If hormones were people, they’d be pretty boring. See, hormones prefer the status quo, and they’re always trying to maintain homeostasis and keep your body the same.
But, like the friend who you can always manage to coax into trying a new restaurant, you can work with hormones and use them to help you lose weight.
Here are three hormones that play a role in weight regulation and how you can get them to work with you.
Produced by fat cells, leptin signals to the brain how much fat is in the body, explains Dr. Scott Isaacs, medical director of Atlanta Endocrine Associates. When leptin levels are low, you tend to feel hungry, and when leptin levels are high, you tend to feel full.
But it’s more complicated than that, Isaacs adds. “As you start to develop obesity, you start to become resistant to leptin,” he explains. “So you may have high levels of leptin, but the brain isn’t registering that.” This can put you at risk for heart problems and diabetes, adds Susan Carnell, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Hormone hack: Some research suggests physical activity can help manage leptin levels. Although any exercise may help, resistance training appears to be more efficient at reducing leptin levels, according to a recent review of studies on overweight and obese middle-aged adults published in PLOS One. As a bonus, being more active can also help you lose weight.
Sleep is also key. “Leptin is made in your sleep. That’s one reason people with sleep deprivation are hungrier,” Isaacs explains. Research has demonstrated both acute and chronic sleep deprivation decrease leptin levels, so make good sleep habits a priority.
The ying to leptin’s yang, ghrelin is produced by the stomach and often referred to as the hunger hormone. It’s highest when your stomach is empty and decreases after you eat. “It does many useful things in the body, like getting the stomach ready to process food,” Carnell explains. “We also know that if ghrelin increases, people are spurred to seek out food, and that stress can produce an increase in ghrelin.”
The combination of stress and increased ghrelin can be especially hard later in the day, according to a small recent study by Carnell and other researchers. “The evening may be a biological ‘high-risk period’ for overeating, particularly when paired with the experience of stress and if you’re prone to binge eating,” she says.
Hormone hack: Again, managing stress is key, as is making sleep a priority since deprivation can increase ghrelin levels. Additionally, Isaacs recommends eating high-fiber, high-protein foods, which will help keep you fuller longer.
Although it’s thought of as a stress hormone because it’s secreted to help us decide whether to fight or flight, cortisol also promotes insulin secretion. “This makes us store fat on our bodies, particularly around our waists, which is not good for our health,” Carnell explains. “And it can increase our appetite.”
Hormone hack: Managing stress and how you cope with it is key to losing weight, Carnell says. Find what works for you, whether that’s making a cup of tea when you reach your mental boiling point, going for a daily jog or enjoying some time in nature. If you tend to stress eat, it may help to keep your go-to foods out of the house, Carnell adds.