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Hunger Hormones

By Virginia Eaton —

There are three hormones in your body that you should be concerned about if you are trying to lose weight: insulin, leptin and ghrelin. The names sound like a cast of Disney characters, but don’t be fooled; these three hormones are critical to managing a healthy weight.

Most people have heard of insulin but may not be quite sure the role it plays in managing weight. Here’s a simplified version of a very complex process: insulin manages the body’s level of sugar that floats through the blood by ushering glucose into the cells to sustain them, so they in turn can sustain you. If your cells don’t need the energy at the moment, the other job of insulin is to take that extra energy and store it in fat cells, plumping them up. Insulin is so busy storing energy, the presence of insulin also signals the body to stop burning energy — meaning, slow the metabolism of fat down to nothing. This is not the situation we want if we are trying to lose weight.

Leptin and ghrelin, on the other hand, are the lesser-known hormones that play a vital role in telling you to eat or to stop eating. Leptin lets you know that you are satisfied and don’t need to eat any more, whereas ghrelin is the growling tummy, “gotta eat right now” hormone. These two hormones are the new kids on the block, and researchers are still figuring out the role they play in gaining and losing weight. What they do know is, when you are obese you are often leptin resistant, which means your body is getting a message saying that it’s had enough food, thank you very much!

Washing_bell_peppers- By U S  Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Levin Boland Public domain via Wikimedia CommonsMaintaining a healthy balance of all three of these hormones will make losing weight and then keeping it off much easier. To that end, rather than counting calories, think about how to nurture a hormone balance that allows your body to naturally manage your weight. You should eat real food that is low in sugar and ‘bad’ fats and you should eat often; every two to three hours, fuel your body to forestall that “starving” feeling. Once that “starving” feeling has kicked in, watch out! You can consume a lot of calories before the satisfaction hormones take effect.

Sleep also has an important effect on these hormones. Many years ago, I was working the nightshift as a psychiatric nurse and my body just couldn’t adjust to sleeping during the day. I was chronically sleepy and simultaneous “starving.” I could feel myself adding on the pounds but unable to control it. Researchers are now discovering that the duration of good sleep is related to the amount of leptin coursing through your system.

Our bodies have a very complicated system for making sure we have the energy we need and, traditionally, the way that we have gone about losing weight has ignored this delicate balance. Stop thinking only about the calories you put in your mouth and think about how to provide your body what it really needs to have a healthy weight. Bottom line? Eat well, sleep well, and your body will thank you!

Virginia Eaton is the owner of Class: The Body Pastiche

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