On my blog I post a lot of recipes that are healthy and help restore or maintain a balance in your metabolism but also in your hormones. And I believe it’s important to have a little understanding on how our body works with hormones, which I will do my best in explaining here.
When you think of hormones, you often think of the hormones of the reproductive system such as estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone. They make a man a man and a woman a woman. They ensure that we transform from a child to an adult. But our body also produces hormones for other processes in our body. In this post I will mainly focus on the hormones that influence our weight and metabolism.
Hormones are messengers that pass on information to activate or turn off various processes in the body. They are transported from the glands in the bloodstream to tissues and organs. They affect processes such as feeling happy, feeling sad, putting you to sleep, waking up, feeling relaxed, feeling cheerful, activating the immune system, being hungry, feeling full, and so on. Every experience you have in your body is influenced by hormones. When all our hormones are in the right balance, our body works optimally and we can experience good health.
Why eating fewer calories to lose weight doesn’t work
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve probably followed a calorie restricted diet and have been told that to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories and exercise more. Only to eventually come to the conclusion that this is very difficult; you feel constantly hungry and lose little or no weight at all.
The reason the ‘eat fewer calories to lose weight’ approach doesn’t work is this: it doesn’t take into account the endocrine system, especially the fat-burning and fat-storing hormones.
These hormones are activated and turned off by macronutrients and external factors such as lifestyle and exposure to toxins. So to lose weight, we need to adapt our diet AND lifestyle to these hormones so that you can burn fat instead of storing it.
Hormones that store and burn fat
There are 3 hormones that are involved in storing fat:
Insulin is one of the most important hormones in weight loss. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and ensures that we have a stable blood sugar level. Insulin acts like a key, opening the body’s cells so that glucose can enter the cells and produce energy. Glucose is raised most by the macronutrient: carbohydrates, and a little by protein. Fats respond minimally to increasing insulin. To keep insulin levels under control, you need a diet low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and high in fat.
When too much glucose enters the blood, by eating (processed) foods high in carbohydrates, the pancreas has to produce a lot of insulin. This causes the cells to become saturated with glucose and shut down to prevent too much glucose from entering the cell. The key (insulin) to open the cell no longer fits on the door (the cell). This is also called insulin resistance. The excess glucose has to go somewhere, and since fat cells have a large storage space, it is stored here. Result: more fat storage and weight gain.
Cortisol or also called our ‘stress hormone‘ is produced by the adrenal gland when we experience stress. When we find ourselves in a situation when we are stressed (and go into fight or flight mode), cortisol causes us to burn stored sugars, raise blood pressure, reduce inflammation, lower reproductive hormones, decrease white blood cells and thus lowers the immune system. And while short-term stress can be beneficial to our bodies, most of us are in a constant mode of stress (chronic stress) from our job, traffic, watching bad news, being overloaded with information on social media, etc. When cortisol levels are chronically too high, other processes (hormone activation) are put on hold and we start storing fat instead of burning it. So it’s important to often have moments of peace and calm, away from stressful situations.
Estrogen is known as a female hormone because it is mainly produced by the ovaries. Men also produce estrogen, but in smaller amounts in the testicles. Estrogen can be divided into 3 different hormones (E2: estradiol, E3: estriol and E4: estrone), each type of estrogen is produced at different age phases (in menopause E4) or when a woman is pregnant (E3). When estrogen is overstimulated, other hormones are lowered and this hormone can dominate. This is sometimes referred to as estrogen dominance. An excess of estrogen is stored in the fat cells.
An overproduction of estrogen can be caused by:
- Eating foods that contain soy. Soy mimics estrogen in the body.
- Heating food in plastic with BPA. BPA is a substance that is released when plastic is heated and can end up in the food. BPA also mimics estrogen.
- Eating meat products from animals that have been injected with hormones.
- Use of contraceptive pill.
- Use of harmful beauty products or cleaning products that contain substances that mimic estrogen in the body.
So go for quality food without soy, eat warm food on a glass plate, go for organic grass-fed meat, ask your doctor about other contraceptives that do not affect the hormones and use beauty and cleaning products that contain natural ingredients. Eating cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, etc. also help to balance out estrogen by producing Diindolylmethane (DIM).
After optimizing the hormones that store fat, you can also do some things to optimize the fat-burning hormones.
