I've had some clients who have no problem losing weight. It just peels right off and they never see it again. On the flip side, I've had clients who have struggled with weight loss for years (sometimes decades) and the scale won't budge. Our bodies come equipped with a number of different hormones that work as chemical messengers. Two hormones, in particular, leptin and ghrelin, however, often play a very big role not just with weight loss, but appetite control.
Here's how the work and what you can do to get them cooperating better with your body.
Hunger Hormones: How They Work
In a perfect world, the two hormones leptin and ghrelin work harmoniously, dutifully helping our bodies eat when they should, preventing obesity. But with nearly 70% of the world either overweight or obese, chances are these two hormones could be out of whack in your body, especially if you're struggling with weight loss.
Leptin is a satiety hormone. Its purpose is to let your body know when you've had enough to eat. After you finish a meal, leptin sends signals to your brain triggering appetite suppression. If things are working as they should, you should not be triggered to eat again for four more hours (give or take).
The signal that lets your body know it's hungry is called ghrelin. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulant hormone and works on the opposite side of the plate as leptin. This is the hunger hormone that kicks in every four hours. Ghrelin is responsible for fat storage, naturally. But ghrelin also triggers the release of growth hormone from the pituitary gland, which boosts our metabolism and helps us burn fat.
When you eat, ghrelin levels go down and leptin levels begin to rise. This back and forth keeps our body going, regulating appetite and fat storage. But because we humans can never make things easy on our body, those two hormones are frequently mixed up.
When Hunger Hormones Send Mixed Signals
Leptin and ghrelin can be devious when they want to be, but they can be controlled. It's important, though, to understand why they don't act the way they're supposed to.
Naturally, people would think the way to control hunger hormones - especially to lose weight - is to get the body to release more leptin and less ghrelin, right?
Well, it turns out that people who are overweight or obese actually release more leptin than normal-weight people. That's not to say that their ghrelin levels aren't also higher, but the ratio of leptin to ghrelin seems to be higher than their normal-weight counterparts.
It doesn't sound fair, does it? If you're overweight or obese, how can you lose weight if your body is constantly triggering you to eat and store fat?
This is where crash dieting comes in.
I know the urgency to lose weight quickly. You've got a wedding or a vacation or a beach you need to have your body ready for, so you follow a diet that triggers your body to lose weight fast - regardless of what leptin and ghrelin are shouting. You ignore the hunger signals, drop your calories below what you would normally be able to sustain and shed 20, 30, 40 or more pounds in weeks.
You've just made a huge mistake.
When you undereat or lose anywhere over 5% of your bodyweight too fast, ghrelin levels increase along with leptin. It's the rise in the overall ratio that triggers your body to hold onto body fat. This is part of the reason why a majority of people who diet tend to rebound back to their original weight, plus an additional few pounds that they never bargained for.
The best way - always - to lose weight is slow and steady. It sounds boring and painful and definitely won't get you to drop 30 pounds in a month, but it's well worth it.
What Can You Do Today To Control Your Hunger Hormones?
If you're constantly hungry and feel like you can never get enough to eat, take a look at your plate. What do you see? If you're eating mostly refined carbohydrates with very little protein or fat, you can expect ghrelin to come knocking on your door before you wash your dishes.
So what can you do to help control your hunger?
Focus on fat and protein:
Until you get these hormones under control, fill your plate with healthy fats, lean protein, and lots of fiber-rich vegetables. A couple of examples might be:
- 1 egg + 1/2 Avocado + Sauteed Spinach, Onions and Tomatoes
- 1/4 c Old Fashioned Oats + 1/2 c Canned Coconut Milk + 1/4 c Walnuts + Cinnamon
Eat every couple of hours:
Don't wait to be too hungry again. Have a handful of healthy snacks to eat in between meals that your body can benefit from. A couple of examples might be:
- A handful of Walnuts + 1 Square of Dark Chocolate
- 1/4 c Guacamole + Carrots
Working out, especially high-intensity workouts lower circulating ghrelin levels, which is why a lot of people just aren't hungry right after wrapping up at the gym.
Don't crash diet:
If you're following a plan that promises dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time, stop. You might lose the weight, but it will come back again. It's unlikely your hormones will let you off the hook that easy.
How long should it take you to shed the pounds? If you're doing it right, this is what you should aim for:
- 2 - 8 Pounds = 1 Month
- 4 - 16 Pounds = 2 Months
- 6 - 24 Pounds = 3 Months
Why Does Healthy Weight Loss Take So Long?
Think of your body's metabolism as a thermostat. If you have weight to lose and you've been overweight for a while, that's where your thermostat is set. If you manually drop the thermostat too low, it will rebound back. If you dial it down slowly, it will maintain itself.
Weight loss is easiest to sustain somewhere between one and three pounds a week. Usually, the more weight there is to lose, the faster it will come off and vice versa. If you're five pounds from your goal weight, you could be working for a while, but if you need to lose 50 pounds, the first ten could come off no problem in a month!
Regardless of whether you have weight to lose or not, the human body is incredibly resilient and forgiving. Take your time, eat healthy, and move a little more.