Calories aren’t the only thing that impact fat loss. Let’s talk about two hormones that can have a big impact on hunger, diet, and appetite.
On the face of it, losing weight is a simple case of mathematics. The accountants and financial officers amongst you will know exactly how deficits work! And whilst it’s true that creating a calorie deficit (by eating less than you expend) will lead to fat loss, we have to remember that we are humans and not spreadsheets.
This is where hormones enter the picture. As human beings, our bodies are governed by hormones, including the “hunger hormones” leptin and ghrelin. Learning about these hormones – and how to manage them – will help you lose more weight, more easily!
Hunger hormones and appetite
Our bodies seek homeostasis, and hormones play a key role in keeping things in balance. Your appetite is just one way that your body attempts to keep things steady. Unfortunately, when you are dieting for fat loss, appetite can be a problem!
If your hunger or appetite has scuppered any previous attempts at dieting, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s completely natural. The key lies in understanding the biological processes behind “appetite” and putting strategies in place to manage them.
How do hunger hormones work?
People often talk about cortisol, testosterone, and insulin as key fat loss (or fat gain) hormones. But the key players are the lesser-known leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin plays the long game, meditating your energy balance by suppressing appetite and therefore food intake. Ghrelin is fast-acting and plays a big role in hunger and regular food intake. (1)
Leptin and hunger
The hormone leptin influences the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that impacts hunger, sleep, mood, thirst and other processes. When you eat, leptin increases to help you feel full. Amazingly, leptin is stored in your fat cells, so as you gain more body fat you have higher levels of leptin, which sends signals to your brain saying “this body needs to eat less food to stabilise its weight”.
But some people can be leptin resistant or have dysregulated leptin production. If you’ve ever kept eating even though you should be full up, this might be part of the issue. But that doesn’t mean game over!
How to help leptin work properly
Eat more whole foods
Fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, pulses and whole grains can help manage inflammation in the body which supports healthy leptin function.
Eat enough protein
Many people don’t eat sufficient protein, but we know it helps with satiety and improves leptin sensitivity. (2) Message me if you’re not sure how much protein to eat or what foods to eat.
Regular exercise improves leptin resistance so your body and brain understand the signals leptin is putting out.
Get good sleep
There are so many health benefits of getting enough restful sleep every night, but managing your hunger hormones is up there with the best!
Ghrelin and appetite
Leptin helps us lose fat by telling us when we’ve eaten enough. But ghrelin can throw a spanner in the works. This hunger hormone is released mainly from the stomach and stimulates appetite, telling us to eat when we’re hungry (and sometimes even if we’re not). It’s the issue of “perceived hunger” rather than true hunger which can cause such a problem when dieting.
And that’s not the only problem with ghrelin. Studies have shown that calorie-restricted diets usually increase levels of ghrelin (3) especially if the diet was harsh or restrictive.
What does this mean for your weight loss journey? It’s yet another compelling reason to diet sensibly with the support of a knowledgeable coach, using a sustainable approach that takes body fat off at a rate your body can deal with.
How to deal with ghrelin
Eat your fibre
A diet high in fibre (especially inulin, which is found in various common fruit and veg including bananas, asparagus, artichoke) can help decrease ghrelin levels.
Eat enough protein
Yes, that advice comes round again when talking about ghrelin. Protein is the most filling macronutrient.
No crash diets
The best way to take control of the ghrelin hormone is by staying off the yo-yo diet merry-go-round. This means adopting a sensible, sustainable approach and not dieting for huge stretches of time. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, find a coach who can help you cycle through stages of calorie deficit and maintenance.
I hope this helps you see that there’s more to fat loss than calories and food choices. My approach to helping clients includes managing food behaviour, lifestyle factors, and these hunger hormones.
Get in touch to discuss a sensible, sustainable way to get the body of your dreams.
‘The number one rated Personal Trainer In Henley and Oxfordshire’
References used in todays blog: