adrenal glands and helps to pump up your muscles, energy and your sex drive. If this fella is going AWOL then you’re probably going to be seeing atrophy of the muscles and potentially weight gain due to a lowering of your metabolism. The sad truth is our testosterone rates lower as we get into our 20’s and can also be impacted by certain forms of birth control. Fear not, we’ll get on to how you can help prevent this.
Next up is Oestrogen. You know when you’ve just finished your second bar of chocolate and are fighting the urge to open the Ben and Jerry’s you know is in the freezer? (Just me? Right.) Well, that’s down to oestrogen. This hormone can be found in the ovaries and is responsible for cravings and your menstrual cycle. Oestrogen has a variety of impacts of your body depending on where you are in your cycle. Just before your period is when you are most likely to succumb to temptation and grab the Phish Food, whereas just before ovulation your appetite is likely to be suppressed. As important as oestrogen is, an imbalance can make weight loss near impossible.
Next up it’s time for Cortisol. Cortisol can be found in the adrenal glands, which are at the top of your kidneys. This bad boy kicks in in the presence of stress or when you’re feeling under threat. It basically provides a burst of energy so you can react to the cause of the stress. Once you have dealt with the stress (aka. finally got past the super slow walker) then your appetite is ramped up. Kind of like a ‘well done you, you made it out alive’. Only problem is you have to replenish the energy, which usually is not much. Therefore it often results in a calorie surplus and we all know what that means… weight gain.
Last but not least it’s time for Leptin. Leptin dwells in the fat cells and is responsible for regulating your appetite and letting you know when you’re full. Sounds great, right? Well, for the most part Leptin is our friends. However, when you lose fat cells you also lose leptin stores. This means that you’re less likely to get the message that you’re full and so you’re more likely to go back for seconds, or thirds or… you get the picture. Basically, it is Leptin that is one of the main drivers for yoyo dieting. Storing extra fat cells isn’t going to help either. Too much leptin and your body becomes leptin resistance. So when it comes to leptin imagine the goldilocks principle – your fat cells need to be ‘just right’. Working alongside Leptin, we have Gherlin. Rather than telling you when you’re full, Gherlin let’s you know when you’re hungry. If you’re eating regularly, this hormone is going to be pretty chill but when you’re trying to lose weight this fella is not likely to be a happy bunny. Gherlin thinks you’re starving. No, no, he isn’t purposely trying to jeopardise your diet dreams he’s just doing what he does best. One study found that overweight adults who lost an average of 30lbs had 20% higher levels of ghrelin in their system than they did prior to slimming.
So, what we do to help?
- Testosterone: Resistance training can be a great way to maintain testosterone levels. According to some studies, cutting back on sugar can also help ensure you maintain decent levels of testosterone as too much sugar can turn off the gene that helps with the release of testosterone in the body.
- Oestrogen: Ensuring you’re eating enough fibre can help ensure oestrogen moves out through your bowels rather than remaining in the body and going back into circulation.
- Cortisol: I hate to admit it but the main energy supply for cortisol is caffeine so it might be time to cut back on the coffee. Also, on a more positive note, a study by the University of California revealed that laughter can reduce your cortisol levels by 39%.
- Leptin: Best way to tame leptin is to avoid fad diets promising quick weight loss. You should also ensure that you get plenty of zinc, which you can get from beans, beef and cashews for example. Another thing I am very bad at, but it really important for getting on top of leptin is slow down with your eating. Eating slower gives leptin time to work it’s magic.
- Ghrelin: Make sure you’re eating often and getting enough sleep. Too little sleep can lead to an increase in your levels of gherlin and consequently lead to you storing more body fat.
Signs of hormone imbalances
Apart from weight loss and gain, there are other signs of hormone imbalances you can be on the look out for.
- Fatigue: Your thyroid, insulin, oestrogen, progesterone, and adrenal hormones can all be involved in fatigue.
- Insomnia: Low progesterone levels are known for triggering insomnia, while low oestrogen levels can cause hot flushes and night sweats that interrupt a restful night’s sleep.
- Low Libido: Hormones can wreak havoc on your sex drive. They can also impact your fertility and menstrual cycle.
- Irritability: Many people might notice changes around certain points in their menstrual cycle. Or, you know, people could just be being really, really annoying.
- Hair loss/thinning: Thinning at the crown could potentially be a sign of disruption of the thyroid , while thinning at the temples is often from low progesterone or oestrogen levels.
These are just a few examples and, of course hormones may not be to blame. If you find yourself struggling definitely go and see a Doctor.
There are many different factors that can lead to changes in your weight and for the majority of us it comes down to calorie input Vs calorie output. However, been aware of what goes on inside our body and how we can work with it in order to be in the optimal health and achieve our goals cannot be a bad thing. I am not hormone expert, but I hope this has helped with the basics. As always I have put my sources down below and remember that if you are in doubt it is always better to be safe than sorry. Now, I’m off to get that tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Until next time.