How Hormones Impact Weight Loss

March 15, 2012

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hormones and weightA recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it may not be willpower that keeps people from losing weight and keeping it off, but hormones. What is the connection between hormones and weight? Could you be fighting hormonal weight gain?

First, I will say we are just beginning to understand the role of hormones and weight, but this is a hot topic for researchers. In time, I believe medications targeting these hormones will be developed and be helpful for some with hormonal weight gain. Still, it’s important to remember that while hormones are clearly part of the picture, they are not the entire picture.

The two hormones most connected to weight seem to be leptin (which seems to send the signal to stop eating) and ghrelin (which seems to signal to eat more). Everyone has these two hormones to some degree, and their levels fluctuate on a minute to minute basis.

What we do know about ghrelin is that it seems to be released when a person eats so much it stretches the stomach wall. In turn, the released hormone then sends a “hunger” signal, which leads to cravings within a short time.

To prevent this cycle, aim to eat until you are 80 percent full, not until you are “stuffed.” Eat regular balanced meals morning, noon, and night so that you won’t find yourself famished, hungry, and tempted to overeat. Avoid carbonated beverages as well, even diet ones or sparkling water, as they swell the stomach and could trigger the release of ghrelin.

For reasons we don’t quite understand, exercise also seems to help balance out these hormones. Initially people may be more hungry after starting a regular exercise routine, but within a week or so the hunger and craving levels seem to decrease, indicating exercise may somehow increase leptin production (the “stop” eating hormone). Likewise, the closer you get to your “goal weight” the more in balance these hormones seem to become.

Until we understand how to better target these hormones. the next best thing is to understand how you can keep hormones and weight from derailing your weight loss goals, as part of an overall comprehensive weight loss approach like the one at The Center for Medical Weight Loss.

Behavioral counseling, a critical part of our program, doesn’t change hormone levels but it helps you to learn new ways to react to cravings, hunger, and overeating. It helps you become more aware of what you are doing now, what isn’t working, and what you could do instead.

And finally, don’t confuse ghrelin and leptin with supposed “fad hormone-based” diets like HCG. These are not the same thing and the HCG diet does not regulate these hormones nor is it a safe or long-term way to manage weight. I don’t know of any supplements or weight loss aids available over-the-counter or in health food stores that can regulate these hormones. Don’t waste your money no matter how convincing the promises and marketing.

The reality is losing weight and keeping it off is difficult, but it can be done. At The Center for Medical Weight Loss, we approach weight as a chronic health condition, something that must be managed over a lifetime just like diabetes or arthritis or any of the many other chronic illnesses. Though managing your weight never really “ends” per se, the more you learn and practice new skills and new ways of eating and living, the easier it gets.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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