If you have been struggling to lose weight to defend against diabesity, you’ve probably never considered the role hormones play in this process. And why should you?
After all, the traditional dieting approach is all about calorie restriction. Eat less and/or exercise more, almost everyone tells you, and you won’t have to worry about diabesity. The fat will melt right off. Just keep working at it. In fact, “experts” have even devised a method whereby you can accurately predict the amount of weight you’ll lose each week.
In this calorie-deficit model, if you consume (or burn) X fewer calories than your body needs, you will lose X number of pounds per week/month. And just how many calories do you need per day? Ahh…that is a calculation based on your weight, age, height, and gender – but it is only an estimate.
For at least 50 years, we have been following the calorie-deficit model of weight loss. For most people who want to defend against diabesity, this involves some form of severe calorie restriction. You must starve yourself, the experts say, to force your body to burn fat. There’s only one problem…the calorie-deficit model has NEVER worked for anyone long-term — not EVER.
Losing weight and keeping it off: cutting calories or healing hormones?
Sure, if you cut calories, you will lose weight. You probably have years or decades of experience doing just that. If you’re like the hundreds of millions of frustrated dieters, your problem isn’t losing weight. Your problem is keeping the weight off!
Your dieting experience probably goes something like this: You go on a new diet — most of which is based on restricting your calorie intake –, and you feel miserable. You’re hungry, shaky, and irritable. But you’re losing weight, so you keep at it. Within a few weeks, however, the weight loss slows down to almost nothing. Every time you step on the scale, all you feel is disappointment and frustration.
You feel resentful that while you’re depriving yourself of all your favorite foods, your body is depriving you of the satisfaction of a measly 1 to 2-pound weight loss per week. Still, hormones never enter your mind because they have not been part of the calorie-deficit teachings. When you can’t take the frustration and hunger anymore, you go off your diet. You start gaining the weight back quickly. Within a few months, you’ve regained all the weight you’ve lost…PLUS 10 pounds.
This leaves you depressed, bitter, ashamed, and guilty. You want to throw in the towel, and give up trying to lose weight. But you can’t. Diabesity is a dangerous threat to your health and the quality of your life. Besides, you’re sure you did something wrong. So you go on another diet…and another…and another…and another. Different diets, same results.
What’s going on?
Calorie restriction prevents/cures diabesity, not hormones?
The problem is that the calorie-deficit theory of weight loss doesn’t work, at least not in the way “experts” say it does.
It is a fact that giving your body fewer calories than it needs results in weight loss. Everybody knows that. But what many people don’t know is that the body fights back. If you cut calories while consuming low-quality foods, your body sees this as starvation. It does everything it can to prevent you from starving and dying.
So…the brain triggers hunger hormones to make you hungry. It triggers other hormones to make you weak and cold. It uses these tricks to make you eat more food. If this fails, it slows your metabolism and orders more of your calories to go to your fat stores. It also tells your body not to burn any fat but to burn muscle instead.
When you go off your diet, your body overreacts. It not only ensures you gain all the weight back you lost, but it also adds a few more pounds. When you go on a calorie-restrictive starvation diet, you will only achieve short-term results. This is the exact opposite of what you desire.
And you’re not the only one. Statistics show an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. But this figure doesn’t even tell the entire story. It is likely these 45 million Americans attempt several diets each year. If traditional diets worked, diabesity would not be an epidemic.
Diabesity is a condition in which obesity and type 2 diabetes occur together. (Obesity is the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes.) According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 40% of American adults are obese. Meanwhile, an estimated 100 million American either have diabetes or prediabetes.
Health complications of diabetes and obesity
Obesity and diabetes contribute to many serious health problems, including:
- Abnormal Cholesterol Levels
- Fatty Liver Disease
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Gallbladder Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Neuropathy (Nerve Damage)
The cause of diabesity: elevated setpoint
Diabesity is caused by a breakdown of the automatic balancing systems that control our blood sugar and body weight. This balancing system is commonly known as the setpoint.
If you have ever felt that your body was fighting your weight-loss efforts — and who hasn’t?!!! — that’s because it was. Your setpoint is the weight your body works to maintain no matter what sort of “diet” you try.
The hypothalamus in your brain is the controller of the body’s balancing system. It knows at all times how much you should weigh based on your level of body fat. (Fat is essential to survival.) The hypothalamus knows this because of the signals it receives from your hormones. Your brain, digestive system, and hormones constantly communicate to synchronize the activities that automatically maintain body fat and blood sugar at a specific level, otherwise known as your setpoint.
We can compare the system that establishes your setpoint, like the thermostat in your house. Thanks to the thermostat, your heating or air-conditioning system respond to the weather outside and keep your home at whatever temperature the thermostat “thinks” it should be at. Similarly, your setpoint stimulates or suppresses your appetite and raises or lowers metabolism—your body’s food-to-fuel process—in response to how much fat it “thinks” you should store.
If you slash calories, your body goes on emergency alert. It does everything it can to keep you within 15-20 pounds of your setpoint weight. Every time you go on a starvation diet, you’re fighting your body — and the body always wins.
The only way to lose weight permanently is to lower your setpoint weight. When you do that, you’ll lose weight, enjoy stable blood sugar levels, and prevent or heal diabesity. The Diabesity Series has additional information about setpoint that will really help you understand this.
