So many people needlessly go through life feeling crappy, thinking they have no willpower…
They beat themselves up over giving in to cravings…
And they get stuck on an endless journey to lose weight, feeling powerless to an increasing waist-line the longer time goes on…
Does this sound familiar?
In this guide I’m here to tell you that if you feel like you’re constantly craving sweets, carbs and calories…or that you feel like your willpower caves under the slightest pressure that…
It’s not your fault.
Giving in to cravings and feeling a lack of willpower are NOT a result of YOU or what you DO – they’re not a weakness or a lack of strength – they are simply physiological responses in your body resulting from a hormonal imbalance – and it’s one that is easy to fix – when you understand the nature of the beast.
And if you find it harder and harder to say no as the day goes on, and that your cravings are strongest at night after dinner…this guide is especially important for you.
How Your Weight, Body Fat, Cravings & Hunger Are Controlled By Your Hormones
For decades we’ve been led to believe that if you are overweight it’s because you eat too much, that you need to eat less calories than you burn, and that calorie restriction is the answer.
But this requires massive willpower, fighting cravings, constant hunger, stress and anxiety – and facing a future of constantly watching what you eat…forever.
This is setting you up for massive failure. It basically never works.
The Simple Truth About Weight Loss, Hunger & Cravings
The simple truth is – every single process in your body (including your weight) is incredibly tightly regulated and 90% of the time, it’s regulated by your hormones.
(Which in turn are controlled by your endocrine system including your thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, hypothalamus, pineal gland and more).
Your body temperature, the energy expended by your brain, your stress levels, your feeling tired or awake, detoxification, muscle growth – all of these processes (and so many more) are controlled very tightly by your hormones and the organs and glands that regulate them.
And this is especially true of fat gain, fat retention and fat loss.
If you have gained weight and you’re unable to lose it – your hormones are the reason why.
If you are gaining weight on and on and can’t stop it – your hormones are the reason why.
And if you find yourself constantly hungry, craving sweets and carbs, not able to stop and still feeling hungry – your hormones are the reason why.
The Hormones That Control Your Body Fat & How to Balance Them
If you want or need to lose body fat there are five critical hormones you need to be very aware of:
Generally speaking, for most people 90% of the weight loss battle is due to hormones. Not calories. Hormones.
For the vast majority of people, the consumption of unhealthy, processed, grain-containing, sugar-laden, toxic foods that make up the majority of the standard American/Western diet WILL stuff up your hormonal balance.
This is why people gain weight.
The unhealthy foods that comprise a standard western/American diet such as wheat, sugar, processed foods, trans-fats, fast foods, takeaways, gluten, sugary cereals, excessive dairy, low-fat foods, too much caffeine, alcohol and all of those other things you know are bad for you (alongside a few that most people don’t realise are bad for you such as wheat).
These are all acid-forming, inflammatory, oxidative-stress-causing foods that will completely stuff your hormonal balance.
If you want to lose weight you HAVE to address your hormonal balance.
And while there are dozens of hormones at play, these are the five most important when it comes to your body’s regulation of your weight, fat retention, fat burning and metabolism:
Weight Loss Hormone 1: Insulin
Insulin is an important hormone that controls many processes in the body and when it comes to weight loss, you really need to be aware of and caring for your insulin regulation.
When we eat carbs, gluten containing grains (such as wheat, rye and spelt) and sugars – plus many processed foods – our blood sugar gets spiked dramatically high. When this happens, the pancreas releases insulin in order to clear the excess glucose from the blood.
Then insulin travels around the bloodstream, telling the body’s cells that they need to collect the sugar from the blood stream and so your blood sugar drops back down again.
The higher the blood sugar the more insulin must be released.
And when you keep spiking the blood sugar, the higher insulin levels effectively mean the pancreas has to work harder and harder and the more you do this, the less effective it becomes.
And the less effective it becomes, the more insulin you need to release in order to do the same job…and the more insulin there is, the more of a knock on effect this insulin has on the other hormones and processes in the body.
When the insulin you are releasing is not as effective as it should be, this is known as insulin resistance.
What insulin resistance means is basically that your body’s cells don’t see the insulin signal properly and therefore the pancreas need to make even more insulin.
Insulin resistance is both a cause and symptom of excess weight. When your body has chronically elevated insulin levels, you will rapidly gain visceral fat around your stomach, thighs and butt. This is because one of the main functions of insulin is to tell fat cells to store fat and to hold on to the fat that they already carry.
And the more fat you have around your midriff, the poorer your response will be to insulin, the more inflammatory signals will be sent throughout the body, the more your fat cells will be instructed to stay put (creating a higher level of fat in the body), the more the foods you eat will be stored as more fat…and so on.
It’s a vicious cycle.
And insulin is directly linked in the weight loss journey to another hormone…
Weight Loss Hormone 2: Cortisol
Cortisol is best known as our ‘stress’ hormone or our ‘fight or flight’ hormone and it is well understood by most people that being stressed or facing a stressful situation can cause it to be released into our system.
However, what many people don’t realise is that there are many other dietary and lifestyle factors that can cause our body to release cortisol and that even low levels of elevated cortisol, consistently and over the long term (often dubbed low-grade chronic elevated cortisol) can have absolutely disastrous effects on the body.
In his 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism (all references are below at the end of the guide), Prof. Ian Robey shows how elevated cortisol is a pre-cursor to dozens of degenerative diseases, and is particularly important in the weight gain/loss equation.
(And as an important aside, he also shows how consistent low grade acidosis (pH of 7.37-7.39) results in consistently elevated cortisol – it’s all interconnected and related – eating acidic foods will stuff your cortisol, which impacts everything we’re talking about today…it will cause inflammation, which impacts everything we’re talking about today. Interesting how it is so related.)
So what IS cortisol and where does it come from?
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone) made from cholesterol (yes, cholesterol is important and necessary for human health – a masterclass for another day…) and is made in the adrenal glands
In balance and well regulated (by healthy, well nourished and looked after adrenals), cortisol undertakes SO MANY important tasks in the body – chiefly it regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of carbohydrate, fat, or protein the body needs to meet the demands you put it under (note, this is one of the primary reason people with adrenal fatigue suffer from such exhaustion and lack of energy).
And as we’ve seen when chronically elevated, cortisol can have shocking effects on weight, inflammation, immune function, and risk chronic disease.
We’ve talked about insulin resistance and it’s direct and devastating impact on your body gaining weight. And remembering that when you eat sugary or high carb foods, your blood sugar increases and causes your pancreas to secrete insulin to manage the level of glucose in the blood.
Remember, if it didn’t do this it would be very very bad news for you. You need to love and be appreciative of that insulin.
However, as we discussed, the more frequently you do this, the less effectively your body responds to the insulin, and so you need to produce more and more in order for it to have the same effect – this is called insulin resistance (I know we’ve covered this already but I want to remind you as it can get complex and hard to remember and it’s important to reference now).
How does cortisol fit into this?
If it’s short-term ‘fight or flight’ cortisol, then it doesn’t. There is no problem. But with chronic, long-term elevated cortisol, this causes consistently elevated blood sugar no matter what you eat, think or do. Ongoing elevated cortisol can actually even trigger an increase in blood sugar, further releasing more insulin, compounding the problem even further.
A further knock on effect of this is that consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. But cells that are desperate for energy means that the body will try to regulate this by sending hunger signals to the brain.
This can of course lead to overeating, but not just any foods – it leads to the overeating of those foods that your subconscious (and perhaps conscious!) brain KNOWS are high, quick, easy energy sources – more carbs, sugar and processed foods…which further deepens the problem.
If this isn’t bad enough…cortisol also encourages your body to store visceral fat (just as inflammation does too, as we’ll discover below). Cortisol mobilises triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells.
Visceral fat cells are those under the muscle, deep in the abdomen – yep, belly fat.
And finally (yes, we’re nearly done with cortisol’s damaging effects!) chronically elevated cortisol also has a dramatic effect on appetite and cravings – specifically for high-calorie foods.
Studies have demonstrated a direct association between cortisol levels and calorie intake in populations of women.
It has been discovered that cortisol can directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain (a part of your hormone-regulating endocrine system).
And finally, finally cortisol also influences other hormones known to stimulate appetite and fullness such as…
Weight Loss Hormones 3 & 4: Leptin & Ghrelin
These two hormones are SUPER-important in the weight loss puzzle. Leptin and ghrelin – are affectionately known as the ‘hunger hormones’ or ‘weight loss hormones’ and they are fascinating.
To keep it simple at the outset:
Ghrelin = is the true hunger hormone, it’s the hormone that signals to your brain that you are hungry and you need to eat. Too much ghrelin and you’ll eat more than you need.
