Hormones and Weight Loss

Do you skip breakfast?

Are you not hungry when you wake up in the morning?

Do you make up for it (and then some) later in the day?

And finally, are you feeling stressed most days?

If so, chances are you have belly fat along with metabolic syndrome or diabetes – or you soon will.  Complex biochemical reactions are happening that are not healthy.  In a few short paragraphs, we’ll try to boil it all down.

Hunger, Hormones and Weight Loss

For starters, when you skip meals like breakfast, you are setting yourself up for fat gain for that day.  Here’s why:  Though your stomach may be saying, “I’m fine,” your body is interpreting that long 10-hour stretch of no food as famine, and it starts saving fat.  It also pumps out hormones, like ghrelin, which scientists call a hunger hormone.  High levels of this hormone drive you to “EAT, AND EAT NOW.”   That’s why, as you pass a patisserie after lunch on the way back to the office, croissants call out to you.  And it’s why you can’t resist the mega-man’s sampler meal at the Mexican restaurant that night.

These can’t-resist cravings are not about will power, or the lack of it.  They’re about hormones – demanding, biological forces that are bearing down on you, urging you to “EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT BECAUSE A FAMINE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.”

Fat-Storage Hormones

Hormones thwart your efforts to shed weight not only because they send out “BINGE” signals but also because they alter the way your body burns calories.  In the 1970s, nutrition scientists told us:  “You are what you eat.”  Now they’re saying: “You are what your body does with what you eat.”  The stress caused by the famine state (which is triggered when you skip breakfast) PLUS the general stresses of daily living (deadlines, confrontations, sleep troubles) cause your body to send out stress hormones like cortisol that change the way your body metabolizes food and stores fat.

As middle-aged and older people, we’re struggling with our metabolism anyway.  No longer are we those skinny teenagers who gulped down five burgers and didn’t gain a pound.  Plus, we’re sitting at desks all day, we’re not getting out to exercise as much, and we have less muscle mass.  We can’t get away with what we used to.  Our bodies are in slow-calorie-burn mode.  Or, as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show used to say, “Why do I even bother eating this chocolate?  I should just rub it on my hips.”

Eat Breakfast, Lose Weight.

But the hormones we’re putting out make the situation even worse, and these hormones work hand in hand with belly fat.  Fat in the belly is a particularly nasty type of fat.  It doesn’t just sit there, taking up space.  It actively produces chemicals, including steroid hormones, which make you more likely to gain fat. It’s a vicious cycle.  The more belly fat you have, the more fat-storage hormones you produce, and the harder it is to lose weight.  There’s more bad news:  These hormones can also increase your risk of hormone-sensitive cancers like breast and prostate cancer.

Insulin – Another Fat-Storage Hormone

There are more hormonal horrors. When belly fat reaches abdominal obesity levels (a waist greater than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men), another very important fat-storage hormone called insulin is often negatively affected, creating further problems for our metabolism.

Here’s what happens.  Excess belly fat often causes a malfunction in our insulin receptors.  These receptors are “doors” on our cells.  When working properly, these doors open up so that insulin can deposit glucose (food energy) into our cells.  But belly fat can cause these doors to “close.”  Now, insulin is unable to ferry the glucose in.  It’s as if our cells are saying, “Sorry, we’re closed for business.”  It’s called insulin resistance.  Glucose (sugar) now builds up in the blood.  (This is known as pre-diabetes.  If uncorrected, it develops into full-blown diabetes.)

To fight the build-up of glucose in the blood, our body pumps out more insulin to “push through” those broken doors; but remember, insulin is a fat-storage hormone. So, more insulin in our bodies means more weight gain and more belly fat.  It’s the starting point of a host of woes, including metabolic syndrome, which is a dysfunctional metabolism often characterized by belly fat and other problems such as elevated blood pressure, elevated trigylcerides, low HDL good cholesterol, and rising blood glucose.  Having metabolic syndrome damages our blood vessels and greatly increases our risk of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, kidney disease, fatty liver, vision impairment, and many other problems.

Straightening Out Hormonal Dysfunctions

Now for the good news. The Pritikin Program is one of the best things you can do to lower your cortisol, ghrelin, insulin, and other problematic hormones. You can get all these hormones straightened out, and it often happens within a matter of days to a few weeks, depending on how long you’ve had these hormonal dysfunctions and how willing you are to change.

When people learn they have diabetes, they often think, “I’m stuck for life.”  They’re not.  The Pritikin Program has a very quick impact. DAILY exercise and OPTIMAL nutrition can reverse these hormonal abnormalities.

Breakfast at the Pritikin Center

Guests at Pritikin feel it.  Within days, they’re actually starting to feel hungry in the morning. They wake up eagerly anticipating the gorgeous fresh fruit and hot whole-grain cereals in the breakfast buffet.  They’re also losing their afternoon and evening food cravings.  Their metabolism is revving up.  They have a renewed energy and start to “feel like” working out.  Within two to three days, they notice that their blood pressure and blood sugar levels have already begun to lower after each exercise workout.  And their brains, because they’re getting a steady infusion of healthful carbohydrates (our brain’s optimal energy source), are far more alert throughout the day.  Last but not least, the excess weight, even stubborn belly fat, is finally starting to come off.

So, first and foremost, wipe out the mindset that says:  “I’m not eating breakfast because I’m saving my calories for later.”

Instead, tell yourself, “I now understand that I have a dysfunctional metabolism, but I can correct it, no matter what my age is.  I’m not stuck forever.  I know what I need to do to fix it.”

Eugenia Killoran

Senior Editor & Writer

Eugenia Killoran has been the food and fitness journalist for the Pritikin Program since 1992. She has published more than 3,000 articles, lectures, and book chapters on a wide variety of healthy living and weight-loss topics.

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