Hormonal Gremlins

Today at my niece’s wedding shower, my cousin was sharing her frustration with her inability to shed some extra pounds. Since we are the same age, I shared with her what I know about weight gain in and around menopause, and how our hormones play a major role.

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Take for example, the hormonal gremlins, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is known as the “appetite increaser” signaling that you are hungry, and it is time to eat. Leptin, on the other hand, is the appetite suppressor, which tells the brain it is time to stop eating.

Unfortunately, we find these hormones may become imbalanced in menopause, particularly with women who have been lifelong dieters, and the signals get mixed up, leaving us to feel hungrier, more times during the day, and not know when we are sated.

Some researchers believe the foods you eat affect the hormonal response. Let’s say you consume high-fat foods. This can hinder leptin sending out signals you have had enough. And so you continue to eat well past the point of needing any more food. The brain is not getting the signal and takes steps to hold onto more fat. And to add insult to injury, the brain has you expend less energy to conserve calories.

When your leptin is out of whack you need to boost it by eliminating sugar and other inflammatory foods. Eat more fatty fish, or take fish oil supplements, and eat less refined carbs. What this does is reduce the lipid levels and improve leptin sensitivity, which sends the signal that you are no longer hungry. Exercise also can increase leptin sensitivity so please make sure you start incorporating some movement into your daily routine.

If you are looking to further reduce your weight you may want to optimize your ghrelin levels, which rise right before a meal and when you are fasting. Ghrelin levels drop for around three hours after a meal however when this hunger hormone is not functioning properly, you may get hungry sooner. Obese or overweight women, may have an overactive ghrelin receptor, which causes more hunger pangs and results in taking in more calories.

How can you mitigate this? Eat whole grains and protein- rich food to suppress ghrelin and curb your appetite. Avoid sugary drinks and anything containing high-fructose corn syrup. Eating protein at every meal is so important to sending a strong signal to the hypothalamus telling you to stop eating. Protein at breakfast affects ghrelin levels and your appetite for the rest of the day, so make sure you have it to set you up for weight loss success.

Did you know that sleep also impacts these hunger hormones? Getting a good night’s sleep, with about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, helps your body regulate ghrelin and leptin accurately, to control appetite and prevent overeating. And it’s not long-term sleep disturbances that contribute to hormonal imbalance. Just two nights in a row of only four hours of sleep will impact these hormones so be mindful of getting regular sleep seven days a week.