We all know that exercise and what we eat play a role in losing weight, however despite often popular beliefs that the balance between “Energy intake through diet vs Energy output through activity and exercise” determines weight loss, it is often not that simple for many of us. Weight management often relies on a variety of hormonal systems to keep everything in balance, and without addressing underlying hormonal balances, reducing food intake and increasing exercise may not be enough alone to lose weight.
Involved in weight loss are a variety of hormones that stimulate metabolism, increase thermogenesis (fat burning), control appetite, balance blood sugar levels, balance reproductive hormones, manage stress and control inflammation and pH levels. Here are some of the hormones involved in weight management;
When we eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (a simple sugar) which is “the body’s main source of energy” (1). Insulin is released from the pancreas when glucose is present in the bloodstream to enable glucose to be transported into the cells to be used for energy (1). When there is no insulin (ie Type 1 Diabetes) or cells do not recognise insulin (Type 2 diabetes), which is known as insulin resistance, cells are not able to receive enough energy for growth, repair or other essential functions (1). When insulin resistance occurs and the body can no longer get its energy from glucose, it begins to store “extra energy in fat cells”, which makes it difficult to lose weight (1). Insulin resistance can also cause high blood sugar levels, hypertension, increased hunger and sugar cravings, increased thirst, poor energy and mood disruptions.
Throughout the day levels of cortisol rise and fall, they rise in the morning when waking and should fall in the evening to allow us to initiate relaxation and sleep (2). Whilst cortisol has numerous functions within the body it has been labeled the ‘stress’ hormone as it is produced in higher quantities in times of stress to initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response (2). Unfortunately in today’s stressful environment cortisol levels are often chronically elevated on a daily basis, which does not allow the body’s relaxation responses to be activated as frequently as it should be (2). Prolonged periods of stress and elevated cortisol levels can make it difficult to lose weight by suppressing thyroid function, causing blood sugar imbalances, increasing inflammation throughout the body, increasing abdominal fat deposits and promoting fat storage (2).