Hormones and Weight Loss

Often times weight loss feels like a battle of the will. We feel that if only we had the willpower to eat less, we would lose weight. In fact, there are many factors beyond willpower involved in weight loss. At this very minute there is an intricate dance of several hormones occurring within each of us, influencing our hunger levels, our feeling of fullness, and digestion. Let’s review some of these hormones and the role they play in weight loss.

Leptin is a hormone made and secreted by fat cells that tells your brain you’re full. People with a higher body weight become resistant to the effects of Leptin, so these people may experience more physiologic hunger. With leptin resistance, it’s possible your body is feeling hungry even when you don’t need to eat. To combat these misleading hunger pangs and the inflammation that causes leptin resistance, one helpful step you can take is to eat a healthful diet rich in plant chemicals and omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish.

Another hormone involved in hunger is ghrelin. Ghrelin builds up greatly before a meal to stimulate hunger and then falls dramatically after eating. The hormone continues to build after the first sign of hunger, and influences our preference for fat and sugar. What does this mean? If we let ourselves get REALLY hungry, we are more likely to reach for fatty and sugary foods then healthier, and lower-calorie, alternatives. To combat the “gimme fat and sugar” craziness, eat every 3 hours between breakfast and dinner to balance blood sugar and ghrelin levels.

Dopamine is a brain hormone that creates the feeling of pleasure. It rises after consumption of fatty and sugary foods. People with higher body weights often experience a blunted dopamine response. Scientists hypothesize the blunted response causes people to overeat, seeking the same pleasure they once found in food. The good news is, in one study eating a high-protein breakfast increased dopamine levels and satiety compared to a lesser-protein breakfast. In particular, choosing meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, soybeans and peanuts provides tyrosine, an amino acid needed to produce dopamine.

We’ve all heard of the “obesity” genes that scientists are discovering every other month. While there are over 600 genes involved in weight management, any one of them can have a defect that makes it more difficult to lose weight. Some genetic defects predispose us to be more likely to have addictions, like to sugar or food. Others influence the number of fat cells. However, these gene defects are very rare. AND genes do not rule our destinies. It is possible for certain genes not to be expressed with a healthful lifestyle. For instance, exercising causes the gene that increases the production of fat cells to turn off. Adopting healthy behaviors, surrounding ourselves with love, and limiting stress can have a bigger impact on weight loss than the genes we were born with.

For a list of other hormones affecting appetite and weight, see the original article here: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070115p26.shtml

By Cassandra Christopher, dietetic intern

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