Leptin = this is the ’satiety hormone’ or starvation hormone. It’s the hormone that tells your brain you’re full and you don’t need to eat any more. Too little leptin and you’ll never feel full. I say too little, but this is only part of the story as you’re about to discover…
You can see where I’m heading here, but an acidic, inflammatory, standard Western diet of grains, sugar, processed foods, toxins and so on leads to that situation of too much ghrelin and not enough leptin.
You always feel hungry and never feel full.
Always hungry…never full…that’s going to make weight loss a little tricky.
These two hormones are so important so let’s just jump in and look at them in a little more depth…
Ghrelin is a hormone made in the stomach that tends to rise before and fall after meals. Regarded as the only appetite-stimulating hormone in humans, ghrelin is one of the main contributors in giving people the “munchies” to eat unhealthy snacks.
In addition, ghrelin is released directly in response to stressful situations, explaining why so many people have the tendency to eat when they’re stressed (here’s the first link with cortisol!).
By perpetuating cortisol release, ghrelin contributes to weight gain by then returning the favour and stimulating the release of more cortisol – ultimately giving you an almost unbeatable and unrelenting desire to eat.
When I said at the start of this guide that if you feel like you’re always struggling with cravings and feel like you have no will power, this is just one of the reasons why I want you to know that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
When your body and brain are wired this way, you just cannot control or direct it.
And the more ghrelin you have in your system, the hungrier you are. So if you find yourself fighting cravings and can’t seem to stay away from the fridge after dinner, it’s probably due to elevated ghrelin levels.
The hard fact is that ghrelin works directly on the hunger center of your brain by activating the brain’s reward response to highly addictive sweet, fatty foods.
Leptin, on the other hand, is known as the “starvation hormone” because it notifies your brain when you have enough food in your stomach and your energy levels are sufficient.
Because the body produces leptin based on body fat percentage, weight gain causes your blood leptin levels to increase, and weight loss will result in decreased levels. Unfortunately, overweight and obese people are generally “leptin-resistant,” which contributes to further weight gain because they require more food than necessary to feel “full” or satiated.
Leptin was only discovered in 1994, and as you can imagine, when researchers discovered a hormone that could tell people that they’re full – the medical community fell of their collective chairs rubbing their hands with glee. A hormone they could synthetically produce and give to overweight people to tell their brains that they’re full.
A multi-billion dollar space-race to see who could patent it first kicked off…
Only for the research to discover that it is not the amount of leptin in a person’s body that regulated this message of fullness. You can have all of the leptin in the world floating around in your body – but if your brain cannot register it, it’s useless.
I can’t help but smile at this, as a new pharmaceutical ‘easy button’ weight loss pill industry that meant people didn’t have to be healthy, they just needed a pill….died overnight.
The problem is that it’s not a leptin shortage that people have when they are overweight. Leptin is produced in fat cells, so the more fat cells you have the more leptin you actually have. Overweight people actually have an abundance of leptin.
The issue is that the leptin is being blocked at the brain by insulin. If you’re obese you have tons of leptin in your system… but you also have tons of extra insulin, and so the leptin is being blocked.
This happens to the extent that you will be showing all of the physiological markers of starvation – literally – in brain scans the brain would show all of the markers of starvation.
So with impaired leptin signalling the message to stop eating is simply not getting through to the brain, so it doesn’t realize you have enough energy stored.
In essence, your brain thinks it is starving, so you’re driven to eat. The two primary causes of leptin resistance are chronically elevated insulin levels…and inflammation in the hypothalamus. And when the leptin is not reaching your brain – low leptin levels force you to be sedentary and overeat.
Yep, finishing your main meal of the day at dinner and then to sit and eat more on the sofa in front of the TV is largely a hormonal imbalance issue.
Your brain receiving the leptin not only tells you that you have had enough food – but it also tells your brain to encourage activity.
It is so important that we get these hormones balanced and regulated correctly!
Weight Loss Hormone 5: Adiponectin
Finally, let’s touch on adiponectin – which is rarely talked about in the weight-hormone-discussion.
Adiponectin is literally the hormone that tells your body to burn fat for fuel. If you have fat on your body you want to torch – this is the hormone for you!
Many many studies have proven that the more adiponectin you have in your bloodstream, the more fat you will burn.
