The formula for fat loss isn’t much more complicated than 2 + 2. Eat fewer calories than you burn, throw in some resistance training to help retain lean muscle mass, and you’re losing fat…right?
Unfortunately, no. If fat loss were that simple, we’d all be shredded. The body has a lot of processes and mechanisms in place that not only effect if we lose fat, but how fast and how efficiently.
One of those processes are our hormones. The body has a number of hormones that affect everything from fat loss, to muscle growth, to our basic bodily functions. And when it comes to fat loss, if certain hormones aren’t functioning as they should, it can make fat loss very difficult.
Here are four hormones that are affecting your fat loss and how to optimize them to work in your favor…
Insulin works as an energy storage hormone. It tells the body to either store the energy as glycogen in the muscles for immediate use, or in fat cells for use later.
However, insulin turns against us if we have too much in our system too often. We then become insulin resistant and the body doesn’t store energy as efficiently, leading to more fat storage.
Insulin resistance comes from not just from consistently eating a high carb diet, but overeating in general.
Make it work for you: Insulin is essential for proper nutrient utilization so we need to make it work in our favor and increase our sensitivity to it. Reducing (not eliminating) your intake of carbohydrates, as well as not over-eating, will make your body more sensitive to insulin.
After insulin, Leptin is probably the second biggest player when it comes to hormones that affect fat loss, and some believe it might even be the most important.
Leptin is produced in the fat cells and works by sending signals to your brain when you have enough fat stored, and you don’t need to eat anymore food. The more fat you have, the more leptin you produce.
However, just like insulin, too much leptin can make you resistant to its effects. This happens when you have too much fat that the leptin signals stop getting sent to your brain. When this happens, the body thinks it’s starving, and activates feelings of hunger and increases your appetite.
Make it work for you: It’s not all gloom and doom with leptin. To avoid leptin resistance, don’t allow yourself to add too much body fat. If you’re someone who is trying to lose body fat, and you have been in a caloric deficit for over two months, it may be beneficial to add in refeeds or ‘cheats’ to your diet 1-2 times per month like I discussed in this article.
Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for making us feel hungry. The less food you eat – like when you’re trying to lose fat – the more ghrelin your body produces as a response. It doesn’t know (or care) that you’re trying to lose fat; your body is hungry so it wants food.
Make it work for you: You’re never going to be able to completely eliminate feelings of hunger, but you can minimize it by eating foods that take longer to digest, such as proteins and high fiber veggies. Getting adequate sleep helps as well. Not getting enough sleep increases the body’s release of ghrelin. This is often why you feel hungrier after a poor night’s sleep.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and is released in times of elevated stress levels. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. The release of cortisol helps prepare your body to handle the stress at hand.
Chronically elevated levels of cortisol however are not good for the body. Not only does it prevent fat burning (specifically belly fat), it makes it easier for the body to break down muscle tissue.
Elevated levels of cortisol are also associated with elevated levels of ghrelin, which is why your appetite increases in times of high stress.
Make it work for you: Cortisol is manageable by managing the stress in your life. Do things that relax you like reading, meditate, walking; get more sleep, exercise, and cut back on alcohol can all help manage cortisol. To learn more about sleep and fat loss, check out this article.
While a caloric deficit is (and always will be) the number one factor in losing fat, your hormones do play a role. Being aware of the roles they do play, and how to optimize them will help you maximize your fat loss.
Want to learn more about everything fat loss, muscle building, and fitness? Check this out!