There are 6 fat burning hormones:
- Human growth hormone (hGH)
- Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)
- Thyroid Hormones (T3 & T4)
Human Growth Hormone (hGH)
Human growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland in the brain and ensures that cells are made. It mainly helps us to grow from a baby to an adult, the creation and repair of new and old cells, influences body composition and metabolism. People with low growth hormone store more fat than they burn. The amount of growth hormone we produce decreases with age, which means that most people become overweight later in life.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to boost growth hormone:
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting stimulates the production of growth hormone.
Maintain stable blood sugar / low insulin
Stable blood sugar is the result of optimal insulin action. Optimal blood sugar levels are between 70mg/dl – 100mg/dl.
High Intensity Training
Growth hormone is stimulated when doing an intense sports session where all muscles are used and after the session you can say “Wow, that was an intense workout”. Be especially careful not to overtrain.
A good sleep pattern
Growth hormone is mainly produced during sleep, when the body starts to recover, since growth hormone repairs and produces old and new cells. Sufficient sleep is therefore crucial in optimizing growth hormone.
Insulin-Like Growth Factor
Insulin-like growth factor is produced by growth hormone from the pituitary gland and is forwarded to the liver, where it is converted to insulin-like growth factor by the liver. This hormone is therefore an extension of growth hormone. It helps determine whether your body will use fat for energy or sugar (glucose). When insulin is high, this hormone is turned off and the body starts burning sugar instead of fat. When the insulin is low, through a ketogenic diet for example, this hormone is activated and the body starts to burn fat.
Thyroid hormones are produced in the thyroid gland located in the neck. The thyroid hormones play a role in metabolism, regulating body temperature, energy production and mood. There are two different types of thyroid hormones. T4, the inactive form and T3 the active form. T4 is first produced and later converted to T3 by the liver, kidney and gallbladder. When these hormones are out of balance, the body will store fat instead of burning it and vice versa. The thyroid gland can be overactive or too slow. Iodine helps create T3 and can be found in a seaweed supplement. If your gallbladder has been removed, a supplement such as digestive enzymes and ox bile can help in the production of T3.
This is a hormone you’ve probably heard of. It is stimulated by intensity training, anxiety and stress. Adrenaline causes the fat cells to produce energy and you are alert. When this hormone is produced, cortisol is also produced, which in turn can store fat. It is therefore important to find the right balance between intense sports or a short-term stress situation and recovery, relaxation of longer duration in order to optimize these hormones.
Testosterone is also a hormone that is more well known. When you think of testosterone, you probably picture a lot of muscular macho men, and it’s also the hormone that makes a man a man. Testosterone is produced in large amounts in the testicles in men, and in much smaller amounts in the ovaries in women. The adrenal glands can also produce small amounts of testosterone.
Testosterone is responsible for building muscle, strong bones, deep voice and male hair growth. Low amounts of testosterone can lead to bone loss, muscle loss and fat storage.
Testosterone is naturally produced during strength training, sufficient vitamin D, zinc, sufficient sleep and little stress
Glucagon sounds pretty much the same as glucose, but it isn’t. It is produced by the pancreas, does the opposite of what insulin does and is activated during intense exercise that uses all muscles. This mainly concerns exercises that increase the heart rate, such as aerobics, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), spinning, etc. Be careful not to go too far with this. It’s about balance, and excessive exercise can suppress this hormone again. So you can do a high effort workout of 20 minutes a few times a week but leave enough room for your body to recover.
When it comes to fat burning and weight loss, it’s not just about calories, it’s about stable blood sugars and an optimal balance of hormones. The hormones are influenced by what we eat and a calorie is not just any calorie. 500 calories in carbohydrates will raise blood sugar a lot more than 500 calories in healthy fats. This will determine whether we are going to burn or store fat.
Not only what you eat has an influence on your hormones and determines whether you will store or burn fat, but your lifestyle also plays a major role. When you live in constant stress and are surrounded by hormone disrupting chemicals, it will be difficult to get your body into fat-burning mode.
I have done hours of research on this topic but keep in mind that I’m not a doctor, so don’t use this post as a diagnosis or treatment.
This post is informational and helped me greatly in how I work with my body and nutrition, so I hope this post also helped you in any way of understanding a bit of how you can optimize your body to create happy hormones.
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