Research shows that low levels of adiponectin are associated with a higher incidence of obesity.
In the same way that the more fat you have the more leptin, cortisol and insulin you have (or should), the more fat you have…annoyingly…the LESS adiponectin you’ll have.
PLUS, when your body is inflamed (or showing at least one of the main five markers of inflammation) your levels of adiponectin will be considerably reduced.
SUMMARY: THE HORMONES YOU NEED TO BE AWARE OF:
Remember, eating an acidic, inflammatory, toxic standard Western diet of sugar, grains, fast foods, processed foods – the foods you know are not good for you – will raise your insulin levels consistently, causing insulin resistance, which not only leads to significant fat storage, but also blocks leptin (your hormone that tells your brain you’re full) from reaching your brain.
It also increases cortisol, but cortisol is also increased by this acidic diet…and then raises blood sugar that raises insulin! It’s a vicious cycle.
Ghrelin – your hormone that tells you you’re hungry, and leptin – your hormone that tells you you’re full, get totally stuffed by this vicious cycle…and then contribute to it more!
When you’re always hungry and never full you are 1000% more likely to eat sugary, high-carb foods, remain sedentary and kickstart more insulin resistance and elevated cortisol. And the more fat you gain, the less adiponectin you have which tells your body to burn fat as fuel…so the fat remains, not being burned as fuel…
And what’s compounding this? Is that these hormonal imbalances create inflammation in their own right – and inflammation also contributes heavily to weight gain, visceral fat formation and hormonal imbalance.
An Alkaline, Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant-Rich Diet Is The Answer…
The fastest way to rebalance your hormones to enable your brain to receive the correct signals, retrain your body to burn fat as fuel and mobilse fat cells, and let your body know it’s OK to release the visceral fat that is binding up the toxins stored in your body is to:
- Stop or massively reduce your intake foods that are causing the inflammation and imbalances: sugar, wheat/gluten, processed foods, fast foods, ready-meals, sweets, alcohol and excessive caffeine
- Increase the intake of alkaline, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant rich foods daily to help your body to repair and rebalance
I have some links to my other guides that can help with this below.
Live Energized Guides to Eating an Alkaline, Anti-Inflammatory & Antioxidant-Rich Diet
Questions? Ask me below!
Let’s do this together,
References & Scientific Literature
Hall KD, Hammond RA, Rahamandad H. Dynamic interplay among homeostatic, hedonic, and cognitive feedback circuits regulating body weight; American Journal of Public Health; 2014 July; 104(7): 1169-75 (study)
Murray S, Tulloch A, Gold MS, Avena NM; Hormonal and neural mechanisms of food reward, eating behaviour and obesity; Nature Reviews Endocrinology 10, 540–552 (2014) (study)
Robey I, Examining the relationship between diet-induced acidosis and cancer; Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012; 9: 72 (study)
Epel E, Lapidus R, McEwen B, Brownell K. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: A laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001;26(1):37-49. (study)
Lim S, Quon MJ, Koh KK; Modulation of adiponectin as a potential therapeutic strategy; Atherosclerosis. 2014 April; (study
Yang R, Barouch LA; Leptin signaling and obesity: cardiovascular consequences; Circ Res. 2007 Sep 14 (study)
Wing RR, Sinha MK, Considine RV, Lang W, Caro JF; Relationship between weight loss maintenance and changes in serum leptin levels; Horm Metab Res. 1996 Dec;28 (study)
Lustig RH; Obesity, leptin resistance, and the effects of insulin reduction; Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Oct; (study)
Hotamisligil GS, Shargill NS, Spiegelman BM; Adipose expression of tumor necrosis factor-alpha: direct role in obesity-linked insulin resistance; Science. 1993 Jan 1. (study)
Gunnar Engström, Bo Hedblad, Lars Stavenow, Peter Lind, Lars Janzon; Inflammation-Sensitive Plasma Proteins Are Associated With Future Weight Gain; Diabetes 2003 Aug. (study)
Wasko MC, Kay J, Hsia EC, Rahman MU; Diabetes Mellitus and Insulin Resistance in Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Risk Reduction in a Chronic Inflammatory Disease; Arthritis Care & Research; Vol. 63, No. 4, April 2011 (study)
Thaler JP, and Schwartz MW; Inflammation and Obesity Pathogenesis: The Hypothalamus Heats Up; Journal Endocrinology; Vol 151 Issue 9 May 27, 2010; (study)