Cause of an elevated setpoint: dysregulated hormone
You are probably wondering how your setpoint became elevated in the first place. There are three main factors that influence setpoint. We will cover just one — hormones — in this article.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream to tissues and organs. They control most major bodily functions. When it comes to metabolism, hormones control how much fat we burn, our hunger, and much more. Specific hormones send signals to the hypothalamus regarding the status of our fat stores and calorie intake, and the hypothalamus “tells” hormones to take certain actions. For instance, if it receives the message your fat stores are low, the hypothalamus triggers hormones making you hungry.
This system is designed to ensure you will never become too fat or too thin. However, if the hormones become dysregulated, they cannot send correct signals to the brain. The body becomes confused about the amount of body fat you have, so it gives you more fat by default.
We call this a “hormonal clog.” An easy way to understand how this hormonal clog raises your setpoint is to think about your body functioning like a sink. If you have a properly working sink, it doesn’t matter how much water you pour into it. Though the water level may rise temporarily, the water will drain out. The sink takes care of it automatically. The sink balances water in and waters out at a low level. This sink has a low setpoint.
But if there’s a clog in the drain, the water doesn’t drain out. The water level keeps rising. The sink has a high setpoint. If you have a clogged sink, you have two choices: either you constantly bail water out of the sink, or you remove the clog. Which one permanently takes care of the problem so that you don’t have to manually remove water? That’s right. Remove the clog.
Your body works similarly. When your hormones are working correctly, they prevent excess fat from accumulating. It responds to more in with more out and to less in with less out. When hormones are clogged, fat levels rise. You can cut calories and temporarily take care of the problem (similar to bailing water out of the sink), or you can remove the hormonal clog and let your body handle the rest.
A hormonal clog is caused by putting the wrong quality of things into the body, just as a sink clog is caused by putting the wrong quality of things into the sink. The three main causes of a hormonal clog are poor-quality diet, stress, and sleep deprivation.
Hormones that affect setpoint
Here are some of the main hormones that affect setpoint and diabesity.
Leptin is a hormone responsible for long-term weight regulation.
Your fat cells produce this hormone, which signals your brain when it has had enough food. As your fat stores rise, more leptin is secreted. The brain responds by making you feel full and fidgety so that you unconsciously eat less and exercise more. When your fat levels fall, so do your leptin levels. Your brain responds by making you feel hungry so that you’ll eat more, and it makes you feel lethargic so that you burn less.
Leptin is what drives your motivation to eat and move, not willpower.
Produced in the stomach, ghrelin is the “hunger hormone.” Your brain triggers an increase of ghrelin when you go on a starvation diet, making you extremely hungry so that you eat more food. This makes it difficult to maintain a starvation diet for very long.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates glucose levels in the bloodstream. It also assists in the storage of glucose in the liver, fat, and muscles. Ultimately, it governs your body’s glucose, fat, and protein metabolism.
Insulin is extremely important in defending against diabesity. When you eat sugars and starches, your body breaks them down into glucose that is absorbed into your bloodstream. This causes a rise in your blood glucose levels. The pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the excess glucose to your cells. (The cells cannot open to accepting glucose without insulin.) Once inside the cell, glucose is converted into energy, or it is stored for later use.
If you eat too much sugary, starchy, highly processed food, your glucose levels stay elevated longer than they need to. Your pancreas needs to release more and more insulin that has to work extra hard to remove all that extra glucose. Once insulin becomes elevated constantly, cells become so used to its presence they no longer respond to it. This is called insulin resistance.
When most of your cells don’t accept glucose, insulin has no choice but to take it to your fat cells. (If this option were not available, glucose would build up in the bloodstream to dangerous and deadly levels.) If this cycle continues long enough, all the “non-fat” cells in your body signal to the brain that they are starving. The body then takes in excess calories and increases its setpoint.
At some point, insulin cannot keep up, and blood glucose levels become continually elevated. This leads to type 2 diabetes.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. One of cortisol’s functions is triggering the release of insulin to get glucose into cells for the energy to deal with short-term stress. If you are chased by a tiger, your cells need glucose for energy to fight or flee. Once the crisis ends, the glucose is burned off, and your system gradually returns to normal.
The problem comes when your body responds to all stresses in the same way. This causes your body to keep releasing cortisol. And because cortisol prompts the release of insulin, that hormone stays elevated, too. Plus, unlike physical stress causing you to “run for your life,” psychological stress does not burn off any glucose.
The result is a setpoint-elevating trifecta of constantly elevated cortisol, high levels of insulin, and a surge of glucose circulating in your bloodstream. All of these affect setpoint weight and can lead to diabesity.
Heal hormones and defend against diabesity with high-quality foods
One of the best ways to remove the hormonal clog and defend against diabesity is to eat high-quality foods. This means selecting foods as close to their natural states as possible. This means avoiding highly processed foods, refined carbs, and sugars as much as possible.
The easiest way to heal your hormones and lower your setpoint is to choose foods from these 4 food groups:
- Non-starchy vegetables: 10+ servings per day
- Nutrient-dense protein: 3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal
- Whole-food fats: 3-6 servings per day
- Low-fructose fruits: 0-3 servings per day
These foods have been proven to fill you up fast, keep you full for a long time, trigger fat-burning hormones, and lower setpoint. Try it and see!
Next step: deal diabesity hormones with the SANE plan
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