Did you know that sometimes being overweight has nothing to do with calorie intake or lack of exercise? It seems too good to be true, but it’s a fact! For a large number of people who struggle with weight gain, the problem is actually due to nagging little hormones.
The rising and falling levels of hormones control your appetite, cravings, fat storage and more, which makes them crucial components of weight maintenance. By understanding these chemical messengers, you can learn how to control them and avoid significant weight gain.
Leptin and appetite
Leptin regulates appetite by signaling to the brain that you’re full and should stop eating. Levels of the hormone need to be regulated for normal bodily function, because both too much and too little leptin can cause weight gain. When you lose fat cells, usually by dropping weight quickly, the leptin in your body starts to disappear. That means that there’s less of the hormone that signals fullness, so you might keep on eating. At the same time, too much leptin can cause the development of a resistance to the hormone. When you consume excessive amounts of fructose, the body converts the sugar into fat and your levels of leptin increase. And when you have too much of any hormone in your system, the body becomes resistant to its message. With leptin, that means your brain stops responding to the signal that you’re full—commonly resulting in overeating.
Cortisol and stored fat
“The stress hormone” (cortisol) can have a lasting effect on weight gain. When levels of cortisol rise, blood sugar is converted into fat for long-term storage. This is because body fat accumulation was advantageous for our ancestors, who would use these stores to survive stressful times of food scarcity. Since we’re not exactly “hunters and gatherers” anymore, the process is no longer necessary! But the body still relies on stored fat in times of high anxiety. Reducing stress in your life will curb the fat-storing hormones, but of course this is easier said than done. Instead, consider cutting out your daily coffee, which elevates cortisol levels dramatically and causes the body to hoard fat.
Estrogen and fat cells
Of all the chemical messengers, estrogen might be the most detrimental hormone to weight loss. At normal levels, estrogen helps with weight maintenance by producing insulin—a hormone that manages blood sugar. Although your blood sugar rises when you eat, insulin lowers it by sending glucose to your liver, to your muscles to use as fuel, and very little to none towards fat storage. But when your estrogen levels rise, the cells that produce insulin become strained, and you can become insulin resistant. That means that your glucose ultimately gets stored as fat.
Testosterone and metabolism
Testosterone starts to fade beginning in your twenties or when you take certain forms of birth control. This is a problem because testosterone contributes to muscle growth, which can then support a healthy metabolism. Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy, so if yours is out of whack, you’re likely to gain weight. On top of that, levels of testosterone can decrease when we consume toxins in food or even the air. That’s why the risk of weight gain shoots up when we’re exposed to toxins. And the problem is widespread: the CDC found that about 93 percent of the population has measurable levels of bisphenol A (BPA)—a chemical that disrupts various hormones. This means even less testosterone, an even slower metabolism, and even greater weight gain!