Weight Control: A Hormonal Problem

Updated: Jul 16

By Chloe Olvera


A common misconception about obesity is that cutting calories is the simple solution to weight loss. However, the truth is far from that wide-spread belief. The fact is obesity is a hormonal problem, not simply a caloric one. As Dr. Jason Fung highlights in his popular book, The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, hormones are responsible for fat growth and high insulin is one of the key contributors to weight gain.

The Role of Insulin


Insulin is a hormone that controls how much glucose is in the blood. After eating, insulin is released by the pancreas and absorbs glucose in the bloodstream so it can be used for energy or stored for later use. In type 2 diabetics with insulin resistance, insulin cannot properly pick up glucose in the bloodstream, which is necessary for lowering blood sugar. Healthcare providers often prescribe insulin as a temporary solution for the issue. However, a big problem comes with type 2 diabetics needing higher and higher doses of insulin as they develop continuously increasing resistance to their dosage.


That being said, insulin shots are not a long-term solution for type 2 diabetes. Additionally, too much insulin can cause obesity. The long-term solution is changing your diet and lifestyle.


Diets


If you’ve ever tried a trending diet, you may have lost weight initially then found yourself disappointed at gaining it all back. A recent meta-analysis conducted by Hall and Kahan found that in “29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained.” So, it’s not just you!


One reason weight cannot be kept off could be due to insulin. Insulin promotes fat storage as a way to store energy for later use. Insulin also controls the body’s set point. This means when you lose weight, the body has a natural tendency to revert back to its set weight by regaining the weight that was lost. Sustained weight loss usually requires strategies to decrease chronic insulin elevation. In some other cases, decreasing chronic cortisol elevation (stress) is the bigger issue as cortisol increases insulin.


When it comes to caloric reduction seen in many diets, this leads to food preoccupation, urges to overeat, anxiety, and irritability (or being “hangry”). However, cutting calories does not lead to sustained weight loss. Decreased calorie consumption leads to a decreased metabolism, according to a 2017 study by Benton and Young. This means eating less gets balanced by burning fewer calories too. Ultimately, reducing calories and controlling portion sizes make you tired, hungry, and gaining back all that weight you lost.


How to Lose Weight Through Foods


First, avoid foods with added sugars and refined grains as they raise insulin significantly. There are little to no nutritional benefits to these foods. You also do not get much of a fullness feeling from eating added sugars (think why you “always have room for dessert”). High amounts of added sugars can be found in processed or packaged foods. According to Dr. Fung, alternative names for added sugar on food labels can be “sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, molasses, hydrolyzed starch, honey, invert sugar, glucose-fructose, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, corn sweetener, rice/corn/cane/maple/malt/golden/palm syrup and agave nectar.” Be aware and don’t get tricked!


Alternatives for dessert can include seasonal fruits, cheeses, dark chocolate that contains more than 70% cacao, and pistachio nuts. As for snacks, just avoid them so you do not have constant stimulation of insulin from constant eating. Avoid sodas and sugary drinks, but coffee or tea without sugar are great.


Avoid processed bakery foods like bread, cakes, donuts, and pasta. Refined grain carbohydrates can contribute to obesity. Healthy carbohydrates, however, include vegetables such as eggplant, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes. Quinoa, chia seeds, and beans as good foods too.


Second, eat protein in moderation. Protein is important for their nutritional benefits and in how it increases your feeling of fullness which allows you to avoid overeating. However, you need to be careful by just limiting protein to 20-30% of your diet as it can raise insulin. Meal replacement protein shakes are not advised as they are highly processed.


Third, eat more foods full of natural fats, fiber, and vinegar. Natural fats and fiber foods are nutritionally-rich and do not raise insulin much, while vinegar can protect against insulin spikes. Use more extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil instead of vegetable oil as vegetable oils are inflammatory and have negative health effects. Nuts and avocados are full of healthy fats. Use full-fat dairy products instead of low-fat; one scientific review of many studies showed full fat dairy products are healthy and did not have a fat-gaining nor reducing effect.


The best thing you can do for yourself is eating natural, unprocessed, home-cooked meals while avoiding processed foods, microwaveable foods, or fast food.


Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent fasting is a cycle of fasting and eating with many different schedules of how to do it. Intermittent fasting is an evidence-based approach to sustained weight loss, lowering of blood pressure, and improvement of blood sugars, as found in many studies, and this comprehensive review in the New England Journal of Medicine. By intermittently fasting, you can allow your body’s insulin levels to naturally go down and eventually burn off fat. Especially when it comes to obesity, both what you eat and when you eat are important. When done right, people were found to feel more energetic than before. For those on medication or with type 2 diabetes, consult your healthcare provider before starting intermittent fasting to ensure it is safe and right for you.


Want help with losing weight or beating your medical conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension? Contact our team at Beyond Practice and we’ll help you get started on your journey to a healthier lifestyle with our program.

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