If you’ve struggled to lose weight for years, maybe decades, you know that eating less and exercising more is not the solution. And you’re correct. Major clinical research studies show it’s much more complicated than that. In fact, these studies show hormones affect setpoint weight.
It actually makes a lot of sense that hormones are involved in weight loss/gain or maintenance. After all, hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands. Hormones control most major bodily functions, including hunger, metabolism, and fat storage. Yet, for decades “experts” never considered excess weight or inability to lose weight to be a hormonal issue.
This is puzzling when you consider the truth was right in front of them the entire time.
Hormones and weight gain
The link between hormones and weight is well known. For instance, one of the most common complaints of women in menopause is weight gain, particularly in their midsections. What happens during menopause? Hormones happen. Perimenopause causes wildly fluctuating hormone levels. Menopause then causes a significant reduction in certain hormones, especially estrogen. This leads to weight gain. Studies show the change in estrogen levels causes a redistribution of body fat to the stomach area, often called a “muffin top” or “menopot.”
The effect thyroid hormones have on weight is also well known. If the thyroid does not secrete enough thyroid hormones, a condition called underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, it can cause significant weight gain and/or inability to lose weight. If it secretes too much thyroid hormone, significant weight loss and/or inability to gain weight often occurs.
It is also common for people to gain weight as they age. Though many experts consider this weight gain to be due in part to a reduction in activity levels, hormones are also involved. Age causes hormone levels to change. This hormonal dysregulation raises setpoint weight.
Of course, hormones are not the only factors that affect setpoint weight. But they are among the most important factors in your ability to lose weight permanently. Before discussing how hormones work, let’s talk a bit about setpoint weight.
What is setpoint weight?
Your setpoint is the weight your body strives to maintain within a range of 10 to 15 pounds. It’s that level of fat your body “thinks” you need. Its evaluation is based on signals from your brain, your digestive system, and your hormones. These three areas — brain, digestive system, and hormones — form a biological feedback system that continually talks to each other to synchronize the activities that automatically maintain body fat at a specific level, known as setpoint weight.
This biological feedback system that establishes your setpoint weight is like the thermostat in your house. The thermostat knows when the temperature inside your house is not what it should be. In response, your heating and air conditioning system follows its command, keeping your home at whatever temperature the thermostat “thinks” it should be at. Just like the thermostat in your home, your setpoint stimulates or suppresses your appetite and raises or lowers your metabolism based on how much fat it “thinks” you should have.
Lowering setpoint weight vs. lowering calories
Setpoint weight explains why starvation dieting — significantly cutting calories while eating the same low-quality foods — does not work for long-term weight loss. In fact, starvation dieting actually leads to weight gain.
When you go on a starvation diet, your body goes on emergency alert. It thinks you are starving, and it marshals all its resources to keep you alive. When the hormones decide your body is at risk of falling below its setpoint weight, they spring into action. These hormones relay chemical messages driving your appetite and cravings up and your daily calorie burns down.
To keep you close to your setpoint weight, your hormones fight your weight loss efforts. You will lose weight on a starvation diet, but it won’t come from your fat stores. Your body hoards your body fat for when you’ll really need it. Much of the weight you lose on a starvation diet, then, comes from muscle. A loss of muscle further reduces metabolism, further elevating setpoint weight.
How, then, is weight loss possible?
Thousands of clinical research studies show the only way to lose weight permanently is to lower your setpoint weight. When you lower your setpoint weight, your body will defend this lower weight the same way it defended your higher setpoint weight. You won’t have to count calories or even think about them.
Hormones that affect setpoint weight
There are several hormones that affect setpoint weight. Here are some of the main ones.
The hormone leptin, produced by your fat cells, is responsible for maintaining your body weight over a long period of time.
There are a few methods leptin uses to help maintain your weight long-term. For example, it signals your brain via the bloodstream when you’ve had enough food. In response, the brain then activates hormones making you feel full and a bit fidgety so that you unconsciously eat less and exercise more. If leptin signals your brain that you’ve not had enough food, your brain activates hormones making you hungry so that you’ll eat more and hormones making you lethargic so that you’ll burn fewer calories.
This hormone is supposed to prevent overeating, but it often does not work in overweight or obese people. As leptin is produced by fat cells, overweight people have plenty of leptin. The problem is not a lack of leptin; the problem is that the hormonal clog prevents the brain from receiving leptin’s signal that you’re full.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced and released primarily by the stomach. Known as the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin alerts the brain that the stomach is empty and that it is time to eat.
When you eat less food than you should be eating to keep you at your setpoint weight, your body signals a release of ghrelin to get you to eat more. But this response doesn’t just occur for present hunger. In fact, studies show that levels of ghrelin remain elevated for several months after the starvation diet has ended. This is one of the reasons you eat more — and gain the weight back so quickly — after the diet has ended.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and helps your body use sugar from carbohydrates for immediate energy or save it for later usage.
Insulin’s role is to shuttle glucose into cells to be used for energy. When you eat sugars and starches, your body breaks them down into glucose which is then absorbed into your bloodstream. Your blood glucose levels rise, triggering a spike in insulin to clear the glucose from your bloodstream.
If you eat too many sugars, starches, and highly processed foods too often, your glucose levels remain elevated longer than necessary. This triggers a release of more and more insulin to deal with the glucose. When insulin is constantly present, the cells become so used to it that they no longer recognize it and will not open up to accept the glucose. This is known as “insulin resistance.”
The insulin still has to clear the glucose from your bloodstream to prevent it from building up to dangerous levels. So…if most of the cells won’t “open up” for glucose,” insulin takes it to your fat cells. (Fat cells never become insulin resistant.) If this cycle continues, your non-fat cells send an alert they are starving. The body responds by raising the setpoint weight.
More hormones affecting setpoint weight
That’s only three of the important hormones affecting setpoint weight. Here are a few more:
- Thyroid hormones
…and more. But you get the drift.
All of these hormones are supposed to help keep your body at or near its setpoint weight. How, then, does the setpoint become elevated?
When hormones are clogged
The primary cause of an elevated setpoint weight is a hormonal clog. When the hormonal system is clogged, your body can no longer respond to signals from the brain and hormones that usually enable it to burn fat automatically.
To understand how a hormonal clog elevates your setpoint weight, it helps to think of it as a clogged sink. When a sink is working properly, more water pouring in means more water draining out. The water level may rise temporarily, but the sink will take care of the excess water rather quickly. The sink is balancing water in with water out at a low level, meaning it has a low setpoint. Water builds up in sinks only when it becomes clogged.
A hormonally-healthy body reacts similarly to a healthy sink to keep excess fat from accumulating. If your calorie intake increases, your body increases its fat burn. If your intake decreases, your body decreases its fat burn. Fat builds up in bodies only when it becomes clogged.
Clogs in sinks and bodies are caused only when the wrong quality of things is put into them. The wrong quality of things to put in a sink includes hair, food chunks, etc. The wrong quality of things to put in a body includes refined carbs, sugars, processed fats, and heavily processed foods.
Once you put enough of the wrong quality things in a sink and a clog occurs, the water level will rise — and keep rising — every time you pour water into it. To keep the water from flowing out onto the floor, you have three options: continually use less water, bail excess water out of the sink every day, or remove the clog. If you choose the first two, you’ll have the continual hassle of dealing with excess water in the sink because neither option fixes the problem. If you choose the third option, however, you fix the underlying problem. The sink will then take care of the water level, automatically balancing it at its low setpoint.
The same is true with your body’s hormonal clog. Once you put enough of the wrong quality things in your body and a hormonal clog occurs, elevating your setpoint weight, you can cut calories and exercise for hours, and this will temporarily lower your weight. But it won’t work long term. And why go through the misery of hunger and deprivation when you can just remove the hormonal clog and let your body balance your body at a lower setpoint weight?
Removing a hormonal clog is a simple matter of focusing on the quality, not the quantity, of the calories you consume.
Quality of calories
Many studies show the quality of calories is much more important than the quantity when it comes to your health and setpoint weight. High-quality calories trigger just the right amount of fat-burning hormones. Your body gets the message: it’s time to burn fat now.
When you eat low-calorie foods — such as refined carbs, sugars, and heavily processed foods — it confuses the metabolic system. This leads to the hormonal clog discussed earlier. Your body becomes confused. It doesn’t know how much body fat or fuel you need, but to make sure you don’t starve, it gives you more fat. Your setpoint weight rises.
The easiest way to lower or prevent an elevated setpoint weight is to eat high-quality foods.
SANE Setpoint Diet
On the SANE setpoint diet, you will enjoy the quality calories your body needs to nourish your cells, remove the hormonal clog, trigger fat-burning hormones, and lower setpoint weight.
The setpoint diet emphasizes whole foods as close to their natural states as possible. The goal is to eat so many of these SANE foods, you’ll be too full for inSANE ones. Do you know what this means? Yes! No more hunger, deprivation, or misery.
One of the best things about the setpoint diet is its simplicity. You only need to remember these four food groups and serving sizes:
10+ servings per day
Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies, or blend 3 or more servings into a delicious green smoothie. The non-starchy vegetables that offer the most nutritional benefits are leafy green vegetables, so be sure to emphasize them in your diet.
The fiber in non-starchy vegetables fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time. It also slows glucose absorption preventing blood sugar spikes.
Great non-starchy vegetables include:
- Bell peppers
3-5 servings per day, 30-50 grams per meal
Nutrient-dense proteins trigger short- and long-term satiety hormones, which is why protein is so filling. Increasing your protein intake also builds and protects muscle, increases metabolism, and keeps blood sugar levels stable.
Delicious nutrient-dense proteins include:
- Cottage Cheese
- Egg Whites
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
3-6 servings per day
Whole-food fats are also very filling. Also, when you replace sugars, refined carbs, and highly processed foods with whole food fats, your body will start burning fat as its preferred fuel source.
Delightfully satisfying whole-food fats include:
- Flax Seeds
0-3 servings per day
Feel free to enjoy an occasional serving of low-fructose fruits. Yummy examples include:
- Acai Berries
Next step: Learn more about how your hormones affect your setpoint weight with SANE
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