By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
Unfortunately, weight is mainly controlled by hormones. Studies show that hormones influence everything from how much fat you store, to your appetite, to how much sleep you get each night.
So the ability to influence and control those hormones is extremely beneficial when you are trying to accomplish any type of weight loss goal. But first, you have to understand just how these hunger hormones work.
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that work together to keep your body at a healthy, sustainable weight.
Leptin is the “I’m full” hormone. It basically tells you when to stop eating and makes you feel full. It reduces your appetite as you eat, and when your stomach hits capacity, it tells your brain you no longer need to eat.
Ghrelin does the opposite in your body—it is the “I’m hungry” hormone. Your body makes and releases this in your stomach, so when your stomach rumbles, it’s making you aware that you haven’t eaten in a while.
Leptin and ghrelin theoretically work in tandem, so when one level rises, the other lowers in order to keep a level of homeostasis throughout your day. Unfortunately, there are a few factors that create issues when your body tries to tell you you’re hungry or full. Leptin levels heavily fluctuate depending on how much fat you are carrying on your body. With this in mind, if you have a higher percentage of body fat on your frame, your leptin levels will be higher, which creates issues with your ability to feel full. It’s also possible to create what’s called leptin resistance. If you constantly overeat at every meal, you can develop leptin resistance, which hinders your brain’s ability to register the circulating leptin that is trying to tell you to stop eating. You don’t even know you’re full.
Another complication arises as you lose weight. When you drop the pounds, your leptin levels also drop. This means you also won’t be able to feel full during this phase, either. You end up feeling extremely hungry more often and tend to eat more, potentially causing you to put back on the weight you just lost. Losing weight slowly over a long period of time helps leptin stay stable and allows time for your body to adjust to the changes—patience is key!
Managing your hormones during weight loss might seem overwhelming, but I’m here to reassure you that it’s probably more simple than you think. Sticking to a weight loss program that keeps you losing at a moderate pace will help you keep that leptin from dropping. There are certain ways to manipulate leptin and alter your diet to keep your hormones stable and control those hormones that let you know when you’re hungry.
In order to help your body control leptin and ghrelin, which in turn controls your eating, it’s important you begin to change certain bad habits. This is the trickiest part of your weight loss journey—your hormones will shift as you lose weight, so being aware of this fact as well as implementing the tips below will help you control your eating and lose weight.
Avoid sugar. Sugar impairs ghrelin response after eating, which leads to overeating and overconsumption of calories. If you consume more calories than you need, you will gain weight.
Studies show that getting enough sleep will also help stabilize your hunger hormones. Have you ever slept poorly and then the only thing that sounds good the next day is junk food, carb-loaded food, or sugar? This is because, with lack of sleep, those high-fat, sugary foods affect your brain’s reward center the same way as marijuana does—giving you a case of the munchies.
While avoiding inflammatory foods is great for your overall health and weight loss journey, this also improves leptin sensitivity specifically. Eating foods like fatty fish and limiting your gluten intake is a great way to do this.
If you consistently fill your belly to the brim, this is called overeating and you’re not alone in your struggles to stop eating too much. This is an important habit to master in your weight loss journey in order to begin to mindfully eat and balance your overall diet.
Using smaller plates is your first step to control your meal portions. Studies show that using a smaller plate leads to a 30% reduction in the amount of food consumed. It tricks your body into feeling satisfied because you cleaned the entire plate, but your portion size was smaller, so you consumed fewer calories. America is notorious for over-serving food at restaurants, so if you eat out quite a bit, don’t consume everything on your plate. Try to eat half of what is served to you and take the rest home (You get a 2-for-1 meal deal!).
Another habit you can get into is to drink a full glass of water before eating. Doing this before meals helps give you a sense of fullness, and the likelihood of overeating decreases exponentially.
Being 100% honest with yourself is the first step in getting rid of your bad habits. You cannot address them if you don’t know they’re there. Part of your weight loss journey is becoming aware of your body and its biofeedback. Remember to fuel your body with whole, nutritious foods, and try not to drink calories. Changing these habits will make your weight loss process much more